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Dr. Albert Ellis pauses in his office before a Friday night demonstration of his confrontational technique to a packed house at the Albert Ellis Institute on East 65th Street in Manhattan.



From Therapy's Lenny Bruce: Get Over It! Stop Whining!


Published: May 4, 2004

On a recent Friday evening, nearly 200 people came to the Albert Ellis Institute in Manhattan to watch a master performance — call it stand-up psychotherapy — by a legend.

As he has on nearly every Friday night for more than 30 years, Dr. Albert Ellis, the 90-year-old psychologist who invented rational emotive behavioral therapy and wrenched psychotherapy out of the age of Freud and into the age of Dr. Phil, was demonstrating his no-nonsense, confrontational, obscenity-laden technique before a packed house on East 65th Street.

"Do you know why your family is trying to control you?" he asked a volunteer who joined him at the front of the room. "Because they're out of their minds," he said, adding an unprintable adjective between "their" and "minds."

Another volunteer, Kristin Bell, spoke of her sister who had been killed by a drug dealer eight years before. "Why can't you understand that some people are crazy and violent and do all kinds of terrible things?" Dr. Ellis asked. "Until you accept it, you're going to be angry, angry, angry."

It is Dr. Ellis's conviction that people can always rationally choose to change and that a psychotherapist's job is to nudge them, gently or otherwise, in the right direction. That view has defined his career and has helped usher in an emphasis on quick results over profound insights.

Even so, his exhortations to give up anger did not prevent him, less than an hour later, from shouting, "Get out, get out, get out!" when his path out of the room and into the elevator to his penthouse apartment was blocked by the crowd.

"I wasn't upset," he insisted later. "I'm just very firm. I was determined to get them the hell out of the way."

Dr. Ellis has, throughout his life, been firmly determined to let nothing stand in his way, not the critics who have derided him and his methods, not the gastrointestinal infection that nearly killed him last year and resulted in the removal of his colon, not the profound deafness that now forces him to wear headphones and his guests to shout into a microphone.

If anything, the controversy surrounding his reputation as a kind of Lenny Bruce of therapy has only increased his influence.

In July 1982, a review of psychotherapy journals found him to be the most frequently cited author of works published after 1957. That month, he was also ranked as the second most influential psychotherapist in a survey of clinical psychologists, beaten by Carl Rogers, founder of the far gentler school of client-centered psychotherapy. No. 3 was Freud.

"I believe he's a major icon of the 20th century and that he did help to open up a whole new era of psychotherapy," said Dr. Aaron T. Beck, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and the founder of cognitive therapy, which is also based on rational thinking.

Dr. David B. Baker, a professor of psychology at the University of Akron and the director of its Archives of the History of American Psychology, said Dr. Ellis's confrontational approach posed a direct challenge to the drawn-out process of Freudian psychoanalysis.

"His idea and system of confronting irrational thoughts doesn't give you a lot of time to reflect," Dr. Baker said. "He's going to challenge you, confront you, and be very directive."

On a recent morning at his institute, Dr. Ellis laid out his principles for 50 visiting psychotherapists who had arrived for a three-day workshop. "All humans are out of their minds," he began, adding another expletive. "They're not only disturbed. They get disturbed about their disturbances."

Just because people do not like adversity, they decide that it should not exist, Dr. Ellis complained.

"They say, `You disturbed me,' or, `It disturbed me,' or, `My mother disturbed me,' " he said. "They won't accept responsibility for their own disturbance. They refuse to accept the way it is. And then they get depressed about their depression. They rage about their rage. They're screwballs."

To counter people's natural tendency toward self-criticism, Dr. Ellis says, "I teach U.S.A., Unconditional Self-Acceptance: You always accept you no matter what you do." Also on his list are Unconditional Other Acceptance ("Nobody is evil, even if they do evil things") and Unconditional Life Acceptance ("You always accept things, no matter how they are").

Therapists can help people, he said, by giving them what he terms rational coping statements to overcome their irrational self-destructive beliefs. For example, Dr. Ellis said, when preparing to take on a risky challenge, patients should be encouraged to say they would like to do well, but too bad if they don't.

In one exercise that Dr. Ellis promotes, patients are encouraged to imagine situations that normally provoke extreme fear, panic or rage. Holding the imaginary situations in their minds, the patients are asked to change the feeling to acceptance. Practiced daily for a month, the exercise can help people change their most deep-seated feelings about situations, he said.

Unlike Dr. Beck, who subjected his methods and techniques to careful scientific testing, Dr. Ellis's insights have evolved, in great part, from personal experiences. At 19, when he was, by his own estimate, painfully shy of women, he set himself a task. Hanging around a bench in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx one summer, he decided that he would speak to every single woman who sat down alone. In one month, he approached 130 women.

"Thirty walked away immediately," he said. "I talked with the other 100, for the first time in my life, no matter how anxious I was. Nobody vomited and ran away. Nobody called the cops."

In one month, he said, "I completely got over my shyness by thinking differently, feeling differently and, in particular, acting differently."

So successful was the transformation that in the 50's and early 60's he built his reputation as a sexologist, writing best-sellers like "Sex Without Guilt" and "Science of Love."

There was criticism. But he did not care.

"I just kept going and going and going," he said. "Kinsey was much better known. But he wasn't read. They were reading my books."

With a doctorate in clinical psychology from Columbia and a large psychotherapy practice that specialized in sex and marriage therapy, Dr. Ellis became disgusted with traditional methods after spending — or, as he put it, "wasting" — six years in psychoanalysis.

He turned to Greek, Roman and modern philosophers — and his own experience. A result was rational-emotive-behavioral therapy, whose focus, he decided, would be not on excavating childhood, but on confronting the irrational thoughts that lead to self-destructive feelings and behavior.

"The trouble with most therapy," Dr. Ellis said, "is that it helps you to feel better. But you don't get better. You have to back it up with action, action, action."

Among his peers, the reactions were quick — and brutal.

"I was hated by practically all psychologists and psychiatrists," he said. "They thought it was superficial and stupid. They resented that I said therapy doesn't have to take years."

Yet Dr. Ellis has never stopped saying anyone can change his life, usually without medication.

Now living on the top floor of the institute that bears his name, Dr. Ellis refuses to give in to the depredations of age. "I'll retire when I'm dead," he said. His health problems, he insisted, were little more than annoyances.

"When they said they might have to take my colon out, I told them, `That's too bad if you have to, but what else can we do?' " he said. "I don't think it's terribly unfair. The Buddha said life is suffering. But he forgot to add that for older people, it's much more suffering."

Married and divorced twice without children, Dr. Ellis was in an open relationship for 37 years that ended a year ago. These days, he works, as he always has, pretty much around the clock. Since nearly dying last year, he has written four more books, sending the total over 70.

"While I'm alive," he said, "I want to keep doing what I want to do. See people. Give workshops. Write, and preach the gospel according to St. Albert."


The Human Condition
Ageless, Guiltless

By Adam Green

The New Yorker magazine, October 13, 2003, pp. 42-43


The second-most-influential psychotherapist of the twentieth century, by the reckoning of the American Psychological Association, turned ninety last month. His name is Albert Ellis, and, in case you didnt know, he is the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, or REBT, and the author of more than seventy books, including Sex Without Guilt, Sex and the Liberated Man, The Case for Promiscuity, and How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything Yes, Anything!  Ellis started out as a psychoanalyst, in 1947, but soon decided that exploring his patients childhood traumas had nothing to do with the price of spinach. By the mid-fifties, he had devised his own method, based on the premise, set forth by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, that people are disturbed not by what happens to them but by their view of what happens to them, and also on his personal observation that, as he said the other day, all humans are out of their fucking minds every single one of them.

About two hundred humans turned up at the Albert Ellis Institute, whose headquarters are in a six-story townhouse on East Sixty-fifth Street, to celebrate the founders birth with a day of workshops and symposiums, followed by a catered shindig. Ellis is thin and birdlike, with a prominent nose, and he wears large, black-framed glasses. His voice is high and nasal, and when he gets excited it swoops from a goosey honk to a gullish screech. A gastrointestinal infection almost killed him this year, but now he seemed in fine form. Throughout the day, he held forth on a range of topics, from tolerance (I dont damn any person, including Stalin, Hitler, and President Bush) to self-esteem (the worst sickness known to man or woman, because it says, I did well, therefore I am good, which means that when I do badly back to shithood for me) and aging (None of us can change the fact that were going to get older and die too fucking bad).

