Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy was developed by Dr. Albert Ellis in the 1950's. Educators are beginning to rethink how they address behaviour in schools. Slowly we are appreciating that if students are to learn how to better manage themselves emotionally and behaviourally more successfully then REBT has a lot to offer through RATIONAL EMOTIVE BEHAVIOUR EDUCATION
This appears in the current Jan/Feb 2013 edition of the National Psychologist: Vol 22, No. 1. Dr Debbie Joffe Ellis talks about her late husband and his work: Dr Albert Ellis, Master Therapist.
Albert Ellis, legendary pioneer in the
field of cognitive psychology, was a genius.
He created his approach of Rational Emotive
Behavior Therapy (REBT), describing its methods and techniques in clear style -
through his writings, presentations, trainings and therapy sessions. REBT was understood
and embraced by people within the world of psychology and those from every walk
His whole-hearted and earnest goal was to
help as many people as possible to suffer less emotional misery and to
experience more happiness in their lives.
His tireless work over more than six
decades helped millions of people change their lives for the better.
Yes, Albert Ellis was a genius.
He was my mentor, my model.
He also happened to be my husband.
When I studied the various psychological
approaches during my university days, it was his approach toward which I felt
magnetized. I loved its clarity, its efficiency, and its holistic embrace:
recognizing the interrelationship of thinking, behavior, and emotions. I loved
its humanistic and philosophical emphases, and after first meeting the man (years
before we began our relationship) – I loved him. I loved his vigor, his
definite and unforgettable style of communicating, his humor, his honesty, and
above all his authentic care and compassion for those who were in emotional
From the moment our relationship started we
were practically inseparable, and l worked with him in each aspect of his work
– including writing, presenting, giving workshops and co-leading groups. I
witnessed his approach with students, clients and members of the public in our
work settings, and in every other scenario of our lives.
I could write a large volume detailing the
many outstanding qualities he exhibited as a master therapist, but for the
purpose of this short article I have selected just a few of them to share with
straightforwardness and practicing what he preached.
He reminded us that all humans are
fallible, prone to acting both for and against our healthy goals, but that we
have the power to control our emotional destinies, and that by choosing to
think in healthy ways we can create appropriate and healthy emotions. With
urgency he would often remind us of the swift passing of time – encouraging us
to use it well, and not waste it by creating unnecessary misery.
And he did not waste a minute of his time.
He would usually work 16 hour days. On planes, in doctors’ waiting rooms and
elsewhere – he would never sit idly. Instead he would engage in writing,
reading or composing songs and poems.
With straightforward language he would
teach the REBT tools which help change and prevent emotional suffering, and
often share his own experiences of using them on himself in dealing with his
unhelpful tendencies. He never presented himself as someone occupying any altar
of “holier that thou” perfection. He spoke of his successful efforts as a young
man in overcoming painful and debilitating shyness. He spoke often of the
on-going effort he continued to make to prevent, for example, his largely
inherited tendency of impatience and low frustration tolerance. He reminded us
that, for each one of us, ongoing work and practice are required for the
maintenance of healthy change, sharing his example of doing so with successful
results. Hence many people felt at ease in his company, did not feel judged or
damned for any flaws – they witnessed his unconditional acceptance of himself
and heard of his ongoing efforts. They felt his unconditional acceptance of
them. Al was an authentic model of what he was recommending, in addition to
being teacher and therapist. As a consequence of this, many were less defensive
and more receptive to hearing and acting upon recommendations for changing. Al
did not pander to any justifications that some people presented for continuing
to think and behave in their self-defeating ways. He would dispute such ideas
and did not go along passively with clients or students who were hurting
themselves. His no-nonsense definite manner added to the motivating energy he
provided. And underneath all of that, most people felt his genuine care and
concern for their well being.
Journalists and others have written about
Al’s experiences during his final years of life: being ousted off the board of
his institute and then being re-instated by a Supreme Court judge (even though
it was too late to have any impact); of his being stopped by directors from
presenting programs in his institute (we rented a room in the building next
door to continue giving workshops); and of his sadness in discovering that the
original mission statement for his institute had been changed without his
knowledge or approval. He felt deeply saddened by these and other related
events – and yet continued to practice what he preached. He did not damn or
hate the people involved – he was very clear about that. He hated their actions
– but did not hate them. Hence he did not experience rage, or depression, just
a deep sadness which was wholly appropriate in those circumstances. He also
felt genuine compassion for those people.
One afternoon as my tears fell following an
incident I considered very harsh and unjust – he gently reminded me “Accept,
Debbie, accept. Since they think in the way they think, then they have to act
the way they act. We don’t like it. But we had better accept it.” He taught me,
and showed me, that unconditional acceptance of others is something we can choose
to experience, when we are willing to put in the effort. It may not arise
automatically when people act against our goals – hence effort is required. As
a result of doing so I felt steadied, less devastated, less hopeless and felt
appropriate concern and sadness. Consequently when I work with clients who
would benefit from working to choose to accept what they cannot change, I do so
with comfort and conviction. I know that I am not just spouting a familiar line
or presenting a Pollyanna-ish ideal. I know from my experience that the
attainment of unconditional acceptance, though often difficult to do in dire
circumstances, is nonetheless achievable when one makes the choice and
puts in the effort. And well worth it.
