About Dr Albert Ellis - Creator of REBT Counseling
 

Albert Ellis created Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) in the 1950s, in New York City.

Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne comment upon the 7th Anniversary of the death of Dr Albert Ellis

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Remembering what I got from Dr Albert Ellis

By Renata Taylor-Byrne

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Thursday 24th July is the anniversary of Albert Ellis’s death.  Although I never met him, I really rate him. He wasn’t perfect: he had imperfections.  So who doesn’t?

But why am I writing about him?  Because I want to remind anyone, who might read this piece of writing, about what he gave the world I his work as a therapist.  And there were a few brilliant gems which I use in my work with students and coaching/ counselling clients, to this day; and I think you may benefit from hearing about them:

1. What really knocked me out about him, firstly, was his emotional honesty.  He talked about being terrified of public speaking, and then doing psychology research and coming across Mary Cover Jones’s ‘Peter and the rabbit’ experiment.  He then tried out this form of gradual desensitization and got over his fear of public speaking, and then his fear of speaking to strange women in public.

To my knowledge, no other therapist had done that.  Neither had any teachers, professors of education, psychologists or other public figures.  And I had spent three years training as a teacher, with no suggestion or help on how to handle my fear of public speaking. So he was impressive in his willingness to share how he had coped with his own problems.

2. He also was very much aware of how people not only have problems, but how they beat themselves up because they have a problem. And he created the idea of accepting yourself even if you not only have problems, but even if you created those problems yourself.  This he called ‘unconditional self-acceptance’, or USA.  His implication was that, if we accept ourselves as fallible, error-prone, imperfect humans, then we will feel much less unhappy when we act in less than perfect ways.  We will be accepting ourselves as we indubitably are: imperfect humans.  What a relief!

Of course, when you stop and take a close look at unconditional self-acceptance, there are obvious inherent dangers in it, which I most certainly didn’t see in the early years of using his philosophy of psychotherapy. One of those dangers could be that, in the hands of amoral people, it could justify corrupt and exploitative behaviour towards other  human beings. 

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The moral limitations of USA had not been spelled out.  Nor were they easily visible.  Do I accept myself unconditionally if I go out and kill a few people?  Obviously not.  What Dr Jim Byrne did, for which I am very grateful, was that he took apart this whole model of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), and rigorously analysed all of its hidden implications, weaknesses and strengths.  He then created, on the foundations of Dr Albert Ellis’s model – combined with Freud’s id/ego/superego model; Bowlby’s attachment theory model; the TA ego state model; moral philosophy; narrative therapy; and some other elements – the One-Conditional Self-Acceptance model of Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (CENT).

With this modified model, we accept ourselves unreservedly, no matter how incompetently, inefficiently, or ineffectively we are being, just so long as we are striving to be good, moral individuals.  This really has provided the opportunity to give up perfectionism without becoming amoral. 

Albert Ellis showed us that we could develop our skills, whatever they were, and get stronger and stronger at them, without blaming ourselves when we screw up.  There is an invisible, invidious pressure in many societies to be perfect human beings, and many people suffer because of it.  They don’t realize what’s going on.  Albert Ellis gave us permission to be ‘talented screwballs’.  What a wonderful contribution he made – encouraging people to accept themselves as they are, with their fallibilities and frailties and imperfections.

On this day I remember him with deep thanks.

That’s all for today.

Renata Taylor-Byrne

~~~

Seventh Anniversary of the Death of Dr Albert Ellis:

A Critique of Albert Ellis's position on the subject of Love 

24th July 2014

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Preparation for the 7th anniversary of the death of Albert Ellis

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Who prepares for the commemoration of the death of Albert Ellis?  I do.  For at least a couple of weeks, and perhaps a month now, I have been making rough notes of ideas I want to put in my seventh anniversary post.

Why do I do this?

Because I swallowed Albert Ellis’s view of the world, hook, line and sinker. 

This is how it happened: When some of his ideas proved helpful – or seemed to prove helpful – in a period when I was going through a major career crisis, in 1992-93 (and onwards) – I decided to over-learn his philosophy, by watching his videos and listening to his audio programs, sometimes on a daily basis.  And also by reading some of his books, and reviewing some of his ‘rational beliefs’ in my head, over and over again, day after day after day.

Eventually, I could almost do a better Albert Ellis performance than Albert Ellis.  I knew every wisecrack, prod, gut-reaction he ever recorded (in the materials that were available to me).

However, I then came to realize that he was too harsh, insensitive and brusque; and that I needed to become more sensitive and caring with my clients, in line with attachment theory.

And that is why, almost seven years after his death, I am still trying to exorcise him from my soul!

~~~

Open letter to Albert Ellis

Dear Al,

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It is now just 25th June, and I am looking ahead to 24th July, to plan and produce some of what I want to say about you on that day. (In fact, I began these preparations on 11th May, by sketching out some headings for this text).

Of course, the first point I need to deal with is the howl of objection which will go up from some quarters of the online CBT community, some of whom will, once again, demand to know: “What sense does it make to write to a dead man?”

Of course, I am not writing to your corpse, Al, but rather to my internalized representations of you, and especially the schemas I constructed of certain core aspects of your philosophy of psychotherapy.  I, more than anybody else that I know, worked hard to learn how to think like you; to talk like you; and to use your questioning style (your inquisitorial filleting technique!)

And now that I have outgrown you (philosophically), I have to work very hard to demolish those schemas, by working them over, invalidating the insupportable bits; and modifying the salvageable bits.

My approach

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It does not pay for me to be too indirect, too diplomatic, or too wary of upsetting you (or, rather, your supporters).  When I wrote my book about your childhood – A Wounded Psychotherapist: The childhood of Albert Ellis and the strengths and limitations of REBT*** - I emphasized the strengths of REBT up front, and kept the weaknesses and limitations to the end.  This had the perverse effect of seeming to imply that (to a substantial degree) ‘all is well with REBT’.  But all is not well with REBT.  There are huge problems; so much so that I have moved on wholly into CENT (Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy) and cannot even bring myself to teach my traditional Introductory Certificate in REBT, because I do not want to continue to spread the problems that your approach tends to spread.  (As a compromise, I reformed REBT, to include some CENT modifications; but even that I have not put on sale for many months now!)

To be brutally frank, Al, the real strengths of REBT come from Buddhism and Stoicism, and perhaps Pragmatism; with some minor elements from Freud and Rogers.  Those elements which come from your reformulations of other philosophers’ work tend to be problematical, because you – the one doing the reformulations – happened to be very damaged by your childhood experiences, and so your formulations are the formulations of a wounded person.

Your limitations

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It seems to me, on the basis of reading your autobiography, and two biographies about you, that your limitations were set by your neglectful parents. Your wounds seem to me to belong to certain categories:

1. Because you experienced a great deal of neglect by your mother and father, bordering on virtual abandonment at times – including a period of close to ten months in hospital with almost no family visitors – you cut off your feelings of loss and rejection, and thereafter tended to deny such feelings in yourself and other people.  This made it impossible for you to experience emotional empathy with your peers and your clients.  The shape and tone of REBT reflects your aversion to ‘therapist warmth’, because you were unable to extend it to others, you outlawed it on sham intellectual grounds.

2. Your early childhood neglect also made it impossible for you to establish a satisfactory relationship with a woman.  (This seems to have been resolved when you got to the age of 88 and fell in love with Debbie Joffe).  Nevertheless, you co-authored at least two books on couples therapy or marriage guidance, that I am aware of.  This was a mistake, and bound to lead to misleading advice, because you had no expertise in this area of life.

3. Furthermore, because your parents were not around to supervise you, on a consistent basis, you failed to develop a strong conscience, and became significantly amoral.  This caused you to develop some crazy ideas, such as:

(i) Hitler was not a bad man.  (Well he was.  He was deeply psychologically damaged by his vicious father; and he was responsible for the emiseration, torture and death of millions of people across Europe and North Africa. He was a very nasty war criminal who escaped justice by committing suicide).

(ii) If a counselling client goes out and kills a few people, how could that make the whole of them bad?  (Well it can and it does.  It makes them a murderer; a criminal; and a menace to society!)

(iii) Parents only wish to inculcate ‘loose musts’ in their children, and their children are crazy to take those moral rules seriously, and treat them as absolutes.  (This is not true.  Moral parents want their children to take their moral musts very seriously indeed.  As virtual commandments).

4. Because you did not experience being loved by your parents, you scorn the idea of love – in practice if not in theory.  You fail to understand the role of love in the lives of normal human beings.

5. Because you had to be harsh with yourself, in suppressing your need for love and affection, in order to survive ten months in hospital on your own - (and other deprivations) - you tend to be harsh with other people who feel they need love and affection.

~~~

Albert Ellis on love…

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I have recently consulted your video lecture (Al), entitled: ‘Albert Ellis (REBT) - Conquering the Dire Need for Love (Part 1)’.  (It can be found on YouTube at this address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKby0E_U_F4).

I wanted to refresh my memory before writing this piece, and I found that I had remembered correctly that your original Irrational Belief No.1 was presented as “I must be loved and approved by all significant others, all of the time…”

Not that I had forgotten that fact, but I wanted to make sure that I was right in asserting that, while that statement is clearly irrational, you (Al), in practice, go further, and describe it as irrational to believe that “I must be loved” by somebody!  However, in my view, that is probably not a common belief.  Here are some better contenders, in my view: “I want to find love”; or “I hope somebody loves me”; or “I hope one day to find somebody to love and be loved by”; or “I must figure out how to get love”.  These milder formulations seem to me to be better guesses at how most humans might approach this subject, from puberty onwards.  (However, in practice, I will later show that there are three basic approaches that humans take to love, only one of which is compatible with the idea of “the dire need for love”).

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Where did your idea come from, that human beings hold the irrational belief that “I absolutely must be loved…” by somebody; or by all significant others?  Where did you get that from? 

You go on to say that human beings “almost universally” have “this crazy idea”.

How did you establish that it was ‘almost’ universal?  How do you know it does not manifest itself only in some small percentage of the population?

It seems to me, - from a quick review of Chapter 3 of Reason and Emotion (1962)[1] - that you simply made this up.  Since you are no longer around, I pass on to your heirs and beneficiaries this challenge:

Provide some evidence to support this statement:

“Irrational Idea No.1: The idea that it is a dire necessity for an adult human being to be loved or approved by virtually every significant other person in his community”.

Until I see that evidence in print, with credible support, I refuse to believe this assertion. 

My theory is that you simply inverted two of the principles that you learned when you were part of the Karen Horney School of psychoanalysis in New York City.  She advocated three principles highly:

1. That people needed to be loved.

2. That people needed vocational involvement and achievement.

3. That people benefit from ‘freedom from shoulds’.

It seems to me that, because of your own emotional history at home, you had to eventually reject Horney’s first principle, and to replace it with the idea that people do not need love.

Then, as you failed and failed to make it as a song composer and writer of musicals, and as a writer of fiction, you would have felt obliged to reject Horney’s second principle above, and to tell yourself that you did not need vocational success.

But then, because you had been raised in the absence of consistent parenting, and had become significantly amoral, you had to keep Horney’s third principle: to keep yourself free from ‘the tyranny of the shoulds’ of all kinds, including moral ‘shoulds’.[2]

~~~

My experience and your approach

My own personal experience was to grow up in a family and community in which it seemed to me (in retrospect) that the concept of love was almost non-existent; and that if the concept had been presented to everybody around me, it would prove to be the case that not more than a small minority of people would have reported expecting to be loved by anybody, never mind by everybody. 

