Albert Ellis was a prominent psychologist who came up with ‘Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy’. He is also considered to be one of the creators of the rational revolutionary paradigm shift in analysis and the forerunner developer of cognitive-behavioural therapy. Considered one of the most influential psychotherapists after Carl Rogers, Ellis initiated a new approach to tackle the ‘unknown’ in the field of psychology. Although he was disparaged and ostracized by many of his peers, his influence insistently grew manifold. He also opened his own practice and specialized in sex and marriage therapy, thus, founding the Manhattan Institute. He would hold seminars regularly for large, full-house crowds at the institute and is reminisced for his inflammatory yet amusing oratory skills and delivery. Throughout his prolific career, he continued to work on the cognitive behavior therapy, proving it to be as effective as prescribed medication for treating people suffering from melancholy, anxiety and other psychological conditions. His hardheaded approach combined with argumentative style, has been hugely instrumental in the evolution of modern psychology. He continued to work till the end of his life, despite numerous health problems.
Childhood & Early Life
Albert Ellis was the eldest of the three children born to a Jewish couple in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Later in his life, Ellis claimed that his mother suffered from bi-polar disorder and his father, showed very little affection towards his children.
From very early on, Ellis suffered from numerous health problems. Between the ages of five to seven, he was hospitalized eight times, out of which one lasted for almost a year.
When the Great Depression struck in 1929, all three children sought to help the family by working, despite their parents being emotionally distant from them.
Meanwhile, he did not let go off his studies and attained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business from City College of New York Downtown, in 1934.
After graduating from college, he initiated a business which did not bring forth any promising result. He next forayed into the field of writing but was unsuccessful at that too. Finally, he decided to enter the field of clinical psychology.
He began studying for a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1942. The following year, his completed his Master of Arts in the subject and started his private practice, while simultaneously working for his Ph.D. degree.
Even before he could receive his Ph.D., he was writing articles, austerely criticizing personality tests. In 1947, he was awarded a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University.
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Upon earning his Ph.D., he became greatly inspired by the works of Sigmund Freud and decided that he wanted to further his knowledge by studying and practicing psychoanalysis.
He also began teaching at New York University and Rutgers University and held a number of prominent staff positions. It was during his tenure as a professor that his faith in psychoanalysis began to disintegrate.
In the late 40s, he began working on ‘Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy’, popularly known as REBT. In 1952, he authored the book ‘Sex Beliefs and Customs’.
In 1954, he began teaching new systems to other therapists and in the next three years, he industrialized and set forward the leading cognitive behavior therapy. It was around this time, he developed ‘Rational Therapy’ (RT).
As he was deeply involved in the study of erotic relations and supported an open-minded attitude to sex - he published one of his most classic works, ‘Sex without Guilt’, in 1958.
In 1959, he published ‘How to Live with a Neurotic’, which elaborated on the cognitive behavior therapy. Notwithstanding the comparatively slow acceptance of this approach to psychology, he founded the ‘The Institute for Rational Living’ the same year.
In 1960, he presented a paper on his new approach at the American Psychological Association (APA). Eight years later, the institute was commissioned by the New York State Board of Regents as a training institute and psychological center.
Through the 60s, he became a noticeable figure in the evolution of the American Sexual Revolution. He expounded in a number of publications, the themes of human sexuality and love. In 1965, he authored ‘Homosexuality: Its Causes and Cure’.
In the early 70s, he established ‘The Living School’ for children. It was during this time, he held many significant positions in specialized societies including the Division of Consulting Psychology, Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, the American Academy of Psychotherapists and so on.
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In 1994, he reviewed and reorganized his classic book, ‘Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy’. Six years later, he authored ‘How to Control your Anxiety before it Controls You’.
In 2004, he authored an autobiographical book, ‘Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy: It Works for me—It Can Work for You’. Additionally, he started working on his second autobiographical work, ‘All Out!: An Autobiography’, which was published posthumously.
Towards the end of his life, he continued to conduct workshops on mental well being and psychotherapy all around the world. By the end of his life, he had authored as many as 80 books and 1200 articles.
Probably one of his best-known works is the development of the ‘Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy’ (REBT), inspired by the wisdoms of Roman, Asian and Greek philosophers. The theory was first explicated in the mid-50s and was continuously being developed till the time of his death.
REBT is based on the central principles that individuals do not just haphazardly get distressed by difficulties around them. It is the product of how each individual concepts their opinions and how they measure actuality, by means of language, beliefs and ideologies. Today, the REBT is used in a broad range of clinical diagnoses and is used as a universal treatment for numerous psychological problems.
Awards & Achievements
In 1971, he was presented the American Humanist Association Award for ‘Humanist of the Year’.
In 1988, he won the ACA Professional Development Award.
The Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies presented him the ‘Outstanding Clinician Award’, in 1996.
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He won the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, in 2005.
The American Counseling Association honored him with a Lifetime Distinguished Service Award, in 2006.
Before his death, ‘Psychology Today’ named him the ‘Greatest Living Psychologist’.
In 2013, he was posthumously awarded the APA Award for ‘Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology’.
Personal Life & Legacy
He suffered from a number of illnesses throughout his life. Apart from his childhood illnesses, he also writhed from diabetes, intestinal problems and pneumonia.
He was married to Australian psychologist, Debbie Joffe Ellis, whom he claimed was ‘the greatest love of his whole life’.
He passed away at the age of 93, due to kidney and heart failure, in New York, USA.
During his lifetime, he worked in several dimensions and particularly focused on the development of the REBT, which is to date, one of the most influential and effective practices around the world.
He is also attributed with helping to offer the foundation for cognitive behavior therapy, which is still one of the greatest forms of treatment in modern psychology.
This popular American psychologist and advocator of Rational Therapy was extremely shy around women, when he was a young boy. To rid himself of his fear of rejection by women, he forced himself to exchange dialogue with 100 women in a month at the Bronx Botanical Gardens.