Ellis spoke about the bad things that happened to him during his childhood, in the Bronx, and about how they led to his early experiments in rational thinking. During a ten-month hospitalization for nephritis, which he got when he was four and a half, he eased his anxiety and loneliness by telling himself; If I die, I die fuck it its not the end of the world. When he was five, his parents found him naked with their neighbors five-year-old daughter, playing a clever game with a funnel and a bottle of milk. That was my first great heterosexual love a little beauty, a blond bombshell, Ellis said. But then her parents moved away and wouldnt even tell us where they were moving. So, for a while, I was a very depressed child. But I was still able to use the coping statement There will be other women, and I can always have good times with them.   At nineteen Ellis tried an experiment to conquer his fear of rejection: he hung around the Bronx Botanical Garden, and, whenever he saw a girl on her own, forced himself to start a conversation. I got to be one of the best picker-uppers of women in the United States, and finally started making it with them, a lot, he said.

That evening, shrinks drank white wine, talked shop, and spoke about Elliss contributions to the profession. The consensus was that his ideas, and his technique of confronting clients with their irrational thoughts, gave birth to the cognitive-behavioral approach that dominates psychotherapy today. He recognized that were all fallible, which is something I try to communicate to my clients, a psychologist named Marjy Ehmer said. Though I dont think its necessary to tell them that theyre fucking fallible.

Up in his office, Ellis, dressed in a burgundy silk shirt, gray pants, and thin black socks, took his ease, pashalike, in a leather recliner, and received well-wishers. His assistant, Debbie Joffe, an energetic blond research fellow from Australia, repeated whatever anyone said into a wireless amplifier that beamed directly to Elliss hearing aid. One woman told him that he should learn how to read lips. Someone else mentioned that, in the Off Broadway play Trumbo, he is referred to as the greatest humanitarian since Gandhi. In both cases, Ellis smiled and said, Could be. Nicole Kidman was there, of course, in a low-cut black number and sling-back heels. She had come with her father, Tony, who is an Ellis disciple. You look wonderful, Kidman said.

She says you look wonderful, Al, Debbie said slowly, in a loud voice.

Thanks you look O.K., too, Ellis said.

Later, with a white scarf that had been blessed by the Dalai Lama draped around his neck, Ellis listened to congratulatory messages from Michael Bloomberg, Chuck Schumer, and the Clintons, among others. Someone read an e-mail from President Bush, then handed the printout to Ellis, who glanced at it and let it drop to the floor. There were toasts, too. Janet Wolfe, who lived with Ellis in an open relationship for thirty-seven years (she moved out last year), called him a closet mensch.

Since nearly dying this year, Ellis has written two books, and he has been collecting thousands of articles about how stupid people are as research for a third, tentatively titled A History of the Dark Ages: The Twenty-first Century. He continues to refuse to make himself miserable about anything yes, anything. He would like to have a romantic partner, and would prefer that other therapists not pass off his ideas as their own, but, he said, I dont get angry or upset or depressed about it. Thats the human condition too damn bad. Ellis bears no grudge toward the man who beat him out for the top spot on the A.P.A.s influential-psychotherapist list (that would be Carl Rogers), but he had no kind words for the man who came in third. Freud was out of his fucking mind, Ellis said. He was as nutty as could be.

NOTE: Dr. Ellis sent the following letter to the Editor of the New Yorker
in response to the above article:

To: The New Yorker
From: Dr. Albert Ellis
October 9, 2003

I want to thank Adam Green for his story on my 90th Birthday party, "The
Human Condition. Ageless. Guiltless," in your October 13 issue. Despite his
limited space, he did a great job of describing me, my creation of Rational
Emotive Behavior Therapy, and my presentations of it at the Albert Ellis
Institute in New York.

I tried to correct a few errors in Green's article but my corrections were
not made. No catastrophe, of course, but to put the record straight, here
are some misstatements in your printed version:

• "A gastrointestinal infection almost killed him last year." No, it was in
May of this year.

• "Someone read a [congratulatory] e-mail from President Bush, then handed
the printout to Ellis, who glanced at it and let it drop to the floor."
This was not out of disdain for Bush's congratulation, but because I had too
many including favorable messages from Bloomberg, Schumer, and the
Clintons to keep holding them. I let them all drop to the floor beside my

• "'Freud was out of his mind,' Ellis said. 'He was as nutty as could be.'"
Not exactly. I said, "Freud was a genius, but some of his psychoanalysis
was as nutty as could be."

• "I don't damn any person, including Stalin, Hitler and President Bush."
Yes, but Green's article on me and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy forgot
to add, "I do damn and actively work against many of their thoughts,
feelings and behaviors."

Albert Ellis, Ph.D.



Dr. Ellis Interviewed on National Public Radio

All Rights Reserved  
National Public Radio (NPR)

SHOW: All Things Considered (9:00 PM ET) - NPR

June 3, 2004 Thursday

Dr. Albert Ellis, the psychologist who created cognitive-behavioral therapy




This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most popular forms of psychotherapy in America. Almost every month, some new study is released indicating its effectiveness. But the psychologist credited with creating the intellectual foundations of CBT wasn't always lauded by the mental health community. Reporter Alix Spiegel has a profile of Dr. Albert Ellis, the wildly eccentric character behind what is now America's second-favorite form of talk therapy. His critics, and some listeners, may find him offensive.

ALIX SPIEGEL reporting:

Some say Dr. Albert Ellis is a foul-mouthed sexual revolutionary; others, that he is one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. On a recent spring morning, Ellis held a seminar for 40 or so therapists eager to learn his method.

Dr. ALBERT ELLIS (Psychologist): All humans are out of their goddamn minds, all of them, biologically and sociologically, as we'll show you.

SPIEGEL: For two hours, the therapists furiously scribbled notes while Ellis methodically outlined the tenets of this therapeutic approach. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, Ellis asks them to put down their pencils and pull a white sheet of paper from their folder of seminar materials. In bold black print at the top of the paper were the following words: Rational Humor Songs by Albert Ellis, PhD. He had them skip over "I Wish I Were Not Crazy," sung to the tune of "Dixie," to go directly to one of his favorites, "Perfect Rationality."

Dr. ELLIS: OK, ready, go.

Dr. ELLIS and Group of Therapists: (Singing in unison) Some think the world must have a right direction, and so do I, and so do I.

SPIEGEL: Despite Albert Ellis' rather famous eccentricity, or maybe because of it, Ellis' ideas have had an enormous impact on mental health. He is widely credited with initiating what is now popularly known as cognitive-behavioral therapy, though Ellis calls his particular brand Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Whatever the name, it's the therapeutic approach used by one in four mental health professionals in America. To give you some sense, the Canadian Psychological Association ranks Ellis as the single most influential psychologist in the last hundred years. Number two is Sigmund Freud.

Dr. ELLIS and Group of Therapists: (Singing in unison) Rationality must be a perfect thing for me.

(Soundbite of applause)

SPIEGEL: Ellis grew up in New York, a naturally shy person who decided early on to systematically challenge his own inhibitions. For example, when Ellis was 19, he found it difficult to approach women he found attractive. So every day for a month, Ellis forced himself to go to the Bronx Botanical Garden with the express purpose of confronting his anxiety.

Dr. ELLIS: And whenever I saw a woman sitting on a park bench alone, I'd sit on the same bench and give myself one minute to talk to her. If I die, I die. (Censored) it.

SPIEGEL: One of the eccentricities Ellis is most famous for is his colorful language. Anyway, over the course of the month, Ellis talked to about 130 women. He made one date, one, and the woman never showed. But Ellis still considered the experiment a success.

Dr. ELLIS: I saw philosophically, cognitively, that nothing happened. Nobody cut my balls off. I had a hundred pleasant conversations.

SPIEGEL: When Ellis eventually decided to become a psychologist, he carried this lesson with him, that through conscious work, you can control your feelings. According to Ellis, if you want to live a healthier life, you have to force yourself to systematically challenge and reinterpret the events in your life that most disturb you, to retrain your thinking, and no event is too difficult or traumatizing.

Dr. ELLIS: We say that nothing is awful, nothing. Rape, incest, terrorism, Hitler--it isn't awful.

SPIEGEL: It's not like events like rape or war aren't bad; they are. But according to Ellis, a rational person would recognize that the world is inherently unfair, and you always have a choice about your response.

Dr. ELLIS: When something bad happens, you can easily upset yourself, but you always have a choice to feel sorry, regretful, frustrated, annoyed and not depressed, anxious and despairing.

SPIEGEL: And when patients exhibit despair as a result of what Ellis deems to be fundamentally irrational expectations, he's never shy about confronting them.