As far as I can tell you never attempted to do any empirical research on this topic, such as interviewing people in the street with a paper and pencil questionnaire; (and you were supposed to be an expert on the use of paper and pencil questionnaires).  I suspect you were a lot like Kant before he was awoken from his dogmatic slumbers by Locke’s empiricism: convinced of your capacity to discover the nature of things by Pure Reason alone. 

~~~

Back to your video on love

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Around 4.8 minutes into your video clip on Conquering the Dire Need for Love (Part 1), you say this:

“Of course, love is highly desirable”.

At this point I wobbled.  I began to wonder if I was misjudging you – projecting something on to you which is not really there – and failing to relate to the ‘real Albert Ellis’.

So I had to pay close attention to the reasons you give for the view that love is highly desirable; and whether you add any unrealistic caveats.

That is what you said:  Love is desirable because it has some pretty obvious positive aspects to it.  For example, you say, it provides feedback on how well you are doing. “If you were always doing badly, it’s doubtful if many people…would care for you”, you say.

“When they approve of you, they give you companionship, which practically all humans desire”. 

“They share with us” – you say - and “we can consult with them”, which are advantages because “we desire to confer with others”, we go into a partnership with them; we share with them.

You continue by saying: “When they approve you, they also help you” so this is another advantage. If you become sick or disabled, they are around to help.

Then you say: We can also have sex with them, collaboratively and cooperatively.

We also like to play (games, sports, pastimes), and we can play with the people who love us.

And being loved is also “ego raising”, or ego-enhancing.[3]

“So love for these and various other reasons is desirable, and if it wasn’t desirable, we wouldn’t need it!”

Note: For me, what is missing from this list is probably the most important advantage of love; and the main reason people seek to love and be loved; and that is the emotional motivation: that we feel a need for loving contact with another person; and we feel emotionally completed by our bond with them.  (Of course, it may be that this desire for connection is more common among women; while men are more commonly interested in the status of the relationship; as argued by Dr Vinta Mehta [based on how they would feel about their relationship ending])[4].

~~~

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About 3.5 minutes into Part 2 of Conquering the Dire Need for Love (video) – at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqZVqiJK2EE – you acknowledge that “love can be healthy”.  Pheeew!

And you distinguish between ‘rational jealousy’ and ‘irrational jealousy’.  Again, pheew!

You then go on to say that love of often healthy, and “much more often than you might think so!”

But, hang on, Al.  It’s you who has just got through telling us that virtually all human beings have the irrational belief that “I must be loved and approved by all significant others”, or at least by one other person.  And that is, according to you, irrational; and that can only lead to unhealthy love; and also to unhealthy jealousy.  So where is the basis for healthy love?  Who are the people who are capable of it, if “virtually all humans are love slobs”?

~~~

Next, you spend about seven or eight minutes describing the attitudes and behaviours of an extremely insecure lover, and how they perceive their love-object; how obsessive and compulsive they tend to be as they manifest want you call ‘the dire need for love’.  But in your sub-text you now have two boxes into which these statements are being squeezed:

One says that virtually all human beings have these kinds of obsessions; but:

The other box has a label which says “healthy love is a possibility”, (and, presumably, some people have demonstrated this fact in the real world; in which case, it cannot be true that virtually all humans belong in the first box).

You then (around 13 minutes in Part 2) some of the disadvantages of this kind of obsessive-compulsive dire need for love, including the tendency to alienate your love-object by becoming “a royal need in the tuchus”.  You say that people with this dire need become a bother and a nuisance and very boring.

Throughout this presentation, Al, you continually speak to the audience as if they were in this “dire need” box.  You repeatedly tell them: “You do X…”; “You are like this…”; “You demand that…”  You clearly seem to be implying that everybody in the audience belongs in box 1 – the dire need for love; and that there is no need to consider the possibility that anybody in this audience is in box 2, and capable of and operating from a healthy approach to love.  This is, to say the least, highly unskilful; and may be more accurately described as offensive to many individuals in the audience, who are emotionally healthy and capable of healthy love.

The disadvantages of love, according to Al Ellis

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Then you switch to what seem to you to be “the disadvantages of the power of love” - saying that practically everybody seems to think there is a great power to being loved. 

Here is my rendering of your list of disadvantages:

1. Children and needy adults “do an enormous amount of attention getting”.  (You seem to imply that this is onerous on the attention seeker).

2. They spend a great deal of time on “companion seeking”, and cannot spend much time in their own company alone.  (You seem to imply that this time could be better spent on other things).

3. Another example is “possessiveness and jealousy”, which shows that “love has an enormous power over us”.  (You seem to imply that because lovers are often jealous, this impugns love as such).

4. Because we are so “driven by the power of love”, we drive ourselves into “undesirable companionship”, or the company of undesirable people (bores, people with objectionable value systems, etc).  (You imply that love can often lead us into bad company – but perhaps that only applies to the weakest amongst us – such as those with an insecure attachment style).

5. Because of the power of love, you say “we sacrifice” a lot.  “In order to get love we make innumerable sacrifices.  We give up the most precious things we have in order to get love.  Time, of which there is nothing more precious.  Money…which is precious; you work your ass off for it… Men and women give up an enormous amount of money to get love…”  And you use the example of how much women spend on beauty products and processes, and on clothing, etc.  (You seem to imply that love can be, or maybe often is, “too expensive” in terms of the time and money it costs you!)

6. “We give up other pleasures in order to be loved”.  You say there may be 50, 100, 500 valuable pleasures, and “we frequently give these up almost completely in order to be loved”.  (I doubt that we all do that, all of the time.  I imagine that people with an insecure attachment style may do that a lot; but that people with a secure attachment style may tend to go for a balance of attachment and autonomy.  Not one or the other, but both in balance).

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7. And, for you, apparently ‘ironically’, “One thing we give up to get love is other loves”.  But of course.  That’s right.  You were never monogamous!  You were always looking for ‘sexual adventures’.  But, you insist, we “stupidly pick one individual… and then we give up scores of others, potentially…”.  (But who would want ‘scores of lovers’, Al?  Only a maladjusted human would have that as a goal.  For most humans, in most of the cultures of the world, monogamous pair-bonding is the preferred form of sex-love expression).

I will return to these seven points later, when I have had a chance to put the record straight regarding the likely proportions of the population who engage in ‘the dire need for love.  But what I will say in passing is this: Your list of the costs and benefits of love (Al) reads like an extract from ‘The Third Rock from the Sun’: an American sitcom based on the idea of three aliens who crash-land on earth and assume human identities.  But no matter how hard they try to fit in, they always misread the ‘human plot’ and end up sounding like visiting Martians.  And so do you!

Because you were not loved by your mother; and because you consequently could not figure out how to relate to Karyl, you developed an extremely avoidant approach to dealing with women, and, as you say somewhere in your writing, you mainly used business success as a lure to get romantic-sexual contact with women.  You lived and worked in your office, and had your work as your first love.  And, throughout most of your life, you took whatever offers of transitory love you could get.

~~~

Attachment theory and approaches to love

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We know from the Attachment theorists, Bowlby, Ainsworth, Main, Fonagy, and others, that human babies seem to be born with an innate desire to attach to a main carer (normally their own mother), and that this enhances their chances of survival in a world in which they are unable for many years to take care of their own basic needs.

Cindy Hazan and Philip Shaver (1987) explored the possibility that romantic love is an attachment process – “…a biosocial process by which afffectional bonds are formed between adult lovers, just as afffectional bonds are formed earlier in life between human infants and their parents”. (Page 511)[5].

One of the main reasons that I am so sure that you are simply making up your idea that virtually all humans believe the “crazy idea” that they must be loved - or greatly loved – is because, actually, humans seem (according to the Attachment Theory researchers) to be split into three groupings, as follows:

Most people (about 60%)[6] probably have a ‘secure attachment style’.  And this is highly likely to result in a set of attitudes which could be translated into something akin to the following love-belief: “I was loved by my parents; I am popular with my friends; and I expect that I will find a love partner in the fullness of time”.

A significant minority have one of two main ‘insecure attachment styles’, which are:

(a) The avoidant attachment style (20%) – which results in individuals trying to keep their distance from their significant others; and:

(b) The anxious/ambivalent attachment style (20%) – which results in people grasping at their significant others, and trying to cling to them.

One of the immediate conclusions we can draw from this breakdown is that it is highly unlikely that those three groupings would hold the same kinds of primary beliefs about relationships.

One group (60%) would feel happy and comfortable about finding and sharing love.

The second group (20% - the avoidants) would be trying to get love while keeping their distance from their love object.  Their avoidance would most likely be driven by a belief like this: “I must be able to avoid being controlled by my lover; and I must not rely on them in case they let me down”.

The third group (20% - the anxious/ambivalents) would be pursuing and clinging to their love objects – and most likely saying: “I must be loved by this one.  I must be loved by this one!”

So instead of “virtually everybody” demanding that they be loved, it might be more accurate to infer that about 20% of people would be in that category!

The avoidant attachment style

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A good example of a person with an avoidant attachment style, Al, would be you.  I have shown how this insight (into your attachment style) developed in my mind, and is supported by available evidence, in my book about your childhood.***  A person normally develops an avoidant attachment style if they have a main carer who either tries to dominate or control them, or who is unreliable, absent or abandoning; and/or if they have a cold mother; and/or if their mother and father do not relate warmly to each other.  And it was your virtual abandonment by your mother and father (and possibly their non-relationship) that caused you to become avoidantly attached, with implications for your later relationships with Karyl and Janet.  (Your father was also almost always absent; and your parents’ marriage was tenuous in the extreme).

Because you were avoidantly attached, you did not subscribe to the idea that you “must be loved”, but rather to the idea that you “must avoid becoming dependent” upon anybody, because they would most likely  let you down, which would be very painful, and re-stimulate all the pain you felt in your first six or seven years of life.

And since about 20% of the population has this avoidant attachment style, according to some researchers[7], we can say that it is false to assume that virtually all humans subscribe to the view that ‘I must be loved by everybody, or even by somebody’.

