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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Will We Remember Albert Ellis in 100 Years?


Frank Farley and Mona Sarshar's review of Albert Ellis Revisited, edited by Jon Carlson and William Knaus, is very laudatory, and Farley and Sarshar use the review to underscore their appreciation for the significance of Ellis's work and Ellis's important role in the history of psychology.  For example, Farley and Sarshar write, "Ellis was one of the most colorful, provocative, and influential psychologists of the last 100 years" (para. 10).  

I knew Al, and I cherished his friendship.  He met his deadlines, and he had the distinction of being the only contributor to Current Psychotherapies (Wedding & Corsini, 2014) whose initial draft chapter was accepted without a single revision.

As I reminisced about my friend, after reading Farley and Sarshar's review, I found myself thinking about Isaiah Berlin's  ( discussion of the difference between the hedgehog and the fox, applied to describing different types of writers and thinkers. Hedgehogs have a single, superordinate, all-encompassing idea that defines and shapes all of their work; foxes, on the other hand, have myriad ideas that they draw on when they create new works.  Ellis was incredibly prolific, but he was clearly a hedgehog with one big idea, and almost all of his work links to the core concept of our predilection for irrational thinking.  Some critics have noted this common denominator in all of Ellis's work, and one critic joked that Ellis wrote the same book 85 times.

How will history judge Albert Ellis?  Will he be as highly regarded in 2115 as he is in 2015? Was he treated unfairly at the end of his life by the board of the Albert Ellis Institute (Dobkin, 2005)?



Dobkin, M. (2005, November 7). Behaviorists behaving badly. New York Magazine. Retrieved from

Wedding, D., & Corsini, R.J. (Eds.) (2014). Current psychotherapies (10th ed.).  Belmont, CA: Thompson Brooks/Cole.


Read the Review
ReviewThe Albert Ellis Legacy
By Frank Farley and Mona Sarshar
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(14)


Debbie Joffe Ellis

I think that there is a very strong possibility that Albert Ellis will be remembered in 100 years --- if teachers and practitioners teach his work accurately and without omitting chunks of it, and if theorists give credit where credit is due when borrowing from his theories and incorporating them into their own.
I continue to do my best to teach and write about REBT in its essential form, not watering it down in any ways.

It is a great joy that this year I start teaching REBT as adjunct professor at Columbia University TC: the very place, the very building(!) in which Al worked on and received his PhD!
I also hope that in time not far away Al's unique and remarkable life will be shown to the mass public through film --- be it through a television station like HBO, or on the big screen. Time will tell. I stay alert to possibilities that can make that vision of mine a reality.

I do not agree that "he was clearly a hedgehog with one big idea, and almost all of his work links to the core concept of our predilection for irrational thinking. Some critics have noted this common denominator in all of Ellis's work."

His concept about irrational thinking is certainly one of the common REBT denominators --- but NOT the only one.
Equally important in REBT is the concept of unconditional acceptance --- and its 3 specific components --- unconditional self acceptance, unconditional other acceptance, and unconditional life acceptance.
More than any other cognitive approach, REBT emphasizes the benefit, and importance to the well-being of each individual, of making effort to create and experience these attitudes as often as possible.

I believe that REBT is the most holistic of the cognitive approaches, and does not only focus on the mind and cognition.
It also focuses on the heart and emotions.
I have heard it said that some have wrongly assumed that REBT suggests that people not feel negative emotions.
This is false.
REBT urges us to have healthy negative emotions in response to adversity - not NO uncomfortable emotions.

In my view, Al was not like a hedgehog with one predominant idea, far from it, but he was a man with a predominant intention to help as many people as possible to suffer less emotional misery and to experience more joy in their lives.

REBT incorporated aspects of mindfulness from its get-go : an area which now is frequently written about in psychology and counseling.
REBT includes reminders of the benefit of using humor, and song, and engaging in absorbing activities, and --- very importantly --- emphasizes helping others, kindness, gratitude and social interest.
An article I wrote, which includes reference to some of these points I mention above, is published in the current
APA Journal of Spirituality in Clinical Practice (2015), titled: "Reflections --- The Profound Impact of Gratitude: In Times of Ease and Times of Challenge" (Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 96-100).

Al and I were presenting on REBT and Buddhism in his final years, and I have yet to complete the manuscript we started before he died.

No --- REBT is not just focused on irrational thinking.

You write: How will history judge Albert Ellis? Will he be as highly regarded in 2115 as he is in 2015? Was he treated unfairly at the end of his life by the board of the Albert Ellis Institute (Dobkin, 2005)?

If he and his life story are presented accurately, history may judge Albert Ellis as a visionary, a genius, and man ahead of his times. A man whose way of expressing may have turned some off, but turned many more on. A man who had an inner gentleness and heart of gold. He deserves to be as highly regarded, if not more so, in 2115 as he is now.

He was severely tested at the end of his life - and passed the test.
Treated in ways he found brutal and shocking, he continued to practice what he preached.
He hated what was being done --- but did not hate the people who did those acts. He actually felt compassion for them.
Unconditional Other Acceptance.
Despite enduring the saddest period of his life, he continued to focus on what still was good in it --- namely at that time --- the love he and I shared.
He refused to neglect appreciation daily of that precious element of our lives, and refused to totally drown himself in the pain of the bad stuff going on.

Was he treated unfairly?
Those who witnessed the treatment he received, witnesses without agenda, people more objective than me, would say YES, without hesitation.
I know this for a fact.
And me --- who lived through it and received hostility along with Al, my opinion is that the word "unfairly" does not come close.

I will continue to teach REBT, and to speak the truth about it and its history, and that of its founder.
DVDs in which I speak about and demonstrate REBT have been made which include description of the elements of REBT mentioned above --- and I intend to do more.
More books and articles will be written --- and hopefully other people who knew more about the real Albert Ellis will do so too.
I truly hope so.
In so doing, we increase the chance that a rare soul, misunderstood by many, embraced by many more, a man whose work and example enhanced the lives of countless people and continues to do so, will be remembered with immense gratitude, amusement, amazement and at times --- awe.

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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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