Mutiny On 65th Street
A lot of people consider psychiatry and psychology a form of witch doctor'y, and don't understand that it can actually help them. For years, because of that, I've been sending people to Albert Ellis' $5 Friday night sessions (at his nonprofit Institute on 65th Street in Manhattan) where he does therapy on a volunteer in front of an audience. This allowed these people to see that there was therapy out there that wasn't mumbo jumbo, and that they simply had to learn to think rationally and apply reason to their emotional problems to start living smarter and more contentedly. For some people, this takes guidance by an Ellis-trained therapist, but for others, reading Ellis' books, like A Guide To Rational Living, and applying his methods, is enough.
In my opinion, the form of psychology originated by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, generally known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but in Ellis' case, specifically known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, is the fastest, smartest, most efficient type of therapy out there: Change the way you think, and you'll change the way you feel. You're disturbed because you're thinking irrationally (inspired by Epictetus' [paraphrased] "It is not events that disturb people, but the way they think of them."
This is why I'm particularly disturbed about the efforts by the board of Ellis' nonprofit institute, REBT.org, to reward him for what he built by unceremoniously throwing him out of his own Institute at age 92 -- while he's still mentally at the top of his game, despite health problems related to his diabetes. Benedict Carey and Dan Hurley write in The New York Times:
In a drama worthy of a field that thrives on conflict, a bitter feud has erupted between Albert Ellis, one of the most provocative and influential figures in modern psychology, and the Upper East Side psychotherapy institute he founded almost a half-century ago.
Dr. Ellis, 92, has filed a lawsuit against the Albert Ellis Institute, after the institute kicked him off its board of directors and canceled his popular Friday evening seminars.
Dr. Ellis and his defenders claim that the nonprofit institute has fallen into the hands of psychologists who are moving it away from the revolutionary therapy techniques pioneered by Dr. Ellis in the 1960's and 1970's.
The lawsuit, reported on Sunday by The New York Post, charges that the board acted improperly in removing Dr. Ellis and seeks his reinstatement, as well as unspecified damages. But Daniel Kurtz, a lawyer for the institute, said that the board acted out of economic necessity: payouts to Dr. Ellis for medical and other expenses were jeopardizing the institute's tax-exempt status and its viability, he said.
Dr. Ellis, who lives above the institute on East 65th Street, has been in declining health since an infection that nearly killed him several years ago and has daily nursing care.
In the last year, the dispute has turned personal. Some board members have said they were uncomfortable with Dr. Ellis's confrontational style and eccentricities, and saw him as a liability, said Andy Hopson, a volunteer consultant hired by the institute at Dr. Ellis's urging.
And some of Dr. Ellis's supporters have hinted that the institute's current managers are little more than overpaid self-promoters, intent on turning the institute into an outlet for pop psychology in the style of Dr. Phil, according to Mike Abrams, a psychologist in private practice in New Jersey who has worked with Dr. Ellis.
The board also fired Dr. Ellis's assistant, whom he has now married, a fact that he has interpreted as additional evidence of personal animosity on the part of board members.
In an interview from his bedside yesterday, Dr. Ellis said that neither money nor his health was the most important issue in the dispute.
It is natural for any psychological institute to change and adapt with the times, he said, "but it's unusual for them to change and go completely against the main principles" of its founder "and still call it the Albert Ellis Institute, and say they're doing the therapy, which they are not."
...By early 2004, with Dr. Ellis in declining health, the board began to negotiate with him about his future role at the institute, Mr. Kurtz said. The two sides could not come to agreement about Dr. Ellis's payment or title, Mr. Kurtz said, and in July, institute officials canceled the Friday evening sessions that had been a staple there for 30 years.
Dr. Ellis's lawyer, Michael de Leeuw, said: "Either these people really believe he is losing it, which he is not - in which case their lack of sympathy and fairness is appalling - or it's a palace coup.
"They have created a lot of animus. It's not what anyone would want to do to a guy who's 92 and the founder of a major school of psychology, especially one from whom they have all been directly enriched."
Mr. Kurtz said that the board's action in no way challenged the importance of Dr. Ellis's contributions but that those contributions were ultimately irrelevant to the ouster.
"We had someone who was working part time by any standard and who received financial benefits in the range of $500,000 to $600,000; it was just an outrageous situation," he said, referring mostly to medical benefits.
