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As one of the most influential psychotherapists in history, Dr. Albert Ellis (1913-2007) is lauded for developing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) in 1955. The first of what is now known as cognitive behavioral therapies, REBT is built on the idea that how we feel is influenced by how we think. Simply put, this type of therapy encourages the development of rational thinking for healthy, emotional expression and behavior.

Ellis believed that people are not disturbed by things, but rather by their view of things. He found that ways of thinking became ingrained in our brains at an early age or as the result of painful or traumatic events. This thinking continued to subconsciously influence behaviors and perceptions into adulthood. With REBT, Ellis founded a therapy that reshaped core beliefs in people who experienced mental health conditions, and the result was individuals who lived full, satisfying lives without unnecessary psychological distress.

Born in Pittsburgh and raised in New York City, Ellis held master and doctorate degrees in clinical psychology from Columbia University. He served as chief psychologist for the State of New Jersey and held adjunct professorships at Rutgers and other universities. In 1959, he established the Albert Ellis Institute, a non-profit organization with a goal to promote REBT as a comprehensive educative and preventative theory.

For 60 years, Ellis practiced psychotherapy, marriage and family counseling, and sex therapy at the Psychological Center of the Institute in New York. He held prominent roles as president of the Division of Consulting Psychology of the American Psychological Association and for the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. He served as officer of professional societies, such as the American Association of Marital and Family Therapy, the American Academy of Psychotherapists and the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists. In addition, he was a diplomat in clinical psychology of the American Board of Professional Psychology.
He was associate editor and consultant for scientific journals, publishing more than 1,000 scientific papers and audio and video cassettes. Designated as Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association, Ellis was considered the second most influential psychotherapist in history based on a professional survey of U.S. and Canadian psychologists in 1982. (Carl Rogers and Sigmund Freud were ranked first and third, respectively.)

Psychology Today noted, “No individual—not even Freud himself—has had a greater impact on modern psychotherapy.”

Ellis died at home on July 24, 2007.

Ellis was the author or editor of many books, including:

  • How to Live with a “Neurotic”
  • Sex Without Guilt
  • The Art and Science of Love
  • A Guide to Rational Living
  • Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy
  • How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything—Yes, Anything!
  • Overcoming Procrastination
  • Overcoming Resistance
  • The Practice of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
  • How to Make Yourself Happy and Remarkably Less Disturbable
  • Feeling Better, Getting Better, Staying Better
  • Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviors
  • Anger: How to Live With It and Without It
  • Ask Albert Ellis
  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: It Works for Me—It Can Work for You
  • The Road to Tolerance: The Philosophy of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
  • The Myth of Self-Esteem

Memorable Quotes by Dr. Albert Ellis

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”

“People and things do not upset us. Rather, we upset ourselves by believing that they can upset us.”

“There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.”

“People don’t just get upset. They contribute to their upsetness. They always have the power to think, and to think about their thinking, and to think about thinking about their thinking, which the goddamn dolphin, as far as we know, can’t do. Therefore, they have much greater ability to change themselves than any other animal has.”

“You have considerable power to construct self-helping thoughts, feelings and actions as well as to construct self-defeating behaviors. You have the ability, if you use it, to choose healthy instead of unhealthy thinking, feeling and acting.”

“Reality is not so much what happens to us; rather, it is how we think about those events that create the reality we experience. In a very real sense, this means that we each create the reality in which we live.”

“By honestly acknowledging your past errors, but never damning yourself for them, you can learn to use your past for your own future benefit.”

“Life is indeed difficult, partly because of the real difficulties we must overcome in order to survive, and partly because of our own innate desire to always do better, to overcome new challenges, to self-actualize. Happiness is experienced largely in striving toward a goal, not in having attained things, because our nature is always to want to go on to the next endeavor.”

“It is only in your mind that you have to excel, at anything or everything. Of course, it would be very nice to excel at most things. Indeed, we recommend that you try and do your best. But, realistically, you are entitled to do the bare minimum to get by. All your accomplishments are just a bonus, something to enjoy, not requirements. You don’t have to do anything to prove that you are worthy of existing.”

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own.”

“I’m one of the best-loved psychologists in the United States, but I’m also probably the most hated one.”

“Stop shoulding on yourself.”

“You mainly feel the way you think.”

“If you would stop, really stop, damning yourself, others, and unkind conditions, you would find it almost impossible to upset yourself emotionally – about anything. Yes, anything.”

“We can’t change the past, so we change how people are thinking, feeling and behaving today.”

“Neurosis is just a high-class word for whining.”

“Acceptance is not love. You love a person because he or she has lovable traits, but you accept everybody just because they’re alive and human.”

“If human emotions largely result from thinking, then one may appreciably control one’s feelings by controlling one’s thoughts – or by changing the internalized sentences, or self-talk, with which one largely created the feeling in the first place.”

“Even when people act nastily to you, don’t condemn them or retaliate.”

“If people stopped looking on their emotions as ethereal, almost inhuman processes, and realistically viewed them as being largely composed of perceptions, thoughts, evaluations, and internalized sentences, they would find it quite possible to work calmly and concertedly at changing them.”

“Even injustice has its good points. It gives me the challenge of being as happy as I can in an unfair world.”

Three Principles of REBT

Ellis established three guiding principles of REBT, known as the ABCs of REBT: activating event, beliefs and consequences. They are:

  • Activating (or Adverse) Event: It is essential to identify the situation or event that triggers negative emotional and/or behavior response.
  • Beliefs: The core beliefs attached to the emotional or behavioral response must be identified and examined. Therapists using REBT techniques guide a person to explore where the beliefs originate and develop a plan for recognizing and replacing them with positive affirmation.
  • Consequences: The activating event and core beliefs produce a result or consequence, such as depression, social anxiety, antisocial behavior or issues with self esteem. The deconstruction of ingrained negative beliefs and integration of fresh, positive perceptions can dramatically improve an individual’s outlook and experience of life.

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