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“Stop ‘Must-urbating’ And Go Back To Happy Masturbating!”


I’m writing this blog item at the Milton Erickson "Evolution of Psychotherapy" conference in Anaheim, a once-every-five-years gathering billed as "A Tribute to the Masters" and "The World's Largest Psychotherapy Conference." Driving to “the happiest place on earth” got hellish at the end, thanks to a carpool lane without an exit in the right place, but I made it in time for the big event, far as I was concerned: Dr. Albert Ellis’ talk on how his Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy works on relationships.

For those unacquainted with Ellis, he’s 91, has written 55 books, and started the form of therapy that I think is the best, most common-sense, efficient kind out there (unless you’re a chandelier-swinging looney, and maybe even then, as he mentioned having some success with a schizophrenic during his talk). Here's a copy of the New Yorker article on him by Adam Green. Unfortunately, there’s been a pretty shocking coup by the board of doofuses (aka board of directors) at his Institute. I have yet to change the link on my site because Gregg and I have been dashing all over the place lately, but Ellis’ new site (sans mutineers) is here.

I’ve taken some notes from Ellis’ talk – mostly on the basics of his therapy system and philosophy. All are direct quotes, except where I couldn't type fast enough or couldn't hear something, in which case it's paraphrased in parentheses. Ellis said:

REBT is a pioneer relationship therapy because when people relate to each other they also upset themselves about each other. Not all of the time, but most of the time, and that’s why we see them for psychotherapy.

So REBT goes back to early philosophers and Asian philosophers. I started to use it on myself when I was 15 and relatively weak and affected with disability. (Amy note: Al has diabetes.) I didn’t want to upset myself so I found out from three good philosophers -- ancient and modern -- that you didn’t have to upset yourself about anything.

You have a choice of feeling when something goes wrong!

…Healthily sorry and disappointed because you’re not getting what you want…or else you could feel angry, depressed, anxious, and upset about “A.”

(Amy note: “A” is Al shorthand for “adversity” – in Al’s words, “something happening against your interest or against the interest of the relationship.)

So, therefore, most people, most of the time, believe that adversity causes the consequences in the gut and they’re wrong. A doesn’t cause consequences. You cause them at “B” – the bullshit you believe -- instead of feeling healthily sorry and regretful.

“B” is your philosophy – your cognitive, emotional, and behavioral philosophy. Because you think, feel, and behave all at once.

Whenever “A” occurs (and your mate doesn’t love you or your boss treats you badly) you always have a choice.

Ellis’ philosophy is based on that of three philosophers, Buddha, Epictetus, and the Dalai Lama. Ellis said:

Buddha was a very wise man. And he said that you are naturally disturbed by biology and environment, but you could choose not to be…you didn’t really have to upset yourself about anything. Buddha (saw terrible things) and he created enlightenment. You are a fallible, screwed- up human and you live in a fallible, screwed up society. At first (Buddha) was very upset about all the poor people and all the diseased people, but he saw that you could be enlightened and choose enlightenment.

2000 years ago, Epictetus, a slave of the Romans, a Greek slave, showed how he could not be upset when terrible things happened to him. He was a slave, and he had chains on his legs, and the master who owned him started tightening the chain on his leg, and he said, “Master, if you keep tightening those chains you’ll break my leg.” The Master did break his leg and…(he was a cripple for the rest of his life).

Ellis then spoke of one of the cornerstones of REBT, quoting (or paraphrasing) Epictetus:

It’s not the bad things that happen that upset you, it’s view of them.

Ellis continued:

(Epictetus) said calmly, (to the master), “See you broke my leg,” and the master was so impressed he freed him and he became (a philosophical leader in Rome). He did it with his own reasoning.

The Dalai Lama was taught as a young child not to upset himself. And he had real adversity. He was a Tibetan and the Chinese controlled Tibet and …(he was persecuted, forced to live in India) but to this day, the Dalai Lama has compassion for (the Chinese), not anger, not depression, not anxiety. (He found a way into) accepting them unconditionally just because they’re human.

Ellis talks about three forms of acceptance:

First, as taught in REBT, you always accept yourself, no matter how stupid and (awful?) and fallible you are.

You use the thinking of another philosopher -- Alfred Korzybski: You are not what you do, you do what you do, good things and bad things.

You’re a fallible, screwed up human. That is your nature. That is your biology and your upbringing, both. It is heredity and environment.

(At REBT) we teach “ USA” -- Unconditional Self Acceptance. Never put yourself down.