Furthermore, Mary Main, who developed the Adult Attachment Interview process, has established descriptive labels for the three attachment styles for use with adults.  And in her classificatory system, an avoidant child grows up to develop ‘a dismissing mind-set’; which means they dismiss any talk about their childhood difficulties; and they idealize the parents who abandoned or neglected them.  You, Al, have just such a dismissing mind-set.  You dismiss all talk of ‘needing love’.  You dismiss any possibility of ‘warmth’ between therapist and client.  And although you and your brother came to treat your mother with derision, shouting at her, and locking her out of your bedroom, you report that you believe you were the apple of her eye!  Self-delusion; idealization of mother; and dismissing all talk of childhood suffering.  This is a classic case of the dismissing mind-set of a grown-up avoidant child.

~~~

The avoidant and the ambivalent attachment styles

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In 1987, when Hazan and Shaver wrote their paper on romantic love and attachment, they had to admit that nobody before them had considered this question, of whether childhood attachment style might affect adult romantic attachment style.  But since that time a good deal of research has been done to firm up this connection.  And in 2013, Lisa Firestone summarized the current understanding like this:

“Our style of attachment affects everything from our partner selection to how well our relationships progress to, sadly, how they end. That is why recognizing our attachment pattern can help us understand our strengths and vulnerabilities in a relationship. An attachment pattern is established in early childhood attachments and continues to function as a working model for relationships in adulthood.”

I know that you had an avoidant attachment style, Al; and that is likely to have resulted in a “fear of closeness and lack of trust”[8].

If you were ever involved with a woman who had an anxious avoidant attachment style, then for her, love would have been experienced as “…a preoccupying, almost painfully exciting struggle to merge with you”. (Hazan and Shaver, page 513).  This is the position that you describe as the ‘love slob’.

On the other hand, if she had the same, avoidant attachment style as you did, you would have pushed each other away and felt a lack of trust in each other.  There is no way to explain this dynamic using your REBT theory, because, if virtually all humans are ‘love slobs’, and believe they must be loved and approved by all significant others, why would they either push their partner away, or seek to avoid their partner? 

What we can say, without fear of contradiction, is this: Because of your avoidant attachment style, you would have been incompatible with the anxious/ambivalent style: the style that lives from the idea that “I must be able to get hold of my lover; cling to them; to merge with them”.  (However, the fact that you would have been incompatible would not have stopped you being attracted to each other.  Perversely, these two types often get involved in highly dysfunctional relationships, as described by Levine and Heller (2011)[9].)

More on attachment styles

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Lisa Firestone (2013) continues to describe the implications of attachment theory for adult love relationships: “This model of attachment influences how each of us reacts to our needs and how we go about getting them met. When there is a secure attachment pattern, a person is confident and self-possessed and is able to easily interact with others, meeting both their own and another’s needs”.

It is impossible to see how such a secure person – and this applies to 60% of the population - who is confident and self-possessed and easily able to interact with others, and able to meet their own needs and the needs of others, could subscribe to the belief that “I absolutely must be loved and approved by all significant others”.   

On the other hand, and by marked contrast, the 20% of people who are anxious/avoidant in their attachment style (or 19% in Hazan and Shaver’s first study) could indeed be seen to subscribe to your Irrational Belief No.1, Al, because they are known to have the following attitudes:

“I find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like.  I often worry that my partner doesn’t really love me or won’t want to stay with me.  I want to merge completely with another person, and this desire sometimes scares people away”.  (Quoted from Hazan and Shaver, 1987, page 515).

But this is just 19 or 20% of the population (approximately), and not “virtually all humans”.  So you exaggerated more than a little here, Al.

You said, in fact, that “practically everybody believes this horseshit”, that they must be loved and approved by all significant others much of the time, or all of the time, if they are really crazy.  Well, based upon the empirical data available in Hazan and Shaver (1987), which has been supported by other subsequent studies, it seems not more than 20% of the population would be likely to believe they must be loved, and to behave in the manner that you have called ‘love slobs’. 

But perhaps another 20% (of which you were a member) – the avoidants – could also be said to hold the view that they must be loved and approved by all significant others (so long as they can get this love without getting too close, or without risking rejection, or without becoming controlled or dominated).  But the avoidants would not show up as ‘love slobs’.  It’s much more likely they would show up as solidary workaholics or workophiles (like you), staying away from social situations in which they might be rejected or controlled.  Indeed, they are likely to follow your famous advice to “become a librarian and have a (superficially happy [meaning not obviously distressed]) life”.

But that still leaves 60% of the population who feel pretty secure in their relationships, and who are much more likely to believe that they have always been loved by their families, accepted by their friends, and are likely to continue to be loved; and so they don’t have to worry about getting or giving love.

~~~

Your wounded heart

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Your tragedy, Al, was that you were seriously damaged as a child, by your neglectful and abandoning parents.  You spent virtually all of you adult life cut off from the joys of romantic love.  You fit the avoidant attachment style of relating, like a hand in a glove.  This is what Hazan and Shaver said about that style:

“The avoidant lovers said the kind of head-over-heels romantic love depicted in novels and movies does not exist in real life; romantic love seldom lasts; and it is rare to find a person one can really fall in love with”.

If only you had been open enough to have ‘completed’ (or processed) your relationships with your parents during your training analysis, and to have worked through your childhood neglect, you could have had a few decades of happy, loving relationship, instead of having to wait until you were 88 years old, and then to fall in love with Debbie, who was your PA and main carer at that time.

~~~

Emotional affectivity

Gut-churning-tendencies.JPG

Normal human beings know that we affect each other, positively and/or negatively.  We impact the people around us.  We have an effect on them for better or worse.  But if you were somewhat autistic, Al; somewhat Aspergerish; then you would not be able to read other people.  You would not want to take responsibility for getting in their guts and churning them.  And you would have limited ability to get in their hearts and warm them.

I did, at this point, want to write about a mutual friend of ours, to illustrate this point; but I realized he (let’s call him Frank) would be likely to feel upset when I revealed certain insights into how he related to you (and to me).

Because I do not wish to upset Frank, I will refrain from writing about him, even though it would advantage my exploration of attachment issues to do so.

But it you were here, Al, you would object strongly to my decision.  You would demand to know: “How could you get in his guts and churn them?”  This was your way of implying that we cannot make anybody feel anything (except by hitting them with a baseball bat, perhaps!).  This is known in REBT/CBT as “the myth of make feel”.

But again you are wrong, Al.  Just because you calloused your heart as a child, in order to survive your severe parental neglect, during your formative years, that does not mean that humans in general do not feel strong negative and positive emotions in response to the actions and words of others.  Normally we do.

And even you are susceptible to this effect.  Michael Broder got in your guts and churned them – which is why you said “I want him dead, dead, dead”.  And you were famously irritable, because people got under your skin with their frustrating ways.

But you are also contradicting your own ABC model here.  According to the most viable version of the ABC model, it is the interaction of the A (Activating event, or stimulus) and the person’s B (or Belief system about such A’s) that the C (or emotional Consequence) arises or is generated.

So there are certain ways in which I could write about your relationship with Frank which could cause him to feel negative feelings of one intensity or another.  He would have some control over those feelings, of course, depending upon the intensity of his desire/demand that I not write about his relationship with you (or with me).  But I am confident that it would get in his guts and churn them to some degree if I wrote about his relationship with you (or with me).

The other unfortunate implication of your idea – the idea that we cannot get in anybody’s guts and churn them - is this:  It follows as a logical corollary of that belief that “Nobody can get in another person’s heart and warm it!”

What an impoverished view of human relations flows from that implication.  In a world in which people believed that nobody can get in another person’s heart and warm it, there would be no words or acts of love, because all such words and acts would be perceived as a waste of time and energy.

But I do not buy this.  I get in people’s hearts and warm them; and I try to minimize the number and intensity of times in which I get in their guts and churn them.

In other words, I take responsibility for the fact that I am a potent person in a network of feeling relationships.

And in my counselling work, I do not trample over the feelings of my clients, on the assumption that I could not thereby get in their guts and churn them.  I treat them sensitively and caringly – more sensitively and caringly than your mother treated you.  Hence, it is clear, you are no longer in any significant way my role model for being a good counsellor / psychotherapist!

~~~

My perceptions of your calloused heart

My-eyes-are-opened.JPG

Between 1992 and 2006-7, I mainly thought of you in highly positive terms.  That has sadly now passed.  I was recently reminded of you, while reading Kate Atkinson’s novel, Life after Life.  On page 29, Atkinson was describing the birth of the heroine, Ursula.  This little baby has just been born, with the assistance of a certain Dr Fellowes, and passed to her mother (Silvie).

“The baby, bandaged like a Pharaonic mummy, was finally passed to Sylvie.  Softly, she (Silvie) stroked the peachy cheek and said, ‘Hello little one’, and Dr Fellowes turned away so as not to be a witness to such syrupy demonstrations of affection.  He would have all children brought up in a new Sparta if it were up to him”.

Your face flashed into my mind, Al, and I imagined that you would be just that cool in any situation in which a more normal individual would be lovingly effusive.

I was reminded of you again on page 61.  Ursula is now about five years old, and her older brother, Maurice (who is about eleven years old) is about to be sent off to boarding school, which was, and still is, common among the English upper middle classes: 

“He (Maurice) was going to boarding school after the summer.  It was the same school that (his father) Hugh had been to, and (Hugh’s) father before him.  (‘And so on, back to the Conquest, probably’, Sylvie (his mother) said).  Hugh (the father) said it would be ‘the making’ of Maurice but he seemed quite made already to Ursula (who was just five).  Hugh (the father) said when he first went to the school he cried himself to sleep every night and yet he seemed more than happy to subject Maurice to the same torture.  Maurice puffed out his chest and declared that he wouldn’t cry”.  (Page 61).

Cruelties are passed on from generation to generation, and even though you did not (officially!) reproduce yourself biologically, Al, you probably were driven to inflict upon some people in your life, the same kinds of neglect and abandonment that you experienced at the hands of your mother and father.  You could, in theory, have addressed these kinds of intergenerational transmission problems during your training as a psychoanalyst, but you failed to get in touch with any feelings about relationships at that time (as far as I can tell from my reading of Wiener, 1988)[10].

And just like Maurice, going off alone to boarding school, I believe you chose to adopt the stiff upper lip, at the age of five or six years, as you lay in your hospital bed, abandoned by your parents - instead of feeling your sadness and sense of loss, digesting it, and letting it go.  It was most likely way too threatening and frightening and painful at that time to look too closely at it; to chew it, and digest it, and process it.  But you failed in your thirties to do that when you trained as a psychoanalyst.  And so you carried those childhood scars to your very grave.

~~~

I have outgrown you Al, emotionally and philosophically.  For all the reasons given above, and in some of my CENT papers on the inadequacies of REBT***,

I have had to create Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (CENT)*** as my way of moving on from you; beyond REBT; and into the exciting world of respecting my feelings, and honouring the emotions of others.

~~~

It’s now seven years since you died, Al, and still I am trying to digest you out of my hair!  Or do I mean my heart?  Actually I mean that I need to get you out of my head, as a role model, because you can only distort and limit my work as a therapist.   