Mr. Kurtz, an expert in the laws governing nonprofits, said that in the nonprofit world, "there's something called founder's syndrome, and this is an extreme case of that: he sees this as something he can use as he wishes, and he can't."
Michael Broder, the director of the Institute, said yesterday that the action by the board was not personal and was within the law. Dr. Ellis's lawyers responded that Dr. Broder himself earned more than $200,000 last year and that Dr. Ellis's expenses were legitimate, especially given his modest salary - less than $50,000 a year - and his years of devotion to the institute.
Mr. Hopson said that the personal friction between Dr. Ellis and top managers was evident.
"It became apparent to me very quickly in my interviewing process that the relationship between Dr. Broder and Dr. Ellis was tenuous at best," he said. "Dr. Ellis didn't trust Dr. Broder and was frustrated that even though he was president of the board, Dr. Broder often ignored his directives."
Mr. Hopson said that Dr. Ellis also believed that Dr. Broder was manipulating the board.
"He frequently lamented to me that he didn't trust Dr. Broder," Mr. Hopson said.
In his new identity as a therapist unaffiliated with the Albert Ellis Institute, Dr. Ellis said he has been seeing a few clients. He said he does not hate those who removed him from the institute, nor is he angry about it.
"I think it's unfair, but they have the right as fallible, screwed-up humans to be unfair, that's the human condition," he said.
From a petition to reinstate Ellis:
Albert Ellis founded the Institute, founded REBT, served the Institute his entire career, took only a small salary and put the rest of his earnings back into the Institute, spoke all over the world to teach about REBT, lived at the Institute, guarded the Institute, and needs to be reinstated and keep the Institute on track in its course, as he the founder established it to be. He deserves respect from the Board and does not deserve the heartache of a lawsuit to protect his lifelong investment in the Institute. I hope the Institute will live on in his name maintaining the methods and standards of treatment he created. He gave great talks at his 90th birthday party and at a subsequent Friday night workshop I attended. He is capable of continuing his life's work, and if he needs special accommodations for his age and state of health, then the Institute needs to provide them, in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and the EEOC, which prohibits discrimination based on age.
I, personally, have sent hundreds of my readers to the Institute and REBT.org, and recommended that my readers in need of therapy see REBT fellows from the Institute's list. I don't know that I can do that anymore if I can't be sure they'll be following Ellis' methods, which are both wise and simple, and proof that one need not go through years of therapy to fix dumb, counterproductive ways of behaving.
Here is an excerpt from a message from two dissenting board members:
2. Although we commend our fellow Board members for their efforts to prevent the loss of the Institute’s tax exempt status, we maintain that removing Dr. Ellis from all positions of responsibility, including the Board, was not the correct or the respectful way to address these matters. 3. We contend that the Board was NOT “compelled” to act with the haste and the secrecy that characterized Dr. Ellis’ removal on September 18th 2005 at the last meeting of the Board.
-- Where is the evidence for the necessity and immediacy of this action?
--Where is the unambiguous proof that the payments made for Dr. Ellis’ medical care are “excess benefits”?
Dr. Ellis has received minimal compensation for the last 50 years. All his income went to support the Institute and purchase its building whose value is in the millions and worth many times over the original purchase price. Furthermore, because of Dr. Ellis’ conservative fiscal policies, the Institute is financially sound
and debt free with a bank account in excess of 5 million dollars.
The only alleged “excess benefits” paid to Dr Ellis were for the purpose of medical bills incurred in the last 2 years since his illness. It was in fact the Board itself that established a trust for the purpose of covering Dr. Ellis’ medical expenses.
This is appalling and a travesty, and beyond stupid. I plan to call Michael Broder today to let him know.
Posted by aalkon at October 19, 2005 4:14 PM
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The real travesty is the fact that "self-help" has been given a rotten name, especially when there are people who aren't peddling pseudo-psycholology that would have all of us believing that our lives were predefined in the 4th trimester.
Never trust anyone who insists that all of lifes problems stem from childhood. Its a hefty, sweltering load of crock.
I do find it interesting, however, that the two psychologists most commonly associated with the self-help movement (Nathaniel Branden and Ellis) don't seem to agree.
Posted by: Jake at October 20, 2005 12:59 PM
It's "a guy thing," if you know what I mean.