The final 14 months of Al’s life were
marred by brutal ill health, yet he continued to practice what he preached. In
addition to making effort to change undesirable circumstances with whatever
strength he had, he accepted the likelihood that he might not succeed. Though
we felt deep sadness, we also practiced another important REBT principle –
accepting our sadness whilst also focusing on what was good and positive. Each
and every day we relished being together, grateful for our love and remarkable
closeness. Though so many things were not going well, we still had one another.
And with gratitude we focused on that love, and cherished it.
Humor and Keeping
Things in Healthy Perspective.
Al included the use of humor as being one
of the helpful responses to adopt when circumstances were challenging. He had
sharp wit and an uninhibited way of expressing his observations that led many
listeners to laugh and to take things less seriously. In one workshop
demonstration with Al, a woman shared her negatively critical impressions of
her appearance, thinking she would never meet a romantic partner, that she was
“never good enough”, and was feeling depressed and anxious as a result. Al
asked her from where she got such nutty ideas. She responded “From magazines
and family” – to which he answered, “So they are as crazy as you are!”
He said this warmly, with a smile on his
face, and she roared with laughter, gaining new perspective on her unrealistic
thoughts and self assessments, as he continued to use REBT with her. Over time
she successfully worked with Al to stop putting herself down, and her
depression and anxiety diminished remarkably.
In our everyday life together Al used humor
constantly – including during the tough times.
In 2003 after some months of abdominal
discomfort, Al suffered severe symptoms and we rushed to the hospital. His
large intestine was severely infected and in danger of bursting at any moment.
Immediate surgery was required, his life
was in danger, and the whole of his large intestine was about to be removed.
When I told Al this news, instead of complaining, he said “At least they’re not
taking my balls!”
2013 is the centennial anniversary year of
Born with great intelligence and capacity
for innovation and creativity, his life and work and his immense dedication to
helping people, contributed to their well being in profound ways.
He was a deeply caring and truly
His practice, modeling and teaching of the
benefit of choosing to constantly work on gaining and experiencing
compassion, kindness and unconditional acceptance of oneself, others and life
itself during challenging times may have been one of his most important
contributions. This attitude was healing for the recipient and elevating for
His life and works will inspire many for
years to come.
Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis.
Dr. Albert Ellis and Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis
Ellis, A. & Ellis, D.J. (2011) Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
American Psychological Association: Washington DC.
Ellis, A. (2010) All Out! An Autobiography. Prometheus Books: Amherst, N.Y.
Ellis, A. (2005) The Myth of Self Esteem. Prometheus Books: Amherst, N.Y.
Dr Albert Ellis
ignited, and powerfully fuelled, the cognitive revolution in psychology,
counseling and therapy, with his pioneering approach of Rational Emotive
Behavior Therapy (REBT) in the 1950’s. In addition, he helped transform
limiting and uncivil social mores and attitudes of the time, with his vigorous
actions supporting equality for women, gay rights, inter-racial marriage,
ending of censorship and many more. He has often been referred to as “The
greatest humanitarian since Gandhi”. He wrote over 85 published books and over
800 published articles, presented tirelessly around the USA and across the
globe, and helped millions of people through his REBT approach to suffer less emotional
misery and to experience more happiness in their lives.
his Centennial year 2013, his wife Dr Debbie Joffe Ellis is available to speak
about Dr Albert Ellis and his legacy.
Born September 27th,
1913, this year marks the centennial anniversary of his birth. At various major
conferences throughout the year tribute will be given to this great man and his
contributions. He will be honored posthumously on August 1st, 2013 in the
opening ceremony of the annual American Psychological Association convention
with the ‘APA Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology’,
which is one of APA’s highest honors.
The first tribute
of the year will be presented in a Symposium at the annual Eastern
Psychological Association conference, held in New York City, in March 2013. It
is hoped that many will attend the various tributes throughout the year, and be
inspired by the remarkable works and character of Albert Ellis PhD.
Some not only wish
that life were as they would want it to be but insist it should be so. This
fanciful way of thinking projects a world where everything is as it ‘oughta
be.’ Do you ought should or must on yourself, others and the world?
Must you always meet your
own lofty expectations of yourself?
Must others always
treat you as you would like to be treated?
Must life in general always
deliver what you want?
This form of oughtism
manifests in all manner of ailments that get in the way of achieving our goals.
For instance ‘should’
that driver have let you in back there and is he an idiot for not being as
attentive as he could (should?) have been?