(Soundbite of applause)

SPIEGEL: It's Friday night, and the auditorium of the Albert Ellis Institute in New York City is overflowing. Each Friday, the doors open to the public, and Ellis invites two or three volunteers from the audience on stage for a consult. Tonight his assistant, Debbie Joffe, has selected a pale teen-ager who sits on the platform with her arms crossed. Because she speaks softly and Ellis is hard of hearing, the microphone is passed back to his assistant, who explains the girl's problem again: a murder which happened eight years ago.

Ms. DEBBIE JOFFE (Assistant to Dr. Ellis): Kirsten's(ph) sister was shot dead, was shot by a murderer.

Dr. ELLIS: By somebody you don't know.

Ms. JOFFE: Right. And she can't understand how someone could be alive who did that.

SPIEGEL: Ellis has asked that NPR not use the girl's voice. She's very clearly upset. She tells Ellis that she doesn't know how to go on with her life.

Dr. ELLIS: The answer is you can go on with it by going on with it. You are saying that it shouldn't have happened; she shouldn't have been killed. And I say she should have been killed, because that's what happened; that's reality. She got killed. Too bad.

SPIEGEL: Ellis doesn't condone murder, but he wants the girl to release her destructive anger over a reality that cannot be altered. This kind of therapy, where a therapist actively confronts a client's unrealistic beliefs, was revolutionary when Ellis first began practicing. At the time, the monastically silent psychoanalyst was the only acceptable model. And John Norcross, former president of the American Psychological Association's Psychotherapy Division, says that Ellis' new approach was universally condemned by mental health professionals.

Dr. JOHN NORCROSS (Former President, Psychotherapy Division, American Psychological Association): Called simplistic, superficial and potentially harmful.

SPIEGEL: But it wasn't just his therapeutic approach that got Ellis into trouble. He was also reviled for the wildly liberal sexual attitudes he championed. Ellis thought that homosexuality was normal and that masturbation was a good idea. But what has made Ellis a legendary figure in psychology was not just the fact that his ideas were often ahead of their time. Ellis was also an incredibly prolific propagandist. He has written over 75 books and hundreds of papers. And Norcross says this kind of advocacy is important. He points out that according to a famous theory of how scientific idea evolve called the Kuhnian notion of paradigms, most science comes to prominence not only through solid empirical testing but also because of the force of particular charismatic personalities.

Dr. NORCROSS: Someone has to come along and forcibly shake up the status quo, and that person needs to be powerful, innovative and largely unbothered by most colleagues' negative criticisms early on. Al Ellis did that perfectly with cognitive therapy.

SPIEGEL: In fact, Ellis has been so successful in promoting his therapy that on the occasion of his 90th birthday party, the psychologist got birthday greetings from former President Clinton and the Dalai Lama, and that's not all.

Dr. ELLIS: I was just invited to a dinner, a Bush dinner.

SPIEGEL: You were? Are you going to go?

Dr. ELLIS: No, of course not.

(Soundbite of music)

Dr. ELLIS: (Singing) Love me, love me, only me, or I will die without you.

SPIEGEL: Today, 29 percent of psychologists identify themselves as having cognitive-behavioral orientation. Among college professors who teach psychology, the percentage is even higher, 50 percent. This means that the next generation of psychologists will be overwhelmingly cognitive in approach. The singing sexual liberationist has made it mainstream. For NPR News, this is Alix Spiegel in Washington.

(Soundbite of music)

Dr. ELLIS: (Singing) Love me with great tenderness and no 'ifs' or 'buts,' dear, for if you love me somewhat less, I'll hate your goddamn guts, dear.

BLOCK: Tomorrow, our series on CBT concludes with a report on teen-agers with depression.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.




Back to Main Page

Australasian Psychiatry
Volume 12 Issue 4 Page 325  - December 2004

Dr. Ellis with George Halasz 2004

In conversation with Dr Albert Ellis
George Halasz
The name Albert Ellis will be very familiar to readers of Australasian Psychiatry; Albert Ellis, MA PhD, founded rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT) in 1955, the first of the many cognitive behaviour therapies (CBT). He was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in New York City. Dr Ellis has published more than 800 scientific papers, authored or edited over 75 books and monographs, and produced more than 200 audio- and video-cassettes. As a clinician, he has practised in psychotherapy, marriage and family counselling, and sex therapy for 60 years. Currently, he is president of the Albert Ellis Institute in New York City, where I spoke with him on 17 June 2004. Dr Debbie Joffe, currently a Fellow at the Institute, generously arranged our interview. Dr Ellis dedicated his latest book to Dr Joffe.

Our far ranging conversation explored the impact of his childhood illness, sibling relationships and parental divorce, teenage struggles with dating, the effect of Bertrand Russell, Hitler, Stalin and aftermath of the Second World War on his pacifist philosophy, Hornian psychoanalysis, religion, God, mysticism, his love of humour and singing as a 'shame-attacking' exercise and, of course, inventing REBT.

G: I was told that you like to sing and that you have a great sense of humour.

A: I have a lousy singing voice but I'm shameless, so I do shame-attacking exercises.

G: And did you cultivate your sense of humour from your family - is it your nature, or from living in New York?

A: It wasn't from family or anything like that because my mother was not very humorous and my father was not around very much. I didn't ever hear very much of his humour. He had some sense of humour but I very rarely heard it. So I think I cultivated it mainly by myself. I don't take anything too seriously. I try to take much of life with a sense of humour.

G: Perhaps because you've delved to the very depth of the human condition and use humour as a balance, to cope?

A: Partly, but I was first almost famous for my humorous verse, which I published in several New York newspapers. Then I started writing songs, serious and humorous. But at the American Psychological Association meeting in 1975, we had a symposium on humour and I sang some of these humorous songs. I was supposed to accompany them with a tape recorder but the goddamn tape recorder didn't work so I sang à cappela and I've been doing it ever since.

G: Did your singing enhance your reputation or elicit further criticism?

A: Both!

G: Perhaps later you could sing one of those classic songs?

A: Right.

G: The title of your most recent book intrigues me, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, It Works for Me - It Can Work for You (2004). In parts of the book, you describe your near fatal illness last year. As the inventor of rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT), you say REBT 'works for me'. Does this reflect an element of 'physician heal thyself' as integral to your life's work?

A: Yes, because I would probably never have invented REBT had I not used something similar to it for myself when I was fairly young. I was sometimes very anxious and I used humour on myself and I used rationality which I got from reading philosophy. I also was able to 'undisturb' myself out of my anxiety by doing in vivo desensitization invented by J B Watson. So I used it on myself and then later used it in psychotherapy.

G: In your book, you mention that you had quite serious kidney problems for which you were hospitalized in early childhood. Would you say you already used an early form of REBT on yourself as a child?

A: That's right. My first hospital stay was at 51/2, and at 61/2 I was in the hospital for 10 months. I did a great deal of reading there and [also] when I returned home. I figured out certain rational answers which weren't as good as my later ones. I refused to disturb myself about my kidney problems and my other physical ills.

G: So you used reading as a form of self-comforting.

A: The hospital had a library and I probably read every book in it. I used to be able to take out two books a day from the New York public library that I'd read and return the next day and get two more. So from the age of about 6 or 7 I was a voracious reader - everything, mainly fiction, plays, poetry and things like that, but also enormous amount of science and non-fiction.

G: Was your reading guided by a mentor?

A: No. I had a friend who taught me how to read before I even went to school and I liked him and we got along. But he wasn't a mentor and later I had others. One guy was about 3 years older and I was very friendly with him and maybe he helped me philosophically. But I don't remember if he did.

G: So would it be fair to say that already the 51/2 year-old Albert was healing himself?

A: I would say definitely so.

G: Now where do you think a 5 year-old little boy gets the notion that rationality can soothe his worries?

A: Well, mainly from the fact that I was feeling disturbed. I was anxious and somewhat depressed when my parents didn't show up regularly at the hospital, so I didn't want to be miserable. So I said to myself, what will I do not to be miserable and I figured out some of the rational techniques which I used later. My solutions were pretty good but not as good as the later REBT solutions.

G: So the seeds of REBT were already growing from the age of 5?

A: Right.

G: Do you remember if you used this method of coping as you were growing up during adolescence, for yourself or others?

A: Mainly for my brother who was a year and a half younger than I. If he got upset about anything I showed him how to do what I had done. But I also talked to my friends about their emotional problems.

G: Did your brother appreciate your input?

A: Oh yes, he was very rational, very sensible - a sane individual all of his life. Maybe he would have been without my help, but I did seem to help him.

G: You claim some credit perhaps?

A: Right.

G: And your sister?

A: She was 4 years younger, a screwball, a depressive from day one. But much later on in life she read several of my books and made herself less depressed.

G: A 'screwball', do you mean that in a technical sense?