I know and respect both, and my thinking (in my column) is heavily influenced by both.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 20, 2005 5:18 PM
Ellis was alluded to favorably in David Burns' book with the regrettable title, "Feeling Good." Their styles seem to be similar, as Burns is a staunch proponent of cognitive therapy. In a nutshell, cognitive therapy teaches that depressed states are the result of irrational thinking and responses to distressing circumstances. For instance, "I didn't get an A on my test, therefore I will never get into a good school, and have the career I want, and will spend the rest of my life as a miserable, abject failure."
Burns labels and identifies different types of negative, irrational thinking that causes the depressed state, and teaches how to put things in their proper perspective.
Posted by: Patrick at October 20, 2005 7:20 PM
Along Patricks lines, I wish when I was a teenager someone could have just told me that in your next 60 or 70 years, your life will be determined by attitude and to some degree luck, and that screwing up here and there can be a positive thing if you learn from it.
I was brought up with the "it'll go on your permanent record" mentality and it stuck with me until I got out of colege.
Posted by: eric at October 20, 2005 8:54 PM
Very sad news indeed. Dr. Ellis' book (which I read upon Amys recommendation somewhere else on this website) convinced me that there is such a thing as scientifically sound psychology. (The book also taught me a few interesting things about myself, by the way.)
Though I don't know if it will help, I signed the petition and urge everybody to do the same.
Posted by: Rainer at October 21, 2005 6:17 AM
Thank you, Rainer. "Scientifically sound psychology" is a great way of putting it.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 21, 2005 6:58 AM
Thanks for posting this on your blog Amy. I'd have missed it otherwise.
Ellis' philosophy has had a huge effect on my life. I still keep a well-thumbed 30 year old copy of "Sex and the Single Man" under my bed that I pilfered from my uncle's home when I was a kid.
It was the honesty, spunk and celebration of reason that I first found in reading Ellis that turned me on to your columns.
Did you make that call to Broder?
Posted by: Jamie at October 21, 2005 6:56 PM
Didn't call yet. Emailed somebody to find out more info and the right tack to take. Going to call Broder on Monday or Tuesday.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 21, 2005 7:18 PM
Thank you for your effort, Amy.
What I find discouraging is the fact that there are only 289 signatures under that petition for reinstatement of the good doctor, including yours and mine. I'm pessimistic about the (lack of) media coverage this poor result will generate.
Good luck for your call to Dr. Broder!
Posted by: Rainer at October 22, 2005 6:17 AM
Hope you will remember to call Dr. Broder and to email the members of the board who voted to oust Ellis while he is, as you say, still at the top of his game.
You can find information on who to call or email at the new Albert Ellis Support Forum (less than a week old)
Or at the bottom of the page at:
Thanks for your great blog!
Posted by: Gayle at October 29, 2005 5:23 PM
Thanks for reminding me. I did call him, but he called back in the final throes of my deadline so I couldn't talk to him for long, but I did express my disapproval, and the fact that I don't feel comfortable sending people to Ellis' Institute with a deposed Ellis.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 29, 2005 7:48 PM
Kudos for the great item supporting Ellis. He has a new site up at www.rebt.ws
Perhaps you could link there instead of to the old one? (Dr. Ellis is temporarily not recognizing the old Institute site as legitimate). Also, he's doing his Friday night workshops "in exile" at 41e 65th Street. His other site, albertellis.info, may have info on that.
Thanks for the great entry.
Posted by: Andrew at November 19, 2005 10:48 PM
Wow...thanks. Wish I'd known...in NYC this week, just leaving now (at 4am, ugh). If I forget to get my boyfriend to fix my links page, please remind me. I'm a bit sleep deprived as I'm reading this and preparing to become awake enough to be thrown into a taxi.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 20, 2005 12:24 AM
If not for Dr. Ellis these people probably wouldn't even be there. The man is one of the most greatest psychologists of our era. His therapy is what the whole institute is based on. So hes a little eccentric, deal with it. He has revolutionized psychology to a great extent. People can make the argument that he is the Freud of our day. I say put him back where he belongs. Hes an old man with a lot of wisdom and nobody in the institute has an ounce of the knowledge he does. Learn as much as you possibly could because he wont be around forever.
Posted by: jonathan c. at December 6, 2006 8:01 PM