Here, I think Ellis doesn’t go far enough. He’s great on the basics of simple self-acceptance, but Nathaniel Branden goes more in depth on the sole issue of self-esteem. To read about Ellis’ “USA,” check out A Guide To Rational Living. Read Branden’s point of view in The Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem. (LINK)

Ellis then went on to accepting other people, “UOA,” or “Unconditional Other Acceptance”:

Accept them, not what they do. But, I have compassion for you even though you do that…

Finally, you have “ULA” – Unconditional Life Acceptance: You accept reality no matter how bad it is. It’s very bad, it’s atrocious… But it could always be three times as bad. So you accept bad things, but you don’t put down life. You never say ‘it’s awful, it’s terrible…” It is the way it is…too damn bad!”

You make yourself upset by saying two things: “I don’t like adversity, I hate it; I wish it weren't so. I wish it didn’t exist.” But it does.

Ellis talked about accepting the bad things:

To say they’re wrong, they’re rotten, they’re no good, but to accept them the way they are. Tough shit, too damn bad!

At the end of his talk, Ellis took questions and showed examples of his therapy by listening and responding to people with problems.


The first guy was upset because his brother got married before his actual wedding. The guy thought his brother should apologize, that he should have told the truth. Ellis was great. A few of his comments below:

Why does he have to tell the truth when he’s a talented liar?

Now why does he have to tell the truth? Because he doesn’t.

Why do you have to trust him? Let him lie like a trooper for the rest of your life. Why can’t you be a happy human even if he’s lying, lying, lying?!

Too damn bad, that’s the way he is! Let him lie, let him lie!

Finally, Ellis lead a sing-along of some of his wacky songs illustrating the philosophy of REBT. Here's one:


“Must-urbating,” by the way, is Ellis’ take on Karen Horney’s “Tyranny Of The Shoulds” -- the idea that there’s no such thing as a “should” -- just your preferred outcome when something happens. He “should have called you?” No, he didn’t call you. There is no should. Either it is or it ain’t -- and what are you gonna do about it?

Posted by aalkon at December 8, 2005 8:08 AM

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Hey, I like his approach, as shown in his discussion with the guy who's brother lied and got married.

I haven't looked at any of your mail, Amy (apart from what you've published), but I'd wager a good part of it is devoted to questions like "How do I make him/her feel/do what I want?" Answer: You can't. What you CAN control is how you deal with it.

So, the guy can decide, "You know what? My brother's a liar, therefore I should be very careful in trusting him in the future," instead of saying, "How do I make him apologize?" Uh, hold a gun to his head? "How do I make him apologize sincerely?" Can't do it, so why try?

Like the buxom beauty who packed on a bunch of weight during pregnancy who accepted herself as she now was, and wanted to know how she could get her husband to accept her as she was. She can't. It's great that she can blow up like a balloon and decide, hey, I can live with this. Too bad. The guy to whom she made a lifelong committment DIDN'T agree to this.

Posted by: Patrick at December 8, 2005 4:17 AM

...accepting other people, “UOA,” or “Unconditional Other Acceptance”

   Sounds a bit dodgy to me. Does this mean you have to unconditionally accept people who let their children spoil your Starbucks experience, or cut you off on Ocean Blvd while yakking on a cell phone?

   If it does mean that, and if you believe it, then obviously you have to stop haranguing these people. If it doesn't mean that, or if you don't really believe it, then label it psychobabble and toss it out. You can't have it both ways.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at December 8, 2005 6:50 AM

No, it means accept them in the most general sense. That they exist, that they're human.

What makes a lot of sense to me is not being surprised when an asshole acts like an asshole. Ellis would say the person behaves like an asshole; ie, they are a person behaving asshole-ishly. Yeah, whatever. I'll post the photo of the asshole with the sole of her hippie shoe on the cushion of the chair next to me tomorrow. She was underthrilled that I did it. But, that's just the kind of sweet, bighearted, tolerant girl that I am.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 8, 2005 7:01 AM

Stu writes:

...accepting other people, “UOA,” or “Unconditional Other Acceptance”

Sounds a bit dodgy to me. Does this mean you have to unconditionally accept people who let their children spoil your Starbucks experience, or cut you off on Ocean Blvd while yakking on a cell phone?

Well, carrying that to it's logical conclusion, that would mean I have to accept someone who may, for whatever reason, want to kill or hurt me, and not do a thing about it. "Yes, I accept the fact that you want to murder me. Might I ask that sharpen that knife a little, so it doesn't hurt as much?"