This could be the last time,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne – Doctor of Counselling

Creator of Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy

The Institute for CENT***

~~~

 



[1] Ellis, A. (1962) Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy.  New York: Lyle Stuart.

[2] I have presented these arguments in fuller detail in the following sources:

Byrne, J. (2009) Beyond REBT: The case for moving on.  CENT Paper No.1(b).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT.  Available online: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id165.html.

Byrne, J. (2013) A Wounded Psychotherapist: The childhood of Albert Ellis, and the strengths and limitations of REBT.  Hebden Bridge: CENT Publications/Createspace.

[3] According to a study by Tracy Kwang and her team at the University of Texas – cited in Mehta (2013) - this ego-enhancing effect of relationships applies more to men than to women.  Women rate the quality of the relationship – and connection - higher that the social status it brings them.  So, Al, once again, you have overlooked something very significant: the fact that men and women differ on questions of love and sex and relationships.  Your ‘universalisations’ ignore that fact.

[4] Mehta, V. (2013) Do men and women value the same things in a relationship?  Psychology Today blog, 9th December: Available online: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/head-games/201312/do-men-and-women-value-the-same-things-in-relationship. Downloaded: 26th June 2014.

[5] Hazan, C and P. Shaver (1987) Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 52, No. 3, Pages 511-524.

[6] Percentages cited in 'How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship: What is your attachment style?’  Published on July 30, 2013 by Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Source: Psychology Today online.  Available here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201307/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship.

Lisa Firestone got her data from: Cindy Hazan and Philip Shaver (1987) Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1987, Vol. 52, No. 3, 511-524 American Psychological Association, Inc. 0022-3514/87/. Available online:

http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~schaller/Psyc591Readings/HazanShaver1987.pdf

[7] Hazan and Shaver (1987); and:

Wallin, D.A. (2007) Attachment in Psychotherapy.  New York: Guildford Press.  And:

Levine, A and Heller, R. (2011) Attached: Identify your attachment style and find your perfect match.  London: Rodale.  And:

Firestone, L. (2013) How your attachment style impacts your relationship: What is your attachment style.  Psychology Today. July 30th.  Available online: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201307/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship.  Downloaded 20th June 2014.

[8] Hazan and Shaver (1987); page 513.

[9] Levine, A. and Heller, R. (2011) Attached: Identify your attachment style and find your perfect match.  London: Rodale/Pan Macmillan.

[10] Wiener, D.N. (1988) Albert Ellis: Passionate Skeptic.  New York: Praeger.

 

Prefatory remarks

A postscript to the 6th Anniversary Posts...

by Dr Jim Byrne

27th July 2013

Dr_JIm_in_HB.jpgSome people will like what I write about Dr Albert Ellis and his system of REBT, and some will not.  I cannot please everybody.

Who or what should I try to please?  I should try to align myself with what I determine as being the truth, or relatively valid conclusions, based on reasoned arguments.  Even if I succeed in that aim, some people will hate me, regardless of how accurate I may be, and some will love me, no matter how inaccurate I may be.

Some people have already indicated that they think I am excessively judgemental, or overly critical.  That is certainly not my aim or orientation.  I am aiming for balance and reasonably justifiable and verifiable conclusions.  I normally lay my arguments out as clearly as possible.  Perhaps my critics could develop the habit of analyzing my arguments, and offering alternative interpretations, based on logic and reason?

Meanwhile, I have little choice but to get on with it, and pursue my own mission to find out for myself, as advised by the Buddha.

~~~

*Update*: Jim Byrne has produced a new informational/learning/training program in Reformed REBT/CBT for a post-Ellis world.  This program is suitable for counsellors, psychotherapists, social workers, etc.; or students of those disciplines.  Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) was created by Dr Albert Ellis (1913-2007).  Since the death of Dr Ellis, I have been exploring his theory in greater depth than I did when he was alive, and I have found that it contains many strengths and also many weaknesses.  The first two modules are available right now, one for free, here: What is Reformed REBT?***

~~~

Introduction

27th July 2013

Seaside-holiday3.jpg

Renata and I have just got back from three days by the sea, in Scarborough.  In packing for the holiday, I had to decide what reading material to take with me.  I could have taken a novel, or any one of a hundred or so books which are awaiting my attention.  I chose to take Dr Daniel Wiener's book, ‘Albert Ellis: Passionate Skeptic', which was recommended to me by Dr Janet Wolfe. 

On the train to and from Scarborough, and during each evening in the hotel, after dinner, I managed to read a good deal of Dr Wiener's book.  So far I have read Chapter 1, Albert Ellis today; Chapter 2, Early childhood; Chapter 4, Late childhood and adolescence; Chapter 5, Reaching maturity; Chapter 6, Emerging from psychoanalysis.  (There are 12 chapters in all).  I then re-read Chapters 1 and 2.

I will be adding my learning from Wiener's interviews with Ellis to my new book, ‘A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis's childhood...'.***

When I was not walking by the sea, or listening to a music concert, or searching through bookshops, or having lunch, or reading Dr Wiener's book, I had my notebook to hand to capture any ideas that floated into my consciousness.  Here are three of them:

1. My love for Albert Ellis

I wrote the following note in the Scarborough Spa Complex on 25th July, during a live music concert, in bright open-air sunlight:

The day Albert Ellis died, I cried at my sense of loss.  The following morning I awoke feeling happy and cheerful.  I swung my legs out of bed and placed my feet on the floor.  The post-Ellis world seemed a quite okay place.  Then, without warning, the loss hit me in the guts.  Tears filled my eyes, and I felt wretched.

I loved Albert Ellis in a quite irrational way.  Not ‘irrational' in the REBT sense (of ‘demandingness', ‘awfulizing', etc) - but irrational in the sense that I loved a man I had never met (thought we corresponded by mail about REBT theory and practice).  I loved Al for who I thought he was.  I loved my ‘projected Al', who was sort of the ‘good side' of my own autistic father.

~~~

2. Blurting out my love...

Later on the same day (25th July), in Le Café Jardin, over lunch with Renata, I wrote this:

My sense of love for Al was so strong that I blurted it out when I spoke to him on the phone in summer 2005, via Debbie, his wife.  I said: "I love you, Al!", which must have been a shock to him (since this is not ‘normal male speak').  But he replied, "I love you too".  (I was even more shocked than he must have been!)

However, today, (after my researching and writing a book about him), I am pretty sure his statement meant less than mine, in terms of feelings or emotional arousal.  I doubt that Al ever loved anybody very much, or for very long - except in a fairly cool form of agape.  Because the most important people in his life, his mother and father, failed to demonstrate love for him, he grew up with an insecure attachment to other people.  Their neglect of him scarred him for life.  See my analysis of this development in ‘A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis's childhood...'.***

Because of those early and deep emotional scars, his system of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy was developed as a defence against feeling.  (That does not mean it does not have any strengths - it does!  But it also has weaknesses which need to be explored and eliminated!)

~~~

3. Today I feel empathy for Little Albert

Today (26th July), I feel differently about Al.  I still admire his intellect, especially as manifested in Reason and Emotion 1962.  And I have a great deal of empathy for the childhood experiences of Little Albert.  But I now see his split from the Karen Horney school of psychoanalysis as a mixture of frustration and a failure to develop his own emotional intelligence.  (This point is currently being discussed in my Counselling Blog, here: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id143.html; and will continue to be discussed there for the next few weeks).  His failure to develop his emotional intelligence, and to commit to helping his clients to process their childhood and early life suffering, links back to the wound inflicted upon him in his family of origin, which is the subject of my book, ‘A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis's childhood...'

~~~

Sixth Anniversary of the Death of Albert Ellis

by Jim Byrne and Renata Taylor-Byrne, July 2013

Albert_Ellis-7.jpgAs the sixth anniversary of the death of Albert Ellis approaches, on 24th of this month, we have been busy, as usual, making preparations for some kind of commemoration.

On this occasion Jim has produced a new book, entitled, A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis's childhood and the strengths and limitations of REBT/CBT; and Renata has written a piece on the ABCs of REBT.

Statement by Jim:

Albert Ellis was born in September 1913, in Pittsburgh; the first son of neglectful parents.  From at least the age of four years, Little Albert was a sickly boy, most likely because of the stress of emotional neglect. 

The first four years of his life are a blank.  We know nothing for sure about how much he suffered as an infant; but we can infer from his lifelong failure to establish a secure relationship with a woman that something very serious went wrong in his relationship with his mother.

By the time he was 88 years old, and in failing health, he seems to have finally achieved a secure attachment, to Debbie Joffe, his personal assistant, who became Mrs Joffe-Ellis.  So the final four or five years of Al's life may have been rosier than any that went before; though his long-term partner, Janet Wolfe, reports that they had a very close companionship, and that he expressed an enduring love for her.

Al devoted his life to the development of his own system of psychotherapy, which was designed to help people to get over their emotional struggles and sufferings.  Based as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) was on his own strategies for coping with emotional pain, it unfortunately promotes a denial of the importance of childhood, and it fails to work on the problem of childhood suffering.  It also lacks a moral dimension, and is unrealistic about the degree to which we can ‘unconditionally' accept other people and ourselves.

Al made a great contribution to moving psychotherapy forward, but he could not eliminate those deficiencies of REBT which came out of the very real problem of his own repressed childhood pain.

We are pleased that Al no longer has to suffer in this vale of tears; and we intend to rescue the best of his system of REBT, and to dump those elements which came out of the deep emotional wounds of his childhood.

July 2013

~~~

A new book on the childhood of Albert Ellis and the impact of his suffering on the shape of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

A_Wounded_Psychother_Cover_for_Kindle.jpg‘A Wounded psychotherapist’ is the latest book by Dr Jim Byrne.  It is an analysis of both the childhood of Dr Albert Ellis (the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy [REBT]), and how some of those childhood experiences most likely gave rise to certain features of his later philosophy of psychotherapy.  If you have ever wondered what the roots of REBT might have been, then this is the book for you.  it explores the childhood difficulties of Albert Ellis, and links those difficulties forward to the ways in which REBT was eventually shaped.  It also identified the strengths and weaknesses of REBT, and proposes an agenda for reform of this radical system of psychotherapy.To read more, please go to: A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood and the strengths and limitations of REBT.***

~~~

Here are some extracts from the new book on Ellis, his childhood, and his system of therapy:

Extract 1:

Chapter 1: Introduction and setting the scene

Introduction

The core of this book involves a review of some of the early sections of the autobiography of Dr Albert Ellis: (Ellis, 2010).

Some people love autobiographies, because of the insights they provide into the interior life of the author.  But that assumes that the author of an autobiography knows their interior life well, and is prepared to be honest about it.  This is unlikely to always be the case.  And some people think autobiography is unnecessary:

"A poet's autobiography is constituted in his (or her) poetry. Anything else is just a footnote".

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Perhaps it is the case that a psychotherapist's autobiography should also be the works they contribute, and the writings they produce, while they are fit and active.  Perhaps it was a bad idea for Albert Ellis to write something called ‘an autobiography' in the final couple of years of his life.  But he did.

So, therefore I must consider it, and review it.  It is, after all, now a huge cloud of memes wafting through the air that we breathe; and as such it must be able to stand up to scrutiny, or face its own demise.