A: No, sadly enough she was severely personality disordered. She was very depressed and angry most of her life.

G: So how did you feel not being able to offer her something to soothe her in a way that worked for you and your brother?

A: Well, at first I disliked her. My brother hated her and never got along with her, and I disliked her immensely. Then at the age of 15, on the way home from a movie that was about angry people, I decided that my anger wasn't doing me or her any good, or anybody any good. So I figured out that I would forgive her for her sins and let her copy my songs. Because I collected songs at that time that she copied and messed up. My brother didn't forgive her until years later, but I used my philosophy of unconditional other acceptance with her from the age of 15. I got myself to hate her behaviour, but not to hate her.

G: After adolescence, you've already tested, in a manner of speaking, your technique on yourself and family. Any other people?

A: My best friend Eddie probably was pretty disturbed himself, so he kept asking me what to do about his family problems. He had to cope with a rather disturbed brother also. I helped him probably a good deal. That was mainly when I was a teenager and older.

G: Now you mentioned that during your childhood your parents didn't turn up as often as you would have liked to the hospital. Later they separated and divorced.

A: My father only visited me maybe once when I was in the hospital for 10 months. He was very busy, a businessman. My mother visited me once a week, while other children were visited twice a week, because she had two younger children and then at times she went away to Wildwood, New Jersey for a 2 month vacation. Usually she visited me once a week on Sunday.

G: A modern perspective would suggest that you were an abandoned child?

A: Yes, and I have a chapter dealing with this in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy-It Works for Me, It Can Work for You.

G: So as a young child you work out a way to cope with your early abandonment. You then offer your method to your brother, and later to your sister. Did you also use the method to cope when your parents divorced?

A: Yes. They didn't tell us about it at first. I heard my mother talking to my aunt once when I was 12 and found out that they had got a divorce. My father had been away a great deal so that wasn't so unusual, but they did get a divorce. My mother took it reasonably well and I was never really upset about it.

G: Children can have strong reactions at such times. Having become self-reliant to cope with earlier hardships, could you have immunized yourself to deal with your parent's divorce?

A: Yes. When my parents were living together, my father would be away for weeks at a time on business trips. I describe in the book that we kissed him good morning about 8.00 a.m. while he was still in bed, and then we saw him the next morning. Because he was at work and doing all kinds of things during the week, when he was home on Sunday he played pinocle or poker all day with his friends. So he was not a very good father, and he wasn't there for me or for his other two children. My mother was also more interested in her friends than in her children and was not nasty, but was neglectful.

G: Later in life, did you offer your techniques to your mother or father?

A: Very rarely. I had conversations with my mother; I probably told her not to take things too seriously. But she was not a depressive, she was okay and very, very sociable. My father really wasn't around very much to talk to.

G: Returning to your adolescence, you describe in your book that around the age of 12, while preparing for your Bar Mitzvah, you had a revelation of sorts about the absence of God and the inadequacy of religion.

A: Right. I became a probabilistic aetheist, meaning that in all probability there is no God, no Allah, no Zeus. They simply don't exist, which is an idea I got mainly from reading the literature, Bertrand Russell, H G Wells and others. If God does exist, then he's not going to be a sadist and cut my balls off for not believing in him. So I will assume that he doesn't exist and go about my business.

So, a probabilistic aethiest is not a dogmatic aethiest who says that there is no God and that there can't be. He says that in all probability there is none and therefore, since the probability of there being a God is 0.00001, I will assume there isn't any deity. If there is, and if he ever comes and talks to me, I'll ask him to prove that he really is God.

G: Has that happened yet?

A: No, he hasn't appeared to me and I've lived very well without his help.

G: There's always revelation.

A: Right, if you are crazy enough to believe in it.

G: Now at one level that sounds provocative, maybe jocular. But at another level, you say it with complete seriousness. You've thought this through and actually arrived at this position as rational and reasonable. Maybe the only reasonable rational conclusion?

A: Right. I've had some help from a good many philosophers, and in the vast amount of fiction and non-fiction that I've read, up to and since the age of 12.

G: Having read so widely, did you subsequently meet any of those authors?

A: No. Later when I was in college, I invited several of them by writing them in verse. I invited Ogden Nash and other writers. Some of them came to talk to the psychology club. So I met them then, but when I was very young I don't remember meeting any authors. I was always reading.

G: Moving from college, where you graduated in business administration, in graduate school you turned to psychology. Why? What made you choose psychology from all the possibilities?

A: Well, like I think I say in the book, I was a political and economic revolutionist at the age of 19, but I got disillusioned by Stalin and Hitler and I was against the American communist party. I was an American revolutionary like Thomas Jefferson. But then I saw that revolution was going nowhere, so I decided to give up political revolution and decided to go for sexual liberty, to promote a sexual revolution. So I read hundreds of books and articles on sex, love and marriage and became a scholarly sexologist.

G: In your chapter, 'My Philosophy of Sex Revolution', you highlight the political intrigue that surrounded your election as the first President of the Scientific Study of Sex. You mention that one of your friends, Hans Lehfeldt, said that you were too 'dangerous' for this position and he almost blocked you from getting it. What made you so dangerous?

A: Well, at that time, that was about 1956, I had written two books, The Folklore of Sex and The American Sexual Tragedy, and I was a scholar but known to the public already. Hans thought that The Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, which I founded, was too respectable to have a controversial sex revolutionary like me for its president. In spite of some opposition, I still got elected as its first President.

G: So one reason for being labelled 'dangerous' was simply being ahead of your time?

A: Yes, I was already becoming too public. The people who founded the Society with me were very liberal, sexually, but they weren't publicly popular. Hans was afraid that my public support would be disruptive, but it wasn't clear what the danger was.

G: Prior to this period in the mid-1950s, you practised psychoanalysis for 6 years. I read a quote of yours that suggested that it was more or less a wasted 6 years.

A: Yes. I was trained in liberal psychoanalysis by a psychiatrist who was a fellow of the Karen Horney School. I practised psychoanalysis from 1947 to 1953 and then I abandoned it.

G: After the Second World War, in 1947, you earned your PhD in psychology. But prior to and during the war you were a revolutionist. Did that arise partly from being disillusioned about human nature?

A: Well, the Second World War helped make me a revolutionist as there was so much badness in the world, including the war itself. Then Hitler came in to make things much worse.

G: Clearly, war expresses the fact that some conflicts only killing might resolve. How did you reconcile that with your evolving thoughts in relation to what would later become REBT? How did the confrontation with the reality of the war impact on your thoughts?

A: Well, I was always a pacifist, even before I was a therapist, because I was influenced by Bertrand Russell and people like him. So when I formulated REBT in 1955, I decided as one of its main essences, to help people accept themselves with their flaws, and to also accept other people unconditionally.

REBT says that people's thoughts, feelings and actions are often immoral but that they are not bad people.

G: You say in effect that you didn't damn Hitler, although you did damn his actions and worked vigorously against them.

A: Yes. To this day, especially in New York at my Friday night workshops where many of the participants are Jewish people, they get horrified when I say that Hitler wasn't a louse. He was a fallible, very disturbed individual who often acted abominably - a person who did evil but not a totally evil man.

G: With my family's Holocaust background, I found your comments yesterday about Hitler really confronting. I was curious to understand how you reconciled not damning Hitler. You explained that in fact you damned his actions, not him. That distinction then made real sense. But hard to accept.

A: Yes, that's unconditional other-acceptance. People do do bad things but they are never, never bad people. Nor are they good people when they behave well.

G: Now my understanding of how definitive you are about unconditional acceptance was clarified during our talk yesterday. There is no qualification there.

A: Yes. You can always accept yourself and others, no matter what you or what they do.

G: This unconditional acceptance has qualities almost akin to divine acceptance.

A: Yes. But the divine is invented and probably doesn't exist, while people are real and do exist. I'm not the only one who advocates unconditional acceptance of people. And you can accept people and yourself without hypothesizing a divine acceptance. You can accept yourself because you think there is a God who accepts you. But you can also do it, without inventing any gods.

G: Perhaps we'll come back to that. I'd still like to explore how, with your profound sensitivity, you coped during the war years. The saying 'necessity is the mother of invention' would suggest that the war years were triggers for your response, through extreme creativity, to develop your new system of thought, as a way to cope with the extreme confrontation the war provoked in you, especially being a pacifist.

A: Well, not only the war but Hitler and Stalin after the war.

G: Can you say more.

A: Hitler as you know killed 6 million people, mainly Jews, Gypsies, communists and pacifists. Stalin killed about 50 million - he was worse in many respects, with famine and everything else. Therefore, I gave up the idea of having a dictatorship of the proletariat that supposedly would wither away as Lenin said it would. So the war was bad enough, very stupid in most respects, but Hitler and Stalin, you might say, were a little worse. They devoutly believed in burning people.

