About Dr Albert Ellis - Creator of REBT Counseling

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

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?***



27th July 2013


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


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


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.



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


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.


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 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.