Dr Albert Ellis (1913-2007) was a world famous clinical psycholo-gist, who worked as one of the most productive psycho-therapists of all time, at his own institute - the Albert Ellis Institute (formerly the Institute for Rational Emotive Therapy) - at 45 East 65th Street, New York City - from the 1960s to 2007, when he died.  His earlier practices began in the early 1940s (probably 1944), when he began as a sex and marriage therapist[i]

Up to the point at which Dr Albert Ellis was removed from office, by some of his senior colleagues (in July 2004) - and sub-sequently removed from the board of his own institute (in September 2004) - I had been an uncritical follower of the man and his philosophy of therapy. By that stage, his therapeutic philosophy was called Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT).  Those events of 2004, and the subsequent battle to get him reinstated, (in which I played a leading role), and which ran until about three months before his death, on July 24th 2007, caused me to stop short and to ask myself some disturbing questions about the nature of Dr Ellis's philosophy.

~~~

A new book on the childhood of Albert Ellis and the impact of his suffering on the shape of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

A_Wounded_Psychother_Cover_for_Kindle.jpg‘A Wounded psychotherapist’ is the latest book by Dr Jim Byrne.  It is an analysis of both the childhood of Dr Albert Ellis (the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy [REBT]), and how some of those childhood experiences most likely gave rise to certain features of his later philosophy of psychotherapy.  If you have ever wondered what the roots of REBT might have been, then this is the book for you.  it explores the childhood difficulties of Albert Ellis, and links those difficulties forward to the ways in which REBT was eventually shaped.  It also identified the strengths and weaknesses of REBT, and proposes an agenda for reform of this radical system of psychotherapy.To read more, please go to: A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood and the strengths and limitations of REBT.***

~~~

Extract 2:

Earlier loves

"People could rationally decide that prolonged relation-ships take up too much time and effort and that they'd much rather do other kinds of things. But most people are afraid of rejection".  Albert Ellis[ii]

Most normal human beings would perceive that quotation as expressing an extreme, almost autistic disregard for the need for love.  Indeed, over the years there have been some suggestions that Al suffered some, but not all, of the features of Asperger's disorder or syndrome[iii].  And Janet Wolfe, who knew him better than anybody alive or dead, with the possible exception of his brother, Paul, did not seek to deny such assertions.  However, later I will suggest that Al was close to, but not on, the autism spectrum.

Last year, for the fifth anniversary of the death of Dr Ellis, I wrote an open letter to him, in CENT Paper No.23[iv].  (See a slightly modified five-page extract from this fourteen-page paper, in Appendix A, below).  In that paper I argued that Dr Ellis had an insecure attachment to his first girlfriend (Karyl) and right up to his last girlfriend (before Debbie Joffe), which was Janet Wolfe.  (This was based on the evidence I found during my reading of the relevant section of his autobiography: See Appendix A below).  Earlier, I had considered that it was a measure of Al's avoidant attachment style that he never entered into a formal, exclusive, committed relationship with Janet Wolfe - though they cohabited for more than thirty-six years. However, more recent-ly, I discovered from Janet that Al would have married her, but she was not interested.  My point then would be this: He might have married her, but he would still have been unlikely to be able to relate closely and warmly with her, due to his avoidant attachment style; and it turns out they lived quite separate lives for the final twenty-five years that they spent living together - though they had a close intellectual companionship.  (In the second edition of this book - in the summer of 2014 - I will write an expanded section on the relationship between Janet and Al).

After the first ten years of their relationships, Al and Janet ceased to be lovers, and continued to be intellectual companions, work-ing on their beloved REBT institute, which could not have expanded as it did without the sixty-hour weeks of both Al and Janet.

From that point onwards they had their own love interests outside of their living-together relationship.

In his autobiography, Al describes Janet as his ‘apartment mate', which presumably reflects the fact that they were no longer lovers (for their final 25 years together); but Janet is on record as saying that "... Al has said numerous times, verbally and in writing, that he fell in love with me when he met me, and that this gradually turned into deep lovingness. He also acknow-ledges (too many times to count) that he could not have run the Institute on his own, nor seen it grow so tremendously, without me.  As for non-monogamy: both of us were committed to having an open relationship, and I had many affairs during the 36 years we were together.  Although he was more than willing to marry me, I saw only disadvantages..." to such an offer. (Personal correspondence).

My own take on this is as follows: I think that just as Al was capable of cognitive empathy but not emotional empathy (to any significant degree) he was also capable of a kind of cool, distant loving (including agape - or brotherly/sisterly love), but not much in the way of passion or nurturing amorousness (like Eros).  I believe he would have been ‘more successful' in love if he'd been capable of a truly warm, securely attached capacity to give himself fully to a relationship with a woman.  He was capable of maintaining an intellectual companionship with Janet, as an apartment mate, but he failed to make it with her in a durable, passionate, sex-love relationship.

According to Mike and Lidia Abrams biography of Ellis, "...his numerous love interests resulted in short-lived and conflicted relationships"[v]. (This is not what you would expect from some-body who wrote and lectured about love and sex and relation-ships - but life is often stranger than fiction!)  According to the New York magazine: "...in 1964, he embarked on a romantic relationship with Janet Wolfe, with whom he lived, unmarried, and who served as the executive director of the institute until she left him and it in 2002".[vi] And according to the New Yorker (October 13th 2003): "Janet Wolfe,... lived with Ellis in an open relationship for thirty-seven years")[vii]  And Janet left for more privacy; to get rid of her sixty-hour weeks; and to have some family life with her relatives. (Personal communication).

This is how Janet remembers the relationship: "...Any of the hundreds of friends and professionals who have seen us together over our 35 year partnership can fully attest to the nature of our relationship.  To give but one example of what he's written in one of the books he gave me: ‘For Janet, with my deepest love and respect - for all you've given me over the years'. He has also written me numerous poems and letters..." (Personal communication).

So I believe Al was very fortunate to have a friend like Janet, who helped him with his work of building up the institute, and who was a great intellectual companion for him.  But the fact remains that he was unable to hack a fully functioning sex-love relationship with her; and I think that was mainly down to his originally insecure attachment to his mother, which seems to have marked him for life.

~~~

I also think Al was very fortunate that Debbie became his personal assistant, and that they fell in love, and were very devoted to each other for the final few years of his life.

~~~

While acknowledging the undoubted strengths of REBT, this book on Al's childhood raises some important challenges to a few aspects of REBT, and calls for reform of those aspects.  It should be read by anybody who is involved in the use of REBT/CBT in a professional capacity, or as a student of the caring professions.

~~~

A new book on the childhood of Albert Ellis and the impact of his suffering on the shape of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

A_Wounded_Psychother_Cover_for_Kindle.jpg‘A Wounded psychotherapist’ is the latest book by Dr Jim Byrne.  It is an analysis of both the childhood of Dr Albert Ellis (the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy [REBT]), and how some of those childhood experiences most likely gave rise to certain features of his later philosophy of psychotherapy.  If you have ever wondered what the roots of REBT might have been, then this is the book for you.  it explores the childhood difficulties of Albert Ellis, and links those difficulties forward to the ways in which REBT was eventually shaped.  It also identified the strengths and weaknesses of REBT, and proposes an agenda for reform of this radical system of psychotherapy.To read more, please go to: A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood and the strengths and limitations of REBT.***

~~~

Statement by Renata Taylor-Byrne

How Albert Ellis helps us learn more effectively

by Renata Taylor-Byrne

On this, the sixth anniversary of the death of Dr Albert Ellis, I want to write something about his system of REBT.

As a professional educator and a personal performance coach, I have tried to find effective ways of helping people learn better, so that they can have a better life and more fun!

Over the years I've explored many models and techniques that help my students and clients to learn more effectively. 

As pointed out by Dr Tom Miller, emotional control is a crucially important feature of self discipline and behaviour change.

Here are some points to consider:

How do you feel when you make a mistake in a new skill you're trying to develop?  (It could be learning to drive, write an essay, cook a new dish, make a presentation, create a new relationship, assert yourself during negotiations, learn a new language, etc).

Many people feel stupid and embarrassed when they fail in certain skills, especially in front of other people.  They give themselves a hard time, and their self-talk (or how they speak to themselves, silently, inside their heads) becomes very negative.

I've seen students at the start of a new course of study change from being full of enthusiasm and hope for a new career, to sadness and dejection when they get their first piece of written work back from their tutor and it's got quote a lot of corrections and developmental feedback on it.

But we each have a choice when we start to get feedback on our developing skills.  That's one of the great gifts Al Ellis's ABC model gives us.  We can either get depressed and low when our marks or feedback aren't as high as we think they should be; or we can question our own thinking and unhelpful beliefs.  For example, we can ask ourselves these questions: Why should we be perfect when we're just beginning to learn a new skill?  Where is it written that a new student on a new course absolutely must be as competent as they hope to be at the end of the course? 

When a student feels depressed in this kind of situation, they are being unrealistic; their expectations are too high.  They are experiencing a sense of failure which is out of all proportion to the situation.  Is it not obvious that, at the start of a course, a person's competence will be low, and that it will rise gradually over the length of the course, and reach a good level by the end?

Not only are they telling themselves, erroneously, that "I've failed, and that makes me a total failure".  But they are also telling themselves that "I absolutely should not have performed so poorly, and it makes me a bad person that I have".

The three irrational beliefs outlined above are these:

A person who fails is engaging in failing behaviour.  This shows that they have not reached a higher level of competence right now; or yet.  But it does not make them a fail-ure.  Because, they will almost certainly learn to fail less and less, and to succeed more and more, as time goes by, and they study and practice.

Secondly, they are inferring that there is a law of the universe which says they absolutely should never fail, and that is not true.

And the idea that if I fail, then I become a bad person is false.  A bad person is a person who is not committed to acting morally, and this situation is not about morality.  It's actually about competence.  And a person who behaves incompetently - provided they do no harm to others in the process - is not a morally bad person.

Here's another example:

The ABCs of a skill failure might look like this:

A (or Activating Event) = You failed your driving test.  (As far as you are concerned, this event creates your upset about it).

B (or your Belief System) = You tell yourself a rational belief, "I wish I had not failed, because it disadvantages me".  But you then go further and add an irrational belief, "Because I'd prefer it to have not failed, therefore I absolutely should not have failed my test".

C (or Consequent emotions) = Dejected, ashamed and disheartened.  (This is the consequence of holding your irrational belief about the event, and not just a result of the event itself).

As you can see in this example, our beliefs about the events of our lives can be very powerful.  And Albert Ellis contended that if we change our beliefs, we can change our emotional reactions to our skills performance in life. 

He encouraged his clients, and the readers of his books, to become more scientific and to question their beliefs.  This would produce better results for them, he argued.  The less disturbed you become emotionally, the straighter you can think, and the better you can act.

So here's Albert Ellis's way of dealing with the ABCs of disturbance outlined in the example in paragraphs 8.1.1 to 8.1.3 above:

D = Disputing.  He developed a system for challenging or disputing irrational beliefs.  To be specific, he developed a set of questions to challenge the unrealistic demands, like this:

Empirical: Where is the evidence that I absolutely should not have failed my driving test?

Logical: How does if follow logically from my preference that I therefore absolutely should not have failed my driving test?

Pragmatic: How does it help me or support me to keep telling myself that I absolutely should not have failed my test?  (It doesn't.  It just makes me upset!)

There are also questioning strategies for challenging the tendency to ‘awfulize' or ‘catastrophize' about our problems.  And others for helping us to stop condemning and damning ourselves (or other people, or the world).  And for disputing our low frustration tolerance (which claims that ‘I can't stand this kind of failure' - which is almost never true!)

Once we have disputed our irrational beliefs, over and over again, we begin to calm down.  This takes us to the next stage:

E = Effective new philosophy (or Effective beliefs).  The disputation process above includes and indicates some of the elements of an effective new philosophy, but it can be extended considerably.  For examples:

"If I don't pass, I don't pass.  I'll keep practicing.  My skills are underdeveloped - end of story".

