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Albert Ellis Died This Morning
Very sad, just heard the news from mutual friends. Here's the NY Times obit by Michael T. Kaufman:

Albert Ellis, whose innovative straight-talk approach to psychotherapy made him one of the most influential and provocative figures in modern psychology, died early today at his home above the institute he founded in Manhattan. He was 93. Skip to next paragraph Enlarge This Image

Dr. Ellis (he had a doctorate but not a medical degree) called his approach rational emotive behavior therapy, or R.E.B.T. Developed in the 1950’s, it challenged the deliberate, slow-moving methodology of Sigmund Freud, the prevailing psychotherapeutic treatment at the time.

Where the Freudians maintained that a painstaking exploration of childhood experience was critical to understanding neurosis and curing it, Dr. Ellis believed in short-term therapy that called on patients to focus on what was happening in their lives at the moment and to take immediate action to change their behavior. Neurosis, he said, was “just a high-class word for whining.”

“The trouble with most therapy is that it helps you feel better,” he told The New York Times in an interview in 2004. “But you don’t get better. You have to back it up with action, action, action.”

If his ideas broke with conventions, so did his manner of imparting them. Irreverent, charismatic, he was called the Lenny Bruce of psychotherapy. In popular Friday evening seminars that ran for decades, he counseled, prodded, provoked and entertained groups of 100 or more students, psychologists and others looking for answers, often lacing his comments with obscenities for effect.

His basic message was that all people are born with a talent “for crooked thinking” — distortions of perception that sabotage their innate desire for happiness. But he recognized that people also had the capacity to change themselves. The role of therapists, Dr. Ellis argued, is to intervene directly, using strategies and homework exercises to help patients first learn to accept themselves as they are (unconditional self-acceptance, he called it) and then to retrain themselves to avoid destructive emotions — to “establish new ways of being and behaving,” as he put it.

His methods, along with those of Dr. Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist who was working independently, provided the basis for what is known as cognitive behavior therapy. A form of talk therapy, it has been shown to be at least as effective as drugs for many people in treating anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other conditions.

His admirers credited Dr. Ellis with adapting the “talking cure,” the dominant therapy in extended Freudian sessions, to a pragmatic, stop-your-complaining-and-get-on-with-you-life form of guidance later popularized by television personalities like Dr. Phil.

Here's a photo of Al, with his wife Debbie, from the Erickson Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference a few years ago.


Here's my blog item on his talk.

Posted by aalkon at July 24, 2007 4:47 PM


Dear Amy,

Thank you for your comments about Albert Ellis. He and Debbie greatly enjoyed the Evolution of Psychology conference in Anaheim. Your write-up was terrific and both Al and Debbie liked it. What people didn't know is that during that conference he was suffering from excruciating back pain. He went on with the show, delighing the audiences. He gave his last two hour workshop on March 29 to a group of visiting students while he was hospitalized for a heart attack. He did what he loved most -- helping people learn how to undistress themselves no matter what life throws at them. His wife Debbie has cared for him during his illness. His philosophy helped him write books, teach classes and help patients for more than 60 years eventhough he'd had physical ailments since childhood. His wife Debbie is his match. Her behavior has been amazing. They loved each other dearly. It's been the greatest pleasure to have been able to help Al in the last two years. Thanks for seeing him as the terrific teacher, therapist and philospher he was.
Gayle Rosellini
Friend and Supporter of Albert Ellis and Debbie Joffe Ellis

Posted by: Gayle Rosellini at July 24, 2007 5:21 PM

Thanks for passing along this news, Amy.

Posted by: Lena at July 24, 2007 6:02 PM

Al's been an enormous influence and a supporter of mine, and encouraged me to not worry about getting a degree or advanced training in psychotherapy -- at a university or at the Institute. He said in his particular Al cackle: "You know what ya need to know, it would be a waste of time!" I pass on his work in many columns I write, even if I'm not directly quoting a book he's's in my thinking. I loved how well that photo in the NYT captured him, and I'm writing a note to Debbie, whom I didn't get to know since I only saw her at that conference, but I'm guessing she's the reason Al was still on the planet as long as he was. I was sad this afternoon when I heard but then I thought about him, and thought, "There was a guy who really lived." He was, as I wrote to a friend, "an amazing bolt of life."
Thanks so much for your comment, Gayle. Please send Debbie my sympathies and enormous thanks. I hope to meet her again one of these days.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 24, 2007 9:39 PM

Dear Amy,

Please accept my sympathy. I know how much you admired him. He did much good in his life, and the world is that much richer for him having been here. I like to think of the life of Albert Ellis as one gigantic swift kick in the ass, which is what most of us needed anyway.

Posted by: Patrick at July 25, 2007 5:58 AM

I read one of his books months ago when I was going through a bad patch. It was unbelievably helpful. (Moreso than some counselors I've been to)
He'll be missed.

Posted by: Elle at July 25, 2007 6:19 AM

Which book was it, Elle?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 25, 2007 7:02 AM

Sad news, but thanks for sharing. My training isn't as a clinical psychologist (i.e., therapist) but I always thought Ellis' approach made the best sense in terms of applying what I studied to therapy (memory and other cognitive issues).

Posted by: justin case at July 25, 2007 9:24 AM

I honestly don't remember the title at the moment. All my books are packed up for moving (perhaps fitting that between therapy, his book, and some alternative 'herbal' therapy I've gotten up enough confidence to move out of my parents' place.)
I'll tell you after I remember though.

Posted by: Elle at July 25, 2007 9:52 AM

I loves me some Instapundit, but everyone has their blind spots. All that follows is the text of an entry this morning:

> has always been a fan, particularly of
> his How to Make Yourself Happy and
> Remarkably Less Disturbable. We could
> use more of that in the blogosphere
> sometimes . . . .

> Further thoughts from Ann Althouse.

Posted by: Crid at July 25, 2007 12:54 PM

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