G: Now, against this background, do you think there is a link that prompted you to enter psychoanalysis in 1947?

A: That was after I got my PhD. My graduate programme was mainly Freudian and Rogerian. I waited until I got it out of the way, I didn't want it to interfere and then I immediately went for analysis. I was not disturbed, but I wanted to train and be accepted as an analyst, so I had to be analysed.

G: So in 1947, your career decision is to be an analyst. You have your personal analysis and training. Six years later, you turn 180° against psychoanalysis. Why?

A: Well, the main thing is that I'm an empiricist. So I practised analysis, but mine was a fairly liberal analysis. My analyst was a psychiatrist, was a follower of and a friend of Karen Horney, and also an existetialist. So I was never a pronounced Freudian. But my technique was at first fairly orthodox.

My analyst used free association and really listening to his analysands. So I tried his method and ran up against all kinds of problems. I decided to give homework because I saw that people really didn't change unless they pushed their arse to do things differently. So I thought I would sneak in homework. But then I concluded in 1953 'this psychoanalysis is crap!' So I gave it up almost completely and went back to active-directive psychotherapy and started to develop REBT.

G: And so in your analytic practice you are increasingly frustrated with your patient's lack of change. So you prescribe some homework?

A: Yes, I started prescribing homework. I was analysing a shy woman who understood all principles of analysis, but still wouldn't go out and talk to a man. She was scared shitless, and don't forget I used in vivo desensitization on myself when I was 19.

G: Would you like to briefly describe that episode when you desensitized yourself?

A: Well, I saw that I was scared shitless of talking to women. I flirted with them, but never approached them. So I said this is silly philosophically. What is there to lose or to be ashamed of? If they're going to reject me, are they going to cut my balls off? So I gave myself a homework assignment to go to Bronx Botanical Gardens every day in August and whenever I saw a woman sitting alone on a park bench, whatever shape or size she was, I would talk to her. I would sit next to her, not on a bench away from her, and I gave myself one lousy minute to talk to her. If I die, I die!

So I found a hundred and thirty women sitting on a bench alone and sat next to all of them. Thirty got up and walked away immediately; but I spoke to a whole hundred of them about the birds, the bees, the flowers, the season, any goddamn thing, and if Fred Skinner, who at that time was teaching at the Indiana University, had known about my exploits, he would have thought I would get extinguished! Because, of the hundred women I spoke to, I only made one date and she didn't show up! But I went on to the second hundred and started making dates.

G: That proves you're an optimistic empiricist for sure. You didn't follow the dogma of the day, Skinner's extinguishing theory. Left with little option, you were bound to develop your own theory?

A: Right, I kept developing my own theory, mainly for working with clients.

G: I'd like to explore this relationship between your theory derived from work with clients, and relating to your personal anecdote, working on yourself. How do you find the balance between using your new ideas on yourself and your clients - which comes first?

A: Sometimes, I've done it for myself first, like this in vivo desensitization. But at other times, I just figure, well what I'm doing now is not working with my client. What will work? Let's experiment. I'm an experimentalist, so I try something - some things don't work, but other things do. So I keep incorporating in my theory the things that sometimes work.

G: So your theory has been evolving from principles from your childhood, side by side with the mature, fully flourished, later validated life experiences.

A: Yes, I experimented even as a child on me and then later on me and my friends.

G: Yet for all your troubles, when you present your work to the psychological, analytic and wider mental health community, they're hostile.

A: They were very hostile.

G: How did you relate to hostile critics at that stage when you were inventing your ideas in the mid 1950s?

A: The same way as to the women who rejected me at the age of 19. Too damn bad! They're prejudiced against my view, I'm prejudiced for mine. We'll never meet. Who gives a shit what they think of me?

G: Well, that makes sense at one level. Yet, as a scientist, needing to validate your clinical evidence to advance your ideas, you need peer discussion, feedback, acceptance in order for your ideas to be adopted and your ideas eventually become one of the most influential psychological paradigms of the 20th century. The father of REBT, you become one of the most highly quoted psychologists. Clearly, you must have been in dialogue with many colleagues. How did you overcome the intense criticism?

A: Well, I first won over a few and then I started recording my REBT sessions and sending them out to people, like friends and then other psychotherapists. I also kept writing, writing, writing and talking, talking, talking and soon convinced more and more therapists. Ten years later, Aaron Beck, Donald Meichenbaum and other cognitive behaviour therapists got into the act. Beck was also an analyst at first, started doing cognitive therapy 10 years after I had already published on REBT.

G: Can we explore the differences between Beck's cognitive therapy and your REBT - how do you distinguish between them?

A: Well, I recently wrote a paper and he wrote one with Christine Padesky, showing the similarities and differences. Beck is largely informational processing and does what I originally did, but I have become more philosophical. I teach people the general philosophy of self-acceptance, other-acceptance and world-acceptance and Beck really doesn't do that.

Also, I added all kinds of behavioural and emotional techniques that I took from others or made up to include in REBT. Like my famous shame-attacking exercise, which I made up because I said right at the beginning in 1956 in my first paper, 'Thinking goes with feelings and behaviours. Feeling goes with thinking and behaviours. Behaviour goes with thinking and feeling.' All three! That's the way humans are. So REBT includes a great many thinking, feeling and behavioural methods.

G: Yes. You say that's your philosophical foundation contrasted to Beck's more narrow informational. It could almost be said that REBT verges on the philosophical-spiritual. Do you think that's a fair assessment?

A: Some people think so because part of REBT promotes unconditional other-acceptance, which some people call spiritual. You don't just think of yourself, but you think of the rest of humanity. I don't like the use of the word 'spiritual' because it has other meanings. But if you want to call REBT spiritual, then many people think that it is. I met a rabbi whom I taught some REBT, who said, 'You know you are the most spiritual person I know. If you want to speak from my pulpit, you can do so.'

G: Did you ask him why he thought that?

A: Yes, because he thought that REBT tries to help the individual and all humanity to have a fully accepting philosophy and not to damn anyone.

G: Your rational emotive behaviour therapy seems to me to resonate with the Jewish mystical tradition, which includes thought, speech and action as the garments of the soul. There's a very powerful parallel with your 'rational' thinking, 'emotive' feeling and 'behaviour' action.

A: Yes. A psychiatrist in Upper New York wrote me a while ago and sent me a paper on Maimonides, showing that Maimonides saw some of the elements of REBT in the 12th century.

G: Maimonides' philosophy was to tread the middle path, that balance is a better pathway to recovery from various mental conditions. Did you study his writings?

A: No, I read them much later, after I had already created REBT.

G: Let's turn to the development of the Albert Ellis Institute, an impressive six-storey townhouse in New York. How did you choose this site?

A: Well, I set up the Institute in 1959 from royalties on my books. Initially, I ran everything from my private practice as a psychologist. Then, in 1964, we wanted to get a larger place, really expand it. We looked around and finally found this as a very logical place, which we could buy for $200 000. We moved in 1965 and got it fixed up a bit. The Woodrow Wilson Institute had been here for 10 years before us.

G: So next year will be the 40th anniversary of your move.

A: Well it's going to be the 50th of my founding of REBT, in 1955.

Debbie: There's going to be big celebrations in July 2005.

G: I presume the planning and the organization is well under way. To return to the shame-attacking exercise you mentioned earlier when you sing in public. Would you sing one of your songs?

A: I usually tell people that my singing is a shame-attacking exercise. I say I'm going to use my godawful baritone and you're going to use your godawful baritones, tenors, sopranos, altos. Let us all shamelessly sing out. This is Love, Oh Love Me, Only Me! (The tune of Yankee Doodle.)

Love, oh love me, only me

Or I will die without you!

Oh, make your love a guarantee

So I can never doubt you!

Love me, love me totally

Really, really try dear!

But if you demand love, too

I'll hate you till I die dear!

Love me, oh love me all the time

Quite thoroughly and wholly

My total life is slush and slime

Unless you love me only solely!

Love me with great tenderness

With no ifs or buts dear,

If you love me somewhat less

I'll hate your goddamn guts, dear!

G: I'm sure it's not just the voice or lyrics, but also your unique rendition which gives it that special quality. What's another favourite song of yours?

A: Glory, Glory Hallelujah!

Glory, Glory Hallelujah

Mine eyes have seen the glory of relationships that glow

And then falter by the wayside as love and passions come and go

Oh, I've heard of great romances where there is no slightest lull

But I am getting skeptical!