"There's no law of the universe which says that if I take a test, I absolutely should pass it".  (Of course it would be preferable, but I do not absolutely have to get what is preferable!)

"I'd prefer it if I passed the test.  But I didn't - tough luck! I'd better keep practicing".

"It does not make me a bad person that I sometimes behave inefficiently or ineffectively".  (Of course, it would make me a bad person if I repeatedly behaved immorally, but competence is not about morality [in most situations]).

When you are next practicing a new skill that you are just beginning to develop, I strongly recommend that you experiment with saying one or more of these new beliefs.  Why?  Because you will learn much more quickly and enjoyably when you get off your own back and stop demanding perfection from yourself.

Having a relaxed, scientific and realistic approach to developing new skills will serve you well for the rest of your life.  (I've met women who are ashamed of having had a divorce, or two divorces, and have judged themselves very harshly because they couldn't stay married [showing they {and/or their partner} were undeveloped in this area of social skill]).  What a shame, and a great waste of creative energy, and they could have been enjoying life and new relationships instead of considering themselves to be flawed in some way.

People who don't get the essay grade, or pass the job interview; or get the class of degree they wanted, or who fail their driving test, or exams for a particular job or profession, can improve their performance a great deal by using Albert Ellis's ABC technique, and ‘rethinking' their unhelpful beliefs and changing them to helpful ones.

This has been a very short summary of one of Al Ellis's greatest contributions to the world - the ABC technique.

If you use it, you'll reap the rewards.  And if you don't, then of course, you won't.

Happy learning!

Renata Taylor-Byrne

July 23rd 2013

~~~

~~~

Albert Ellis and the split from Karen Horney

Al-Ellis-REBT-therapist2.jpgSomewhere in the 1990s, perhaps 1992, I first heard Dr Albert Ellis's audio presentation entitled ‘Albert Ellis: Live at the Learning Annex' (Ellis 1990)[1].

In that presentation, Dr Ellis describes how he first trained as a ‘regular therapist' (by which I used to think he meant using a mixture of Carl Rogers' approach and Behaviour therapy - but which he clarifies like this: "My original training as a psychotherapist had been in the field of marriage, family, and sex counseling: where treatment largely consists of helping individuals with specific marital and sexual problems by authoritatively giving them salient information about how to handle each other, how to copulate effectively, how to rear their children, and so on".  Ellis, 1962/1991: 'Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, page 3; New York: Carol Publishing).  But he became disillusioned by this approach, because he thought that psychoanalysis was deeper and more profound; so he trained as a psychoanalyst, and practiced it for about ten years.  He then says he became disillusioned with psychoanalysis, because, he says, it goes in to all the philosophical irrelevancies, and ignores all the philosophical relevancies.

When I first heard that statement - and I did listen to it over and over again, week after week, month after month, for several years! - I did not think anything of it.  After all, he represented himself as splitting from Freud, who he said was inefficient, and he (Ellis) was moving on because he had "a gene for efficiency".  And I could see how Ellis would think that Freud's psychosexual stages of development (without any neoFreudian updating by Erickson and others) would seem like a pretty useless philosophical irrelevancy.  The same would go for the Oedipus complex, penis envy, and so on, as far as I am concerned (in terms of practical working through of client problems).

Why did Ellis split from Horney's school of thought?

Karen-Horney-book.jpgBut today I have a new conundrum.  Ellis was not in fact splitting from Freud, because he had not been trained in psychoanalysis by a Freudian.  He was trained by a follower of Karen Horney (pronounced Horn-eye).  So he was actually splitting from Karen Horney, the founder of a breakaway movement from Freud - or at least from her ideas.  (The situation is slightly more complex than that, in that, because Dr Charles Hulbeck, of the Karen Horney Institute, who was Ellis's analyst, "...had been a Freudian analyst in Berlin for twenty-five years before he came to the USA, he used the classical technique of free association, dream analysis and silent listening.  His final interpretations, however, were neo-Freudian and existentialist". (Dryden, 'A Dialogue with Albert Ellis: Against dogma', Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1991, page 4).  And neo-Freudian here means non-Freudian, post-Freudian, as will become clear below.  So Ellis was splitting from a neoFreudian practitioner who belonged to the Karen Horney school of thought, (even though Hulbeck was eclectic in terms of his analytic methods).

Horney agreed with Freud that early childhood trauma was an important source of later neurotic disturbances, but she deviated from his view by insisting that this was caused by social factors in childhood, rather than, as Freud thought, because of biological factors. (Feist and Feist, 2006, page 164)[2].  Her overall view was this:

"Culture, especially early childhood experiences, plays a leading role in shaping human personality, either neurotic or healthy". (Ibid, page 164). (I assume Dr Charles Hulbeck, who analyzed Ellis, would have had to agree with this perspective, or he would not have been allowed membership of the Karen Horney Institute). 

I suspect very few therapists would want to argue against Horney's view of the importance of culture today; but Ellis argued against her in the 1950s, and onwards from there.  He had a bias in favour of the idea that people were ‘innately irrational'.

Horney had three major objections to Freud, one of which was his view that women were in the social circumstances they occupied because of their biology, while Horney insisted they were cultural products of male dominated societies.  Her second major disagreement with Freud was this: "Man is not ruled by the pleasure principle alone but by two guiding principles: safety and satisfaction". (Horney, 1939, page 73)[3].

This second statement by Horney is similar to some of the views of Maslow, and also some of the British Object Relations theorists.  And the attachment theorists, Bowlby and Ainsworth, emphasized our innate urge to secure our personal safety and survival by attaching to a carer.

A clash of ideologies

A_Wounded_Psychother_Cover_for_Kindle.jpgThese do not sound like philosophical irrelevancies to me.  It is not the irrelevance of these ideas that was a problem for Ellis.  His objection is, in my view, a product of the fact that Albert Ellis had an insecure attachment to his mother and father, who seriously neglected him.  He coped with extreme neglect by denying his need for love and affection and attention; and thus he was under pressure to deny that people in general are shaped by their childhood experiences, and damaged by neglect.  So instead, he split from Horney's school of thought, and created REBT, which claims that "...people do not get upset from conditions, circumstances and their early childhood, but that most of them are born with a strong tendency to upset themselves, and to blame their upsetness on the environment, parents and others". (Answer given by Albert Ellis, from page 11 of an extended interview, in Dryden 1991)[4].

We are not here dealing with the difference between a ‘philosophical irrelevancy' and a ‘philosophical relevancy'.  We are actually dealing with a clash of ideological perspectives. Ellis, who has good reasons not to look too closely at his own childhood because of all the buried pain he will find there - See Byrne, 2013 [i]*** - opts to believe the view which says people's personalities are largely determined by their genetic inheritance.  The alternative viewpoint seems to me to be more plausible - that people's personalities are significantly shaped by their cultural experience (as argued by Horney [and Bowlby, etc]).

The role and extent of interpretation in childhood

Fig.15.Cumulative.interpretative.experience.gifChildren do interpret their parents' behaviours, but they also internalize their parents' behaviours in the form of perceived reflections of themselves and their own value to the parents; and many of their interpretations of their parents may be quite accurate, as in the case of a neglected child who interprets their parents' behaviours as indicating that the parents' do not love him or her.

Bowlby was probably going too far when he said the child's internal working model (IWM) of their relationship with their parents was a "...veridical reflection of actual behaviours or actual interactions with the caregiver..."[6] because this view does not allow for any distortion by the child's interpretation processes.

It is obvious that, where a baby is cared for, there is a living organism perceiving the attention and care that the parents give, but it is not the fixed genetic robot posited by Ellis.  Ellis is prone to think that he was born a particular way and was largely unaffectedby the way his parents treated him; and the opposite viewpoint is that he was born a blank slate, and his parents determined everything about him.  However, modern genetics (as opposed to Ellis's old-fashioned view) cannot help here because "...modern genetics takes (this conflict of viewpoints) to an infinite regress since constitution itself appears to be dependent on experience (Kandel 1998, 1999[7]).  Constitution is not an absolute, the genotype[8] is far from the phenotype[9](Elman et al. 1996[10]), and it may indeed be Bowlby's IWM (Internal Working Models) that best predict if a particular gene, a particular part of the infant's constitution, is likely to express itself or not..." (Fonagy, 2001). (See Byrne 2009[11], on the social roots of the individual***; and Byrne 2013, on Ellis's arguments about his childhood***.)

Cumulative, interpretive experiences of encounters

Figure.5d.The-most-basic-cent-model.gifIn Byrne (2009) I made this statement:

"So, in summary, that may be what I am: an emergent phenomenon, predicated upon a body, and based upon a highly complex mass of cumulative, interpretative experiences, of very specific (good and bad) classificatory varieties (GNP, BCP, BA, etc); interacting with a present time environment (and sometimes a past time[s] environment, in [mainly non-conscious but sometimes somewhat conscious] memory)".

The alphabet soup here - GNP, BCP, BA - refers to the child encountering various ego states of the carers/parents, as follows:

Good Nurturing Parent triggering Good Adapted Child responses in the infant;

Bad Controlling Parent ego state triggering Bad Adapted/Rebellious Child responses in the infant;

and so on.

The child interprets the parents/carers' actions and builds up layer after layer of cumulative, interpretive experience, and that forms the core of the child's personality.

However, it should not be assumed that the child is innately perverse in the kinds of interpretations it forms.  There may be variations in the degree of accuracy of an interpretation, but the general drift of the meanings of social encounters are likely to be reasonably accurately perceived.  This view is supported by the fact that there are psychological studies which show that certain kinds of maternal care map to certain kinds of attachment bonds. (Smith, Cowie and Blades 2011, pages 116-117)[12].  If child interpretations could be unanchored from the behaviour of its carer, then no such consistency of effect would show up.

Parental behaviours need to be ‘good enough'

Attachment theory suggests that, when parents respond sensitively and caringly with their children, their children grow up to have a secure sense of attachment to their parents, and the capacity to generalize that to other relationships outside the family home.  But when children are raised by parents who are insensitive, uncaring, neglectful or cruel, over-controlling, etc., the children tend to grow up with an insecure (avoidant or clinging) attachment style to the parents, and this also sets the tone for their relationships outside the home.

Albert Ellis's parents were neglectful of him, to a marked degree, during his childhood.  It is my contention that he developed an insecure (avoidant) attachment style towards them, and that this spoiled his chances of ever having a happy sex-love relationship with a woman, when he grew up.  See the full argument here: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id432.html***

In order to avoid feeling the pain of his severe neglect,
Albert Ellis developed the strategy of denyinghis childhood neglect and the pain it caused.  Therefore, he could not fit in with Karen Horney's school of thought, which insists that people are shaped by their childhood experiences.  Thus he had to leave and set up his own school of thought, which claims people are born irrational, and their environments do not affect them to any significant degree.