Are you a hopeless
case for getting a C minus in your assignment instead of the A you ‘should’ have
Should life be easy
for you and deliver to you all that you want to be happy? Isn’t it so unfair
when things don’t go your way?
oughtistic beliefs deny us the ability to deal with challenges appropriately.
For instance if we think the driver above should have let you in and he is an
idiot for not doing so we may feel angrier than we need be. We may also act
aggressively and make poor behavioural choices. Is he making you mad or is your
anger a result of your demand that he should
have acted more courteously?
Ever said to your
child you make me so mad! Is she so powerful that she can determine how strong
you feel? Is she responsible for causing your feelings and behaviour? ‘She made
me mad and I slapped her. It’s her fault!’
Is it reasonable to think that
as adults we are now able to assume responsibility of our own emotions and
behaviour? Is it not better for our children to observe us dealing with
situations in a constructive way so that they won’t develop these self (and
other) destructive oughtistic tendencies?
Train yourself to monitor how you react
emotionally to a situation; identify how you feel and how strong that feeling
is. Do you feel mad (say 7 or more out of 10)?
Are you about to rant and throw stuff?
Ask yourself ‘Am I in control?’
Take some deep breaths and remove yourself from
What are you demanding of the situation that
you can’t reasonably expect? E.g. ‘that driver should have let me in back
there. Idiot. He makes me mad!’
Replace ‘should’ with ‘prefer’ – I’d prefer
he’d let me in but he didn’t and I can handle this. His behaviour was bad but that
doesn’t make him an idiot.’
You will notice that
anger gives way to annoyance and disappointment and you remain in control. Your
four year old in her seat behind you well notice how well you manage yourself
and she will learn some useful rules like:
I can stay cool in tough situations
I don’t expect that things should/must always
go my way
I can control how I feel (and act)
I can deal with problems without making small
problems into bigger ones
She will learn that
sometimes things happen that we don’t like but we don’t turn minor problems
into catastrophes i.e. We prefer people were more courteous on the road
(sometimes they make mistakes).
We are oughting when
I can't stand this/it! (This shouldn’t happen)
I/you failed. Idiot! (I/you shouldn’t fail)
It’s not fair! (Life should always be fair)
You make me mad! (You shouldn’t do that)
I’m hopeless (I shouldn’t make mistakes)
know I can't expect
others should do
think (and act) differently
Oughtism: The oughtomatic tendency to think
in oughts, shoulds and musts.
‘You can’t teach young
students the ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance and it should only be used by
a trained psychologist in the counselling setting.’ Albert Ellis railed against
this kind of misinformation put forth to preserve the status of the
psychologist as ‘expert.’ Ellis of course wanted his ABC Theory of Emotional
Disturbance to be accessible to all, especially to teachers and students. Far
better that young children learn why they feel and act as they do and to
develop insights and skills preventatively and educatively in the school
Jonas Salk who created
the polio vaccine hypothesised that if we could ‘psychologically immunise’
students they would be less prone to mental health issues and would probably be
physically better off too.
Bat Fink, the cartoon
character said to his enemies ‘your bullets cannot harm me, my wings are like
shields of steel?’ He would wrap his wings around himself deflecting any harmful
bullets from hitting him, thwarting those who would have him undone.
Teaching students how
to deflect psychological harm as part of daily curricula activities would be a useful
thing. Rational Emotive Behaviour Education does just that by using some basic
but essential counselling tools and ideas. To those who may think ‘I am not a
psychologist and I have enough to teach’ consider the following and reap the
actions are determined largely by their constructed views (beliefs) about
themselves, others and the world (as indeed our own are).
beliefs can be largely helpful (rational) or unhelpful (irrational).
of emotion is also linked to these constructed views – ‘I want something and I
must have it and I didn’t get it.’= anger. ‘I want something and I prefer to have
it but I can wait.’ = disappointment.
feeling and behaving are connected – ‘Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes
it so!’ Hamlet.
broccoli is only good or bad depending on what you think about it (replace
broccoli with ‘maths’ ‘chores’ etc)
Emotional Thermometer – words for varying strength of feeling.
3.Teach the Catastrophe
Scale – how to put the severity of problems into reasonable perspective (is a
sore toe as bad as your favourite pet gerbil being eaten by a cat)
behaviour specific feedback to students not person specific (you did
that well/badly not you are a lazy klutz!)
5.You can do
dumb but not be dumb, a very important distinction (you ARE NOT what you DO.
You ARE NOT what others THINK of you). You can fail at something but never can
you BE a failure (unless you believe you are – irrational)
Use the idea of Bat
Fink deflecting harmful bullets and encourage students to consider information
and evidence to draw their own conclusions about their self worth and rejecting
(deflecting) errant incoming data. Can a person be bad? No. A person can act
badly which does not cancel out the positive qualities that remain.Failure also doesn’t define a person
nor does rejection i.e. we are worthwhile because we are here! (Albert Ellis –