Glory, Glory Hallelujah! People love you till they screw ya

If you'd lessen how they do ya

Then don't expect they won't!

Glory, Glory Hallelujah!

People cheer ya then pooh-pooh ya,

If you'd lessen how they screw ya,

Then don't expect they won't!

G: Clearly, someone might say that this is enough to turn any lover cynical! Yet, you retain an honesty and vitality and a passion. So knowing what can happen to love, how do you manage to take that fact?

A: Well, you take a risk. If your love lasts for ever, that would be most unusual. So you assume that it may not last, but you enjoy it while you may.

G: How do you cope with the pain of losing love, when it doesn't last, or when something that you invest yourself in goes sour?

A: You feel healthily sorry, frustrated and annoyed but not unhealthily depressed, anxious, and despairing. That is, if you use REBT!

G: Debbie explained to me how to use the REBT Self Help Form. I was a bit slow, but she persevered and eventually I realized that, according to your REBT, there are unhealthy negative emotions which you can transform into healthy negative emotions.

A: Yes. REBT is almost the only therapy that says you'd better feel healthy negative emotions, not destructive ones.

G: Now why do you call grief a healthy negative feeling?

A: Well because it is. If somebody you love dies, you first have positive feelings for him or her, and you want to have healthy negative feelings of sorrow, regret, or sadness. You certainly don't want to have no feelings. So we define your grief as a healthy negative emotion.

G: So it's negative in the sense that it's on the 'downside' of human experience but necessary for growth.

A: You're losing by death something you really want, so you'd better not be deliriously happy! But you also don't want to be unhealthily depressed.

G: So what would you call a state when everyone else around the person is quite down but the manic person goes on shopping expeditions and does quite outrageous things? What would you call that state?

A: Mania.

G: So there are both unhealthy positive and unhealthy negative emotions?

A: Yes. Pollyannaism, for example, is an unhealthy positive emotion.

G: You say quite rightly that most of the other cognitive behaviour therapies do not attend to emotions. How could they omit such an essential human experience?

A: Well, they're now dealing with emotions because they're now copying my REBT. They have the cognitive and to some degree they have behavioural, but they sort of neglected the emotional. We never did. But, finally, Judy Beck in 1995 included several emotional techniques in cognitive therapy. And some of the other cognitive behaviourists have used emotional techniques for quite a while.

G: I read in a recent review that you have moved from Dr Freud to Dr Phil (the TV personality), meaning that you made therapy accessible to ordinary people. You've transformed culture by bringing therapy from the analyst's couch to the wider culture. Do you think that's a fair summary of your life's work?

A: Yes. I was one of the very first to show people how they construct their own beliefs, feelings and behaviours badly and how they can reconstruct them and could do it even without a therapist if they read my books and followed them. I was the first to have put real rational emotive behaviour therapy in audio- and video-cassettes.

G: Your revolutionary spirit from your college days, through your professional career, transforming the culture and landscape of psychology seems to be your hallmark. Are you still a revolutionary now?

A: Compared to many people, yes. But many psychologists were against me, especially conservative academic psychologists, because they were against popular books.

G: How do you classify your books?

A: Several of them are almost purely popular, but others are for the profession and are both popular and, you might say, academic.

G: You've never shied away from popularity, but it sounds like you've certainly never compromised your standards in order to be popular, either. Turning to your current work, I was intrigued by the title, which is A History of the Dark Ages - the 21st Century. Could you briefly outline your views?

A: I decided to write that when I was 19 and in college. I was going to write it because the world was so rotten then and I figured out that today we don't let blood because we know it's wrong but we do do lots of other things that are stupid and wrong, which we know are wrong. So this is the real Dark Ages, because we have the knowledge and we don't use it.

I was going to write a book The History of the Dark Ages - the 20th Century, so I collected thousands of articles and I never got around to writing them up, because I have too many other things I am busy doing. But then I thought of doing it in the 21st century. So I just used material from this century and I've written this book that isn't published yet.

G: What are your other current projects?

A: I have another book, called Is Self-Esteem a Sickness? It shows how self-esteem, as against self-acceptance, is one of the worst sicknesses ever invented. I expect a lot of opposition because self-esteem has been pushed, pushed, pushed by most therapists for many years.

G: It sounds to me like this is vintage Albert Ellis in revolutionary form.

A: And I am revising another of my old books, Is Objectivism a Religion? I said it was. So now I've revised that. That isn't published yet. It's to knock down Ayn Rand's fascist philosophy. Rand was ostensibly an objectivist but actually she was highly emotional and she was fanatical in her damnation of all non-capitalists. The book I'm now proofreading is The Road to Tolerance, Rational Emotive Behaviour Philosophy.[See Postscript]

G: It sounds like you work a 25 hour day!

A: Oh, I've got along with Debbie's help.

G: I now appreciate your dedication to Debbie in your most recent book.

You've been extremely generous with your time. I think its time to wind down. To finish, a New York Times article on you ends with the quote, "'While I'm alive', Albert Ellis said, 'I want to keep doing what I want to do, see people, give workshops, write, and preach the gospel according to Saint Albert' ".

A: That's just humorous.

G: I see the twinkle in your eye and your smile, broadly grinning, would there ever be ...

A: I'm against all gospels.

G: Okay, so have you ever had a calling to become Rabbi Albert?

A: Well, as I told you, several rabbis have wanted me to speak in their temples.

G: Do you think their invitations convey a message? Recruiting you to the pulpit?

A: Well, some of them are very rational.

G: If some are very rational, what about the others?

A: Well, not the orthodox. They're often dogmatists.

G: So how does dogmatism and mysticism relate in your scheme of things?

A: Well, dogmatism means that you say something and it's absolutely true for all time because you believe it is and mysticism says that we know the essence of it all, we can't tell you what it is but we know it. There are some mystics who are rational and some are irrational, so they all overlap to some degree.

G: If you were to be invited by a rabbi, would you accept the offer to speak from a pulpit?

A: Why not?

G: This is the revolutionary next phase perhaps?

A: Right.

G: Just briefly, before we finish, I'd like to recap from our talk yesterday, as I was intrigued by your reflections on the ADHD experience in America. You mentioned that you felt that with the drugs that were introduced in the 50s to treat mental problems, you had an elegant word to describe the drug's actions -'derigidicize'?

A: Yes, derigidicize some of the mental symptoms.

G: Some people said that you felt that the advent of psychotropic drugs adds more and more support to REBT. I am curious about your thoughts on the decade the 90s, with the huge increase in children with ADHD. You said, I think, that you thought such children had two problems, one, the biological problem that was the ADHD and then a secondary one, with how they felt about their ADHD.

A: Putting themselves down for not being competent in our culture.

G: Yes, you also emphasized the importance of competence in all cultures, but not all cultures dole out as much psychotropic medication.

A: Well, it's like psychosis. Psychosis involves a great deal of incompetence. Psychotics are often able to do the things that other people do, and in our culture and most cultures, even children are supposed to be competent, get high marks and be good at sports. So when children with ADHD see that they don't understand things the same way as other kids do, they often put themselves down, saying 'it's not good and I'm no good'. So that adds enormously to the biological handicap of ADHD.

G: And this aspect would be accessible to treatment with the REBT approach to alleviate their self attack in combination with medication.

A: Yes. Even with schizophrenia we get them to accept themselves as schizophrenics.

G: So that would be the model that you would use in ADHD?

A: Right.

G: Wonderful, I just wanted to clarify that. Thank you very much for your time and for your unique rendition of your songs and to Debbie for arranging this delightful meeting!




from TimeOut New York  July 21-27, 2005

At 91, famed psychologist Albert Ellis is still helping people learn how to suck it up

By Aura Davies
Photograph by Sarina Finkelstein

The Buddhists said life is a fucking hassle, but they didn't say it that eloquently," jokes the ever-candid psychologist Albert Ellis to his audience on a recent Friday night. His weekly therapy series, titled Friday Night Workshops in Problems of Daily Living, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Dr. Ellis, 91, is the father of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a pragmatic, solution-oriented approach, which is considered to be the first version of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, one of the predominant forms of psychotherapy today. REBT, which is itself turning 50 this year, is based on the theory that our emotional problems result from what we think about situations, rather than from the situations themselves.

In other words, life is a fucking hassle—so just accept it and make the best of it. Ellis, who's written 75 books on the subject, says he's been "curing people, one at a time, for a helluva long time." For $10, you can watch him do it—and maybe cure yourself in the process.