Primitive view of genetics

But the modern view of genetic heritage is that it is just one factor in the development of an individual, and most modern psychologists would agree that the environmental factors are far greater than the genetic factors, in most human infants in the normal range.  Here's how Oliver James expresses it:

"Differences in most people's psychology, in most respects, are not much influenced by genes.  Whilst they can have a strong effect on extreme and rare mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, even these can also be caused largely or completely by upbringing.  In general, parental care is critical, especially during the first six years.  The patterns of brain electro-chemistry created then are brought to bear in choosing friends, lovers and professions, and in constantly re-creating the patterns of the past.  The earlier a pattern was established, the harder it is to change.  Although later experiences can modify what happens in the early years they need to be major changes, such as undergoing therapy in the case of changes for the better and severe abuse for the worse.  All this is influenced by a wider (social) context..." (Page 274: James, 2002)[13].

...To be continued...

~~~

On the fifth anniversary of his death - 24th July 2012 

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne and Renata Taylor-Byrne

On this page you will find, first, two tributes to Albert Ellis, dated 23rd July 2012.  The first is a description by Renata Taylor-Byrne of the ways in which Dr Ellis encouraged his clients and his readers to engage in acceptance of themselves, other people and the world.  The second is Dr Jim Byrne's final farewell to Dr Ellis:

 

One of the great gifts that Albert Ellis gave to the world: A brief description by Renata Taylor-Byrne (a lifelong fan)

Al-Ellis-REBT-therapist.jpgI want to remind you of one of the very valuable things that Albert Ellis said:

To a client who was complaining about an obnoxious person, he'd say things like, ‘If that's the way they are, then that's the way they are.'

And if someone was bewailing a very unfortunate life event, then he might say: ‘If that's the way it is, then that's the way it is.'

Why are these phrases so valuable?

Because we need them, when we are trying to come to terms with the many confusing, frightening, annoying, and incomprehensible problems that life can throw at us.

Here's why they are very useful:

Aren't these phrases which he said, actually the last things we want to hear?

Don't we want, or even insist - vigorously - that life should follow our orders and expectations, (whether we express our demands silently to ourselves or let the whole world know)?

Don't we always, endlessly want life and other people to arrange themselves for our convenience - and get self-righteously wound up when they don't?

Albert Ellis knew that we cause thousands of unnecessary problems for ourselves (apart from the real ones we already have in our lives) by our unwillingness to accept reality - because of our ‘2 year old-ism'. (A lovely phrase!)

Don't we all want reality to adapt to our needs - and moan and whine when things don't go our way?

But if we listen to him and really try to get what he's saying, and if we get that - ‘Yes, it has happened'; or ‘Yes, people in my life are the way they are; they're not going to go on a course in how to be less obnoxious for me' - then that is the way to true peace and contentment. Please bear in mind that I'm not suggesting that you for one moment accept ill-treatment that's immoral or illegal from other people.  And I am not saying that you should forego your right to ask for what you want, and to say no to what you do not want.

However, when you have finished asserting your rights, fighting your legal and moral battles, there will still be things you do not like but cannot change.  Those are the things you had better learn to accept - the inevitable!

What we had better do - if we want that peace (and don't want a second ulcer) is to stay with, absorb, fully and totally accept that what happened did happen - sadly, and very unfortunately.

Or that she or he or those other people really are the way they are - they will never change.

If we stop running away from what has happened or from the way people are, then our difficulties are transformed. Our inner tension and resistance evaporates and by completing our experience of it (to use the phrase created by Werner Erhard) it no longer is the same problem for us - it melts away.

We're no longer pushing the river, using up our precious life energy trying to control the uncontrollable. That means we become happier, more accepting of other people and of life's inevitable hassles.

And isn't it true that we've got a limited amount of control over other people and life events anyway?

So acceptance - real, honest acceptance of our current reality (which is unavoidable, or uncontrollable) - frees us up to control what we can control, and to give up what we can't control.

It's not easy to practice at first - and it takes time.

You can't get acceptance in a packet or a glass, or get it injected into you. You have to do it for yourself if you want the benefits. As Albert Ellis said: ‘It works because you work it'.

There you are - a priceless gift from a very wise man.

What a star!

~~~

Renata Taylor-Byrne, Hebden Bridge, 23rd July 2012

~~~

PS: This statement does not support the REBT concept of Unconditional Acceptance, but rather the CENT concept of One-conditional Acceptance.  The one condition we insist upon in CENT is that you and I must both behave morally.  We do not condone immorality, implicitly or explicitly, by foolishly advocating UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE of anybody, or anything.  We follow Epictetus in that we accept the things we cannot change and seek to change those things we can (potentially) change.

~~~

My final farewell to Dr Albert Ellis: An open letter.  CENT Paper No.23

By Dr Jim Byrne

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2012

Preface

Just as on previous anniversaries of the death of Dr Albert Ellis, I feel the need to communicate with that part of Al which is still stuck in my mind.  I am striving to achieve completion with that part of him, and I believe I have finally achieved it with this open letter.

~~~

Dear Al,

It is now five years since your death, on 24th July 2007.  And this is my final farewell.  I never suspected that it would end like this.  I want to talk to you about REBT, and your autobiography.

About REBT

As you know, I discovered you and your amazing system of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, back in 1992-'93, when I was going through a very difficult career crisis, and it helped me to reduce my anxiety and depression to manageable proportions. 

I immediately began to teach the REBT model to anybody who would listen; and my wife and I both used the system collectively; and both became great fans of yours, reading some of your main books[1], and listening to your most famous audio program: ‘Albert Ellis: Live at the Learning Annex'.  And watching the Master Therapist series of videos on REBT.

By 1998, I was using REBT as a coach, while training with Dr Al Raitt to become a Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapist.  I used REBT on a daily basis, and thought it a most wonderful philosophy of life and therapeutic system.

Then, in 2001, I discovered a paper by Windy Dryden, which was critical of certain aspects of REBT: (See Bond and Dryden, 1996)[2].  In response, I set out to defend REBT from what seemed like a fundamentally undermining thesis from Bond and Dryden, and in the process produced a new, more complex form of the ABC model, in which the body was restored to a connection to the B (or belief system) - which had been ignored in the publicly known form of REBT.  See Byrne (2009a)[3], and Byrne (2003/2011)[4]. I then went on to explore REBT in more detail, and the more I explored, the more problems I found.  This has all been described elsewhere, and the latest instalment is to be found in my latest paper - CENT Paper No.22.***

My current view is that REBT has strengths and weaknesses, not either or, but both/and.  It needs a radical overhaul, and that is what I have done in developing my own system of CENT (Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy).

...for more on my Final Farwell to Albert Ellis, please go to CENT Paper No.23.***

~~~

Next you will find two tributes from last year, dated 24th July 2011, on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of Albert Ellis's death.

Those tributes are followed by a biographical outline of the life of the man.

~~~

TWO TRIBUTES TO DR ALBERT ELLIS ON THE OCCASION OF THE FOURTH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH

1. A Tribute to Albert Ellis, 24th July 2011

By Renata Taylor-Byrne

Albert-Ellis7.jpgSadly, today is the fourth anniversary of the death of Dr Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), and I want to  remind you of  just a few of the gems of therapeutic wisdom he gave to the world through his writings and his public demonstrations of REBT.

One of the main things he said to people was this: "Accept yourself as you are, with your imperfections.  You're an imperfect, fallible human".

This is a powerful permission, and I had never heard anyone say anything like that before, in my life. What an immensely compassionate and kind thing to say to people!  Why do I say that?

Because there is an unspoken, invisible pressure on people to never make mistakes; to be perfectly competent in all their doings.  This sets them up to fail, in a way that allows their peers and others to jump on them and berate them when they get things wrong.

Because of Al's influence, when I now spot people who are giving themselves a hard time because of mistakes and incompetent acts they have made, I remind them that we are imperfect, and that they should "cut themselves some slack!"

And, of course, when I screw up or act incompetently, which is inevitable, I hear Al giving me permission to be a fallible, error prone human.  I will always be grateful to him for that sense of liberation from what he called ‘s**t-hood' which comes from accepting that ‘even if I act incompetently, I do not become a bad person, or a s**t'.

He also taught us - for which I am deeply grateful - to accept reality, just the way it is, whether we like it or not.  It is ‘tough s**t' instead of ‘awful', when life is not the way we want it to be, according to his very therapeutic philosophy.

I must add one rider here, though: We need to use this strategy for ourselves, and on ourselves, and not impose it on other people.  It can be very unhelpful to tell another person, who is distressed by some loss or other, that it is merely ‘tough s**t'.  This can show up as clever smart-alecky word play, or verbal bullying, when dealing with others.  And decidedly lacking in empathy!

When used appropriately, this approach - of accepting that what happened to me (1) happened; and (2) that it cannot be changed (if it cannot be changed) - binds us to sanity.  It shows us that we are demanding life to be different, and are in   what Freud called our ‘King (or Queen) Baby' state.

The last thing our Big Baby state wants to hear is that ‘reality should be the way reality is'.  Or, as Scott Peck said: The most important principle in good mental health is ‘dedication to reality at all costs'.

Finally, Albert Ellis encouraged us to be scientific; to think critically; and to challenge our nutty ideas. He created ‘disputing questions', like these:

"Where is the evidence (that X is the case)?"

"How does it follow logically (from P that Q is the case)?"

"Where is it written, on a tablet of god-given stone (that you must get Z)?"

"How does it help or support you (to ‘awfulize' about P)?"

"Prove that (Y is true)".

Some of these questions can free us from the cruel nonsense of our culture; e.g.: That men are somehow superior to women; or: That people with money and power are more valuable and important than those without money; as well as liberating us from our own innate and culturally shaped irrationalities; such as: ‘ I must get what I want, when I want it, right now, immediately; and that it's awful when I don't get it; and ‘I cannot stand not getting it; and that the world's a rotten place for depriving me, and that self destruction or other destruction is the only way out!'

Using these questions, and other aspects of Al's philosophy, can free us from mental oppression and set us on the road to straight thinking and happier, more creative lives.

Please read his books - you'll get so much from them and they will strengthen you for the rest of your life, if you use his ideas!

Best wishes,

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Hebden Bridge

24th July 2011

~~~

2. A Tribute and a Clarification: On the ways in which I have moved on, and the ways I have not moved on

By Jim Byrne

Preface

To some people it will appear odd that I am writing an open letter to a man who died four years ago.  The explanation is quite simple.  I am writing to that part of Albert Ellis which is still stuck in me - incomplete - and not to the physical Albert Ellis who departed in 2007.

Introduction

Dear Al,

It is now four years since your sad death (on 24th July 2007), which was also a release from suffering.  Looking at the information traffic on the internet in recent months, one could be forgiven for thinking that the world has forgotten you and moved on.

My main goals today are:

(1) to honour your value as a human being, and as a great psychotherapist, who helped me, and perhaps tens of thousands of others, to get over their emotional disturbances - through your therapy sessions, books, videos, audio programs, public lectures, and (in my case) personal letters and emails; and:

(2) to clarify some of the ways in which I have moved on from REBT into the somewhat overlapping territory of CENT.