Obviously, that's not what it means. What it means to me is that you can't MAKE anyone do anything, of feel a particular way. What you can do is choose how you deal with it. If someone is interfering with my right to enjoy coffee at Starbucks (bleah, I hate coffee), then I have the right to tell them to knock it off, and if they don't, I have the right to complain to management. And if that doesn't solve the problem, I have a right to take my business elsewhere. Hence, my problem is solved. But I can't force management or the parent with the unruly brat to change their views or adopt attitudes they don't want.

But if my brother does something that pisses me off, I have the right to tell him that it pissed me off. If he doesn't care, then I have the right to disassociate myself from him, but I can't force him to care about things that are important to me.

It reminds me of an episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation (or perhaps it was another spin-off). One of the female crew members was playing cards with some of the boorish, misogynistic Ferengi. When asked by another female crew member how she could stand associating with the Ferengi, listing their faults including their obnoxiousness and sexist attitudes, the first crew member replied that those things are true. But she found that once she accepted that about them, the Ferengi can be a lot of fun.

And why not? The attitudes of the Ferengi are no threat to her. She's not applying for a commission on one of their ships, and I'm sure Star Fleet couldn't have cared less about how the Ferengi feel regarding the roles of women on a starship.

Posted by: Patrick at December 8, 2005 7:37 AM

No, it means accept them in the most general sense. That they exist, that they're human.

Well then I'd say this "philosophy" has no useful meaning.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at December 8, 2005 7:55 AM

I loved reading this, but I'm completely opposed. I think most people aren't grateful enough nor guilty enough. Grateful for all the blessings, larage and small, that we all receive from others, and guilty about all the trouble we cause others--even when we don't mean to do so.
Acccept one's feelings, do what needs to be done.

Posted by: KateCoe at December 8, 2005 11:54 AM

Well, I concur with him on a lot of stuff, but I drink the Kool-Aid only to a point. For example, there's a guy across from me at the wifi table who's lucky I'm not going to print the name I can read off his name tag, but he happens to be blowing his nose while we're all eating lunch, in between shoving his sandwich into his mouth like a starved cow. This guy needs to feel a little less comfortable with himself and notice that the landscape here looks remarkably different from that of the moon, as in, there are many people here to find his behavior appalling and disgusting. Me, for starters. I started hiding my eyes every time he took a series of bites. (Each bite he took was actually a series of bites -- an attempt to shove, shove shove more of his sandwich into his jaws. This, clearly, is the lunch table where the bulimics should be sitting. And by the way, while there are a number of good speakers here, every fifth attendee you pass, upon close examination, looks batshit crazy.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 8, 2005 12:06 PM

Oh somebody named "Willow" is singing and playing guitar. Amplified. About mental health. Whatever fragments of it I have left are evacuating rapidly.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 8, 2005 12:08 PM

Musturbating- I love that phrase That's my new vocab word of the day.

Posted by: MissPinkKate at December 8, 2005 12:10 PM

Amy, you would perhaps be happy as a Minbari.

In the words of Dukhat, "When you see someone do a foolish thing, you should tell them. They may continue to do it, but the truth is where it needs to be."

Posted by: Radwaste at December 8, 2005 4:48 PM

Do I have to go with the weird-ass hair?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 8, 2005 5:30 PM

You took the saying about losing your cool equals losing a confrontation to heart. Martial arts trainers agree. Problem solving is allowed : indigestion over the need isn't reccomended.

Posted by: opit at December 10, 2005 5:42 PM

So glad you documented many of Ellis' statements from the conference. I was there, albeit starstruck, but there. I was delighted when he identified, "B" as the "bullshit we tell ourselves about A". I flashed back to the countless times I have used his theory in a skills training group or in a therapy session, how I'd write the philosophy on the dry erase board; how never once did I describe "B" as the BULLSHIT we tell ourselves, but oh! How I wished I'd said that. He is delightful. He is, indeed, a master of our work. Bless him with all of the positive, healthy thoughts that we can create. I would love to be there for the day Karma comes to bite the collective asses of the Board for outting the very reason they exist. I don't care what their side of "A" is. Whatever their "A" is, never ever will be there be a logical, rational explanation for their "C". Unfuck them.
Charlene Crafton, LCSW
Atlanta, GA

Posted by: Charlene Crafton at December 16, 2005 3:34 PM

Thanks so much, Charlene. Wasn't he THE most entertaining of all the speakers there?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 16, 2005 4:09 PM

I was at this conference and although I have heard Ellis before, I have a renewed interest and want to study his books and try his approach on my clients.
I am so tired of other approaches that are filled with judgement and pathology with the exception of Glasser, who Ellis also speaks
about for also emphasizing Choices.