The workshops meet in a townhouse on East 65th Street that's home to the Albert Ellis Institute, a center for professional training and individual and group therapy. Ellis lives upstairs. Even on summer weekends, the hour-and-a-half sessions fill up quickly, with nearly 90 people crowding into the converted parlor. Two volunteers present their problems to the group. Ellis questions each, points out what he deems to be the irrational beliefs causing their issues, gives them practical suggestions for solutions and opens the floor to the audience's opinions and ideas. Afterward, the volunteers get tapes of the sessions and everyone mingles over refreshments.

For some attendees—many of whom line up each week to have photos taken with Ellis—the main draw is the doctor himself, not only for his controversial and blunt approach, but also for the mere fact that the nonagenarian is still practicing. He enters with the help of a nurse and, because he's hard of hearing, patients speak into a gadget that feeds directly into his headphones. Still, his assistant Debbie Joffe, who is also an REBT-trained therapist, has to repeat much of what's said into yet another earpiece. But longtime attendees insist that after 40 years, he's as sharp as ever. "He's still a spitfire," says Sy, a regular since 1968.

In 1982, the American Psychological Association (APA) ranked Ellis the second most influential psychotherapist of the 20th century, behind Carl Rogers, and ahead of Sigmund Freud. Ellis earned his doctorate in clinical psychology from Columbia University in 1947. At the time, the prevalent theories were those of Freud and Rogers, but he had doubts about the effectiveness of either method. Freud, he felt, spent too much time dwelling on the past, rather than providing patients with solutions for the present. Rogers's approach, though client-centered and humanistic, was too passive for his tastes. "He had some good ideas," Ellis allows, "but he didn't push them rightly."

Dr. Aaron T. Beck, who originated Cognitive Behavior Therapy in the 1960s, considers Ellis a pioneer in the field. "His greatest contribution," Beck says, "was to turn our eyes away from the more esoteric and unverifiable concepts of personality and its disorders, toward what people are actually feeling and thinking."

Ellis says, half-jokingly, that the concept of REBT first occurred to him at age 5, when he was trying to recover from a broken heart. The practice draws on the ideas of philosophers as much as on those of psychologists. In particular, he found inspiration in the works of Epicetus, the first-century Stoic philosopher who wrote, "What disturbs people's minds are not events, but their judgments of events." The three basic tenets of REBT are Unconditional Self Acceptance, Unconditional World Acceptance and Unconditional Other Acceptance. The idea that people should accept themselves in spite of their faults and regardless of other people's opinions is different from self-esteem, which, he believes, is dependent upon achievement and outside approval. "Self-esteem is one of the worst evils known to man," Ellis is fond of saying, "because self-esteem means 'When I do well and you love me, then I am a good person; but when I do poorly and you don't like me, back to shithood go I.'"

What you won't see on Friday nights are people crying because their mothers didn't love them enough. Volunteers come on Fridays, hoping Ellis can help them learn how to stop procrastinating, stop obsessing or let go of jealousy. His approach is no-nonsense and he has little patience for whining. "Al is like a truth compass," Joffe says. "He can see through the bullshit in the client's thinking. And while he can be very blatant, he's very selective—he can be gentle when that's what is needed."

One man complains that his co-workers don't listen to him, and Ellis barks, "Why should they listen to you? It's not fair that they don't, but you accept it!" To a woman worried that she won't be able to change her behavior, he responds, "Do it! Stop copping out!" And to a young man stressed out by his job, Ellis offers, "So there's pressure. At least you can eat and sleep and hopefully fuck at the end of the day." This earns an appreciative chuckle from the crowd; the young man glances at his fiancée and reddens. Later he reflects, "Dr. Ellis gets to the heart of the matter quickly." But does it help? "Time will tell," he says.

The benefits of these scoldings aren't just for the volunteer. The value of public confessionals, as Ellis sees it, is twofold. While it allows patients to overcome their shame by discussing their problems publicly, it also provides the audience with an opportunity to recognize themselves in the patients, thus gaining insight into their own problems. Ellis likes to tell each volunteer that the rest of the group is "as nutty as you are." Friday nights' vicarious therapy seekers are a motley crew: practicing therapists, psychology students and laypeople. Their feedback ranges from armchair psychology and workable strategies to straight-up sass. One evening, a young man stands up to say, "You're very condescending—you should just chill out a bit." Another night, someone calls out, Jerry Springer–style, "He's got you there, baby!" "The upcoming 50th and 40th anniversaries show that REBT can continue to help many people cope with their irrational beliefs, feelings and behaviors," Ellis says. Despite their legacies, though, the Institute and its workshop series will mark these respective milestones by operating in the same way they have any other year. "I'm hopeful," Ellis says, "that the more rational people become, the less trouble they will have."

village voice The Interview
The Interpretation of Reams
Talking with Albert Ellis, world-renowned anti-Freud therapist
by Rachel Aviv
August 19th, 2005 4:45 PM

"People are crazy and stupid! And especially psychologists and therapists are stupid!"
photo: Courtesy the Albert Ellis Institute

Albert Ellis, the founder of cognitive behavioral therapy, has spent the past 50 years encouraging patients to "forget their goddamn past!" The best way to cure people's unhappiness, he says, is to just tell them—firmly—to stop acting irrationally. The author of more than 75 self-help books and 400 songs, including "Beautiful Hang-Up" and "Whine, Whine, Whine," Ellis has "almost died" multiple times and is now, thanks to a recent operation, missing his major intestines. Still, he's teaching and writing at an alarming pace and was recently named, by the American Psychological Association, the second-most-influential therapist of the century. He spoke to me in a nightgown, under the sheets of his king-sized bed, with the help of his doting, blond assistant.

When did you decide that Freudian analysis was a waste of time? Freud was full of horseshit. He invented people's problems and what to do about them. Tell me one thing about the past. I'll prove it's not what upset you. It's how you philosophized about it that made you disturbed.

If Freud is horseshit, why are so many people still spending hours on the couch, talking about their dreams? Because people are crazy and stupid! And especially psychologists and therapists are stupid! That's the main reason.

Many of your books include charts, questionnaires and equations, which show readers how to more efficiently deal with their unhappiness. Are there dangers in seeing deep mental processes as a formula? It's not a formula. It's several different formulas. I encourage USA, Unconditional Self Acceptance. I accept me, myself, my personality, whether or not I do well. I prefer to do well, but I don't put my worth on the line. And I accept you—with your [cough attack] stupidity and failings—whether or not you do well. And I accept life, which is bad, without demanding that it be exactly the way I want it to be. I avoid the words "should," "ought" and "must."
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Do you think depression is indulgent? Yes, it's "I run the fucking universe and it should do my bidding." That's arrogant and indulgent.

You seem very comfortable swearing—in writing as well. Much more than your average 91-year old. I was the first psychologist at the American Psychological Associate Convention in Chicago in 1950 who was able to use "fuck" and "shit." The rest were scared shitless. It strikes home. It's direct. It doesn't beat around the bush.

If you had 50 more years, where would you take your theories?

[Assistant interrupts: "He does have 50 more years. He has to. At least! He promised!"]

I want to teach my therapy to every school child from nursery school onward so they can all stop upsetting themselves. It can be taught to everyone who isn't feeble-minded.

What are you working on now? I've written about five or six books recently, since I had my intestines out. And this one [points to a pad of paper] is on how to conquer envy and jealousy. I'm also working on the second volume of my autobiography. It's about my sex and love life and all the famous people I met and how idiotic most of them were.

Do you apply your theories to yourself? Yes, I used them on myself. First my own feelings improved, and then my sex, love and marriage feelings got a lot better because I got informed how to satisfy women. It did me a world of good.

[Assistant: "And Al, what about more recently? Tell her how about the doctors."]

They told me I'd have to have my major intestines out and I said, "Too fucking bad! So I'll have them out. It won't kill me, and if does, I won't suffer after my death." There is nothing deeper than a person's philosophy. I refuse to make myself crazy.


DAVID HAFETZNew York PostNew York, N.Y.: Oct 9, 2005. pg. 005
Full Text (858   words)
(Copyright 2005, The New York Post. All Rights Reserved)

An eccentric shrink whose theories have come to shape modern psychotherapy is ensconced in an apartment atop the East 65th Street institute he founded while he battles a bitter coup.Albert Ellis, 92, whose work has been hailed by everyone from the Clintons to Mayor Bloomberg to Nicole Kidman, was booted Sept. 18 from the board of the nonprofit Albert Ellis Institute. He also was barred from the Friday-night "stand-up" psychotherapy sessions he has conducted before crowds of as many as 200 for more than 30 years.

A lawyer for the board says Ellis' expenses are "preposterous" and putting the institute's future at risk.Ellis says he's been defamed, and his lawyer claims people at the institute are trying to create the impression that Ellis is "losing it."From his apartment in the mansion that houses the institute, Ellis has fired back with two lawsuits against the institute and four trustees. The suit accuses the trustees of acting illegally to remove him and "wrest and solidify control of the Ellis Institute and its benefits for themselves."