I ‘found you' in 1992, when my business career was collapsing around my ears, and I had huge financial problems.  I was struggling with anxiety and depression about those events and developments.  Renata, my lovely wife, found a copy of your book on Executive Leadership, from which I extracted:

(a) your critiques of ‘awfulizing', or ‘catastrophizing' about less than catastrophic developments;

(b) your concept of ‘demandingness', or insisting that I absolutely must get what I want, when I want it, right now, immediately;

(c) ‘low frustration tolerance', or a lack of resolve and resilience in facing up to the inevitable difficulties of life'; and:

(d) the common practice of ‘condemning and damning' of myself, other people and the world.

I tenaciously set about teaching this philosophy of life to myself, and found that it brought moments of relief from my exaggerated negative emotions about my life crisis.  Slowly, over a period of weeks and months, I got more and more mastery of my emotions.  I then began to teach this philosophy of life to others, and, by the end of 1998, I was training as an REBT therapist with Dr Al Raitt (in Bristol), who you had trained in New York.

I then found that my counselling and therapy clients quickly got over their upsets, to the extent that they were willing to work at and practice the philosophy of REBT.

I have not forgotten you, Al, but I have to some considerable extent moved on into new territory, beyond REBT.  And it is to clarify the ways in which I have moved on, and the ways in which I have not moved on, that motivates my writing of the remainder of this piece.

...more here...***

~~~

Who was Dr Albert Ellis?

A-younger-Al-Ellis.jpgAlbert Ellis PhD was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, in 1913, and grew up on New York City. His father was absent for most of his childhood, and his mother was neglectful. This may have thrust him into a nurturing parent role with his younger brother and sister, and a rebellious child attitude towards authority.

As a child he was both physically and psychologically unwell. He experienced acute shyness and social anxiety, which he treated himself with his famous experiments in desensitization, by exposing himself to the threats and dangers of repeated public appearances on peace campaign platforms, and by approaching young women in the Bronx Zoological Gardens and asking for cold dates.

His first degree was in business studies, and he was mainly determined to become a great novelist. However, after many rejections, he decided to retrain as a psychologist, and gained both a masters and a doctoral degree in psychology from Columbia University. Although he originally was influenced by the Rogerian person-centred approach, he then retrained as a psychoanalyst in the Karen Horney school, which was based on the Object Relations approach.

From an early stage he had a private practice, helping his friends and acquaintances with their sex, love and relationship problems. In this practice, he increasingly rebelled against the psychoanalytic approach, and made active directive interventions with his clients, based on his own experience of using philosophy and desensitization to cure his own problems of anxiety and shyness.

# Resource 2: How to become an effective Rational/Cognitive therapist...

# What is Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (CENT)?

#  Counselling and therapy all over the world.

In the period 1953-55 he began to develop his own form of Rational Therapy, as he called it, and presented his first paper on this topic to the 1956 American Psychological Association convention in Chicago. By 1962 he had written enough papers to be collated into his first major book, entitled ‘Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy’. In that book he claimed that humans are goal directed organisms who seek to feel relatively happy and to be free of pain. When these goals are thwarted we experience emotional disturbance, not because of the thwarting of the goal, but because of our thoughts about that frustration. He argued that thoughts, feelings and behaviours were closely related, and were, in some respects, virtually the same thing. So when we think, we create feeling and behaviours; when we emote, we create thoughts and behaviours; and when we act, we create thoughts and emotions.

This book – Ellis 1962 - heralded a revolution in psychotherapy, and Ellis influenced a number of individuals who went on to develop their own forms of rational or cognitive (thinking) therapy, including: Maxie Maultsby; Donald Meichenbaum; Aaron Tim Beck, and many others.

The core of Ellis’ therapy was reasoning, and self persuasion. In particular, looking for the ways in which we are exaggerating how bad our lot is, and reducing our upset by ‘disputing’ our exaggerations. He himself said the core of his orientation in the world was: reason, humour and scepticism.

Despite that scepticism, he sometimes seemed to swallow the claims of positivistic science wholesale, though he mainly stuck to the perspective of Popper, who saw scientific hypotheses as inferences that preceded experimentation, and did not arise out of experimentation. The only role for experimentation in Popper’s view was to try to invalidate existing hypotheses. Nevertheless, Ellis continued to hunt for the holy grail of ‘final confirmation’ of REBT as a ‘scientific discipline’. In practice, ‘human science’ is never this ‘hard’ or ‘certain’.

He also emphasized giving up ‘shoulds’ about things that are unchangeable (at this point in time). And refusing to condemn and damn ourselves, others and the world when they show up as bad for us.

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There are a few other elements to this therapy, but that is really the essence of REBT. Some others that are worth mentioning are as follows:

- The use of the ABC model of disturbance to conceptualize cases. A is the activating event (something happens); B is the belief (or attitudinal response) that is triggered in us by the A (activating event); and C is the emotional and behavioural consequence that is triggered by the interaction of the A (activating event) and the belief (or attitudinal response). Then there is the D, or debating and disputing the belief (or attitude) and E, which is an effective new belief or attitude.

- The distinction between ego disturbances and discomfort disturbances, which can be helpful.

- The distinction that he made between ‘reasonably upset emotions’, like concern, sadness, irritation; and ‘overly upset emotions’, like anxiety, depression, anger, etc.

- His argument against self-esteem and in favour of self-acceptance.

- Like Werner Erhard, a generation after him, Ellis considered that ‘insight’ (so loved by Freud and his psychoanalytic followers) was the booby prize, and did not change anything much for the client/patient.

- Instead, Ellis advocated the use of cognitive, emotive and behavioural techniques to help the client to talk themselves out of their problematic emotional and behavioural situations. The cognitive techniques involve asking questions about the logic, reasonableness and usefulness of particular beliefs/attitudes. The behavioural approaches involve desensitization by forcing yourself to behave differently than you feel. And the emotive approaches include ‘shame attacking exercises’ and ‘rational humorous songs’. 

# Resource 2: How to become an effective Rational/Cognitive therapist...

# What is Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (CENT)?

#  Counselling and therapy all over the world.

Al Ellis worked very hard for fifty years to build up his own form of therapy, including his institute in New York City. He wrote more than 75 books and hundreds of articles and academic papers; saw about eighty clients per week; maintained a correspondence with supporters all over the world; and ran the Friday Night Workshop every Friday night he was in NYC on a Friday for more than thirty years.

He was incredibly generous in his support of ‘new kids on the block’, and responded to a number of letters that I wrote to him, on such topics as: REBT and research; REBT and personality theory; the use of questioning techniques in REBT; and so on. Despite being extremely busy, he normally responded, politely and helpfully, with ten days in most cases.

Al was supported in his energetic mission by his girlfriend of thirty years, Dr Janet Wolfe, who seems to have spent sixty hours per week, for those thirty years, promoting Ellis’ institute, ideas and books. (In the run up to his ninetieth birthday, Al and Janet split; and Al fell in love with, and married, Debbie Joffe-Ellis).

Al was also supported by half a dozen others, who helped with the development of his ideas. Some of those others fell out with Al in the last couple of years of his life, and removed him from his professional role, and also from the board of the institute. Al took legal action over those disputes, and won his first case in the New York Supreme Court.

Albert Ellis will be remembered for his contribution to the development of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Aaron Tim Beck, who pioneered Cognitive Therapy, recently acknowledged that all who followed Ellis owed a great debt of gratitude to him for opening the floodgates.

Albert Ellis created the field of Cognitive/Rational Therapy, based on his own experience of using philosophies, like Stoicism, to heal his own psychological problems; and also his reading of various emerging strands of cognitivism, in Berne (1957), Rosen (1953), Wolpe (1958) and others. But perhaps the most important influence was the philosophical writings of McGill (1954), who wrote: “Emotions…include a cognitive component, and an expectation of readiness to act; their rationality and adaptive value depends on the adequacy of these two components in a given situation … Foreseeing that an object promises good or ill and knowing, or not, how to deal with it, determines the attitude towards it, and also the feeling”: (cited in Ellis, 1962, page 41).

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When I first read Ellis (1962), I was impressed by the thoroughness of presentation of his literature review, in Chapter 2. Ellis was a formidable intellectual, mixed with a freewheeling use of street language, and a Lennie Bruce veneer designed to cover over his lifelong social anxiety and shyness (as well as expressing his rebellious child side). He lacked the constraints of one who has a controlling father-figure internalized in his superego. (His father let him down in that respect, by being largely absent). He could also be brusque and irritable in his final years, and perhaps prone to homing in on simple answers, which deviated from the great complexity of his original analysis, created in the late ‘fifties and early ‘sixties. Some considered him to be a ‘sloppy philosopher’, failing to clarify his meanings, but why would he care when he could see that he was making a huge impact on the field of psychotherapy.

Despite his weaknesses and failings, in leadership for example, he managed to steer Rational Therapy through three ‘waves’ of cognitive revolution. (Or was it just two and a half?) In the third wave he offered the view that REBT may not survive for much longer, and may be incorporated into a more general CBT. This is happening to some extent already. But even as it is happening, CBT is confronting the psychodynamic school, within the National Health Service in the UK. And there is pressure for some kind of rapprochement between the two schools. (See: House, R. and Loewenthal, D. [2008] Against and For CBT: Towards a constructive dialogue?)

Just a few years ago I was for maintaining the purity of REBT, and keeping Al on a pedestal. But time and tide wear away all our fantasies. And now I am in the vanguard of the development of a ‘fourth wave’ of therapy – the integration of REBT, TA., Object Relations theory, Zen philosophy, Narrative therapy, and other elements, into a new form of Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (CENT) – which straddles the CBT and psychodynamic empires.

I dare to hope that if Albert Ellis were here now, he would say: “Your CENT therapy, Jim, sounds like a good therapy; but can’t you keep the goddamned Buddha out of it?” But actually, Al admired the Buddha’s philosophy, and owed something to it. Al also acknowledged his debt to Eric Berne; and I informed him of my use of TA ego states to supplement REBT, back in 2001, because, as I put it: “REBT does not have a theory of personality”. Al’s response to that was to get together with Mike and Lydia Abrams to plan a new book on personality theory.

# Resource 2: How to become an effective Rational/Cognitive therapist...

# What is Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (CENT)?

#  Counselling and therapy all over the world.

In the end we have to make our own minds up. And mine says Al was a great force for good in the world. However, because he was a fallible, error-prone human, he may have sometimes fallen short of what some people might have expected of him, in some limited ways. Even if this proved to be true - in some limited ways – nevertheless, when taken in context, it is a small blemish on a glorious life of dedication and contribution to those who suffer emotional and behavioural limitations of their life’s possibilities.

Towards the end of his life, Al joked about his work as “the gospel according to Saint Albert”. This is closer to the truth than he may have realized at the time – so long as we remember that saints are just fallible, error prone humans who strive for high standards of moral functioning or social service in the world.

And it is because of Al’s saintliness that I am sure he would not object to the fact that CENT is founded primarily on moral philosophy, with REBT and the rest added in afterwards.

If you would like to read a range of tributes to Al, then please go here: The REBT Network.

Jim

Jim Byrne
Doctor of Counselling
An acolyte of the best bits of Albert Ellis! (And Freud, and Berne, and Klein/Fairbairn, and Gautama, and White and Epston, and on and on).

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# Resource 2: How to become an effective Rational/Cognitive therapist...

# What is Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (CENT)?

#  Counselling and therapy all over the world.

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