Posted by: Barry at December 16, 2005 9:23 PM

Accepting someone for their bad behaviour would more likely lead to assertively trying to resolve the issue. Damming someone -- essentially saying "you did a bad thing, and therefore you are a bad person (read rotten bastard!)" -- tends to lead to agressive, or passive-aggressive behaviour in response to someone acting badly.

Patrick writes:
> Well, carrying that to it's logical conclusion,
> that would mean I have to accept someone who
> may, for whatever reason, want to kill or hurt
> me, and not do a thing about it. "Yes, I accept
> the fact that you want to murder me. Might I ask
> that sharpen that knife a little, so it doesn't
> hurt as much?"

That is not carrying Ellis' theory of USA to its logical conclusion, which is essentially similar to Jesus' advice to "accept the sinner, but not the sin".

If someone is trying to kill you, you would do your damnest to prevent this. However, lets suppose you do subvert an attempt on your life, and the attacker is brought to justice. Do you then harbour feelings of deep anger and hatred towards the perpatrator, whilst also resenting life for being so risky and unsafe? Perhaps you blame yourself? "I did something wrong to induce this person to want to kill me, perhpas I'm a bad person"

Or do you see this person as someone who has some serious issues and to be avoided at all costs, whilst also accepting that the world and life is risky, even though you can take necesary precations to reduce that risk. would you also accept that you *may* have had some part to play in that person wanting to kill you, but accept yourself as a f**ked up, fallible human being -- like everybody else -- who can, and does act wrongly, badly, inadequately, from time to time.

Can you see how those different philosophies would lead to different emotional and behavioural consequences (C's)? Which philosophy do you think would be most beneficial in helping a person who had gone through such an ordeal to successfully get on with their lives, free from anxiety, depression, anger and so on?

Posted by: Lyndon Garvey at December 18, 2005 3:55 AM

FYI, Lyndon, I edited your remark above to correct it. You'd written "Amy Alkon writes." Actually, it was Patrick who wrote that. Please try to be more careful about who you're saying said something.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2005 8:21 AM

I loved seeing his still valiant attitude and hearing his thick Bronx accent, endearingly replete with expletives as it was. He remains so passionate about his thoughts and ideas, truly an inspirational man. The whole conference was quite mindblowing actually. I'll look forward to the next!

Posted by: Claire at December 19, 2005 4:56 PM

Dear Amy,

Your article on my presentations at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference is fine. It really summarizes many of my REBT points.

Albert Ellis

Posted by: Albert Ellis at December 21, 2005 11:57 AM

Well, THAT made my day!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 21, 2005 2:10 PM

I Loved your Ellis blog and was also at the conference and attended most of Ellis's sessions. Now I need to read his works, since I am more familar with Glasser.

I am depressed that the conference is over!
Anyone else feel that way?


Posted by: Barry Karlin,LCSW at December 28, 2005 7:05 PM

I read Glasser's work long ago, but think of it negatively -- can't remember precisely why -- but it's associated with a "corrective" approach to homosexuality. Please correct me if I'm wrong about this -- my memory is not my strongest feature.

Also, any conference attendees know the name of the guy who got up in Seligman's arena talk -- related to the story by his dad about the dinosaurs...or maybe it was the zoo? Had a really weird conversational exchange with him.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 28, 2005 10:22 PM

Amy: Oh My God! You must've been tickled to see Mr. Ellis himself write in the blog. And to give you kudos, no less. Yeah!!!!!
Charlene, Atlanta

Posted by: Charlene Crafton at January 7, 2006 2:15 AM

Let's just say it was pretty damn cool!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 7, 2006 7:01 AM

Ellis didn't just act like an asshole, he was an asshole! Him and his hippy buddies psychobabble me first hedonistic sex obsessed garbage, that have made the planet the morally devoid environmentally destroyed shithole that it is today. Kudos, Ellis! Asshole!

The only good hippy is a dead hippy! Thank God for his passing.

Posted by: Andy at October 25, 2007 1:26 PM

Andy, you sound like a really good candidate for Ellis' book "How To Control Your Anger Before it Controls You."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 25, 2007 1:31 PM

Or I could just keep my anger (which is actually a normal human emotion) and have a good laugh that one more hippy hit the dust. Live out my hippy hating life. Besides I'm a chandelier swinging loony so it won't work.

Posted by: Andy at October 25, 2007 11:50 PM


Enjoy those cortisol surges!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 26, 2007 1:28 AM

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