In the mid-'50s, Ellis proposed that therapy focus not on excavating childhood but on confronting and dismissing irrational expectations people have for their lives - such as "I must succeed" or "I must be loved." His rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) led the American Psychological Association to name him the second most influential psychotherapist, placing him above Freud.

Eccentric and foulmouthed, Ellis practiced a stop-your-whining form of therapy, some say. "All humans are out of their f---ing minds - every single one of them," he has said. But now the master shrink has to wear special headphones because he is nearly deaf. He also suffered a gastrointestinal infection that nearly killed him two years ago. After pouring decades of work and money, including proceeds from his 75 books, into the institute, Ellis and trustees have been locked in increasingly bitter negotiations over paying his medical expenses, which include round-the-clock nursing care. The negotiations also involve rights to Ellis' books and papers.

On Aug. 25, Ellis wrote an e-mail to one trustee - Rory Stuart, a jazz guitarist and the son of Ellis' publisher - addressing "derogatory" comments."I want the public to see that I am not regarded by the institute as off the charts, over the hill, incompetent and a detriment to myself," Ellis wrote. He urged trustees to show the institute "remains fully dedicated to REBT."

According to his lawyers, rumors were being spread that the ailing Ellis was "losing it" and had beaten an audience member at a workshop with his cane.  At recent meetings, the trustees have yelled and said things like, "That's not good REBT, Al," said Ellis' lawyer, Robert Juceam. "They need help," Juceam said.

The New York Times
December 27, 2005

Psychotherapy on the Road to ... Where?

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The small car careered toward a pile of barrels labeled "Danger TNT," then turned sharply, ramming through a mock brick wall and into a dark tunnel. A light appeared ahead, coming fast and head-on. A locomotive whistled.

"Uh-oh," said one of the passengers, Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist and a pioneer in the study of positive emotions.

But in a moment, the car scudded safely under the light, out through the swinging doors of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and into the warm, clear light that seemed to radiate from the Southern California pavement.

"Well," Dr. Seligman said. "I don't know that I expected to be doing that."

One of several prominent therapists who agreed to visit Disneyland at the invitation of this reporter, Dr. Seligman was here in mid-December for a conference on the state of psychotherapy, its current challenges and its future. And a wild ride it was.

Because it was clear at this landmark meeting that, although the participants agreed it was a time for bold action, psychotherapists were deeply divided over whether that action should be guided by the cool logic of science or a spirit of humanistic activism. The answer will determine not only what psychotherapy means, many experts said, but its place in the 21st century.

"In the 1960's and 1970's, we had these characters like Carl Rogers, Minuchin, Frankl; psychotherapy felt like a social movement, and you just wanted to be a part of it," said Dr. Jeffrey Zeig, a psychologist who heads the Milton H. Erickson Foundation, which every five years since 1980 has sponsored the conference in honor of Dr. Erickson, a pioneer in the use of hypnosis and brief therapy techniques.

"Now," Dr. Zeig continued, "well, therapists are becoming more like technicians, and we're trying to find the common denominator from the different schools and methods to see what works best, and where to go from here."

The meeting brought together some 9,000 psychologists, social workers and students, along with many of the world's most celebrated living therapists, among them the psychoanalyst Dr. Otto Kernberg, the Hungarian-born psychiatrist and skeptic Dr. Thomas Szasz, and Dr. Albert Bandura, the pioneer in self-directed behavior change.

"This is like a rock concert for most of us," said Peggy Fitzgerald, 56, a social worker and teacher from Sacramento, holding up a program covered in autographs. Ms. Fitzgerald said she attended war protests during the 1960's, and "this has some of that same feeling."

Calls to arms rang through several conference halls. In the opening convocation, Dr. Hunter "Patch" Adams - the charismatic therapist played on screen by Robin Williams - displayed on a giant projection screen photos from around the world of burned children, starving children, diseased children, some lying in their own filth.

He called for a "last stand of loving care" to prevail over the misery in the world, its wars and "our fascistic government." Overcome by his own message, Dr. Adams eventually fell to the floor of the stage in tears.

Many in the audience of thousands were deeply moved; many others were bewildered. Some left the arena.

At the conference, many said they found it heartening that psychotherapy was finding some scientific support.

For example, cognitive therapy, in which people learn practical thought-management techniques to dispel self-defeating assumptions and soothe anxieties, has proved itself in many studies.

The therapy, some participants said, has even attracted the attention of the Nobel Committee. The two men who developed it, Dr. Albert Ellis, a psychologist in New York, and Dr. Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania, brought crowds to their feet.

A frequent theme of the meeting was that therapists could not only relieve anxieties and despair but help clients realize a truly fulfilling life - an idea based on emerging research.

In his talk, Dr. Seligman spelled out the principles of this vision, called positive psychology. By learning to express gratitude, to savor the day's pleasures and to nurture native strengths, a people can become more absorbed in their daily lives and satisfied with them, his research has suggested.

A just-completed study at the University of Pennsylvania found that these techniques relieved the symptoms of depression better than other widely applied therapies, Dr. Seligman told the audience.

"The zeit is really geisting on this idea right now," said Dr. Seligman, who has consulted with the military on how to incorporate his methods.

Dr. Dan Siegel, a child psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles, was one of several speakers to emphasize how psychotherapy changes the wiring of the brain. For example, he said, brain imaging findings suggest that secure social interactions foster the integration of disparate parts of the brain.

"When I'm telling you my feelings, discussing memories, in this close relationship, I'm achieving better neurological integration," Dr. Siegel said. "I'm repairing the connections in the brain."

Many therapists at the conference said that if the field did not incorporate more scientifically testable principles, its future was bleak.

Using vague, unstandardized methods to assist troubled clients "should be prosecutable" in some cases, said Dr. Marsha Linehan of the University of Washington, who has developed a well-studied method of treating suicidal patients.

Yet it was also apparent in several demonstrations of the spellbinding thing itself - artful psychotherapy - that some things will be difficult, if not impossible, to standardize.

Dr. Donald Meichenbaum, research director of the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment in Miami, showed a film of the first session he conducted with a woman who was suicidal months after witnessing her boyfriend die in a traffic accident. After gently prompting her to talk about the accident, Dr. Meichenbaum then zeroed in on something he had noticed when the woman entered his office: she was clutching a cassette tape.

He asked about the tape and learned that it was a recording of her late boyfriend's voice, expressing love for her. "I play it over and over, and it makes me so depressed," said the woman, in a tiny voice.

And here Dr. Meichenbaum stopped the film and addressed the audience.

"The tape!" he said. "When during the session do you go for the cassette tape? What do you do with the tape?"

For several long moments not a creature stirred, not even a laptop mouse. This community of therapists was now trying to save a soul, a person who was alone and did not want to live. What to do with the tape?

"Consider between now and the next time I see you, in two days, consider whether you would be willing to play the tape," Dr. Meichenbaum went on to say he had told the woman. "I would be privileged and honored" to hear it.

"Why?" he now asked, turning to the audience. "Because it not only increases the likelihood she'll return but empowers her to come back" and take an active role in therapy. Which is exactly what she did, he said.

"Now, is any research study ever going to tell you exactly the right thing to do when your client comes in with a tape of her dead lover's voice?" Dr. Meichenbaum asked.

Most of the audience of more than 1,000 people wandered out of the talk wide-eyed. One, Terrina Picarello, 40, a marriage and family therapist from Greensboro, N.C., said, "That is what you come for: inspiration."

Ms. Picarello said that the conference was well worth the money she spent, more than $800 in fees and travel, and the week she had taken off to attend, even though she found some of the presentations on marriage counseling disappointing.

"Way too much talking by the therapist, I thought," she said, after one of them. "It seemed so old-fashioned, like it was drawn from another era."

And there was the rub. As psychotherapy struggles to define itself for an age of podcasts and terror alerts, it will need ideas, thinkers, leaders. Yet the luminaries here, many of whom rose to prominence three decades ago, were making their way off the stage. And it was not clear who, or what, would take their place.

Across the street at Disneyland, where just about any metaphor is available for the taking, Dr. Siegel was working out the meaning of the park for himself. A native of Los Angeles, he has many memories of visiting as a child, perhaps nowhere more so than the circular drive in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

"The circle of choice," he said, looking around. "This is where you decide, where you think about your mood and which way you want to go - to Frontierland, Tomorrowland."

By all appearances in Anaheim, the field of psychotherapy has arrived at the circle of choice.

The question is, How to get to Tomorrowland?


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