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Albert Ellis Biography

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Albert Ellis Biography
Image: Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis, www.debbiejoffeellis.com

“Freud had a gene for inefficiency, and I think I have a gene for efficiency. Had I not been a therapist, I would have been an efficiency expert.” – Albert Ellis, 2001

Best Known For

  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
  • Writings on human sexuality
  • The ABC Model
  • One of the founders of cognitive behavior therapy

Birth and Death:

  • Born: September 27, 1913
  • Died: July 24, 2007

Personal Life

Albert Ellis was born in 1913 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the oldest of three children. He would later describe his father as unaffectionate and his mother as emotionally distant. Since his parents were rarely around, he often found himself in the position of caring for his younger siblings. Ellis was often sick throughout his childhood. Between the ages of 5 and 7, he was reportedly hospitalized eight different times. One of these hospitalizations lasted over a year, during which time his parents rarely visited or offered comfort and support.

While he was often known for his outspokenness and was even described as the "Lenny Bruce of psychotherapy," Ellis recalled being quite shy when he was young. At 19, he set out to change his behavior and forced himself to speak to every woman he encountered at a park bench near his home. One month, he spoke to over 130 women and while he only ended up getting one date, he found that he had desensitized himself and was no longer afraid of speaking to women. He utilized the same approach to get over his fear of public speaking.

His first and second marriages ended in annulment and divorce. His 37-year relationship with a director of the Albert Ellis Institute ended in 2002. In 2004, he married Australian psychologist Debbie Joffee. Ellis died in 2007 following a long illness.

Career

After graduating high school, Ellis went on to earn a B.A. in Business from the City College of Downtown New York in 1934. He spent some time pursuing a business career, and later attempted a career as a fiction writer. After struggling with both, he decided to switch gears to study psychology and began his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Columbia University in 1942. He earned his M.A. degree in clinical psychology in 1943 and his Ph.D. in 1947.

Ellis's initial training and practice was in psychoanalysis, but he soon grew dissatisfied with he saw as the weaknesses of the psychoanalytic method - its passivity and ineffectiveness. Influenced by the works of people such as Alfred Adler, Karen Horney, and Harry Stack Sullivan, Ellis began developing his own approach to psychotherapy. By 1955, he presented his approach that he then referred to as Rational Therapy. This method stressed a more direct and active approach to treatment in which the therapist helped the client understand the underlying irrational beliefs that lead to emotional and psychological distress. Today, the method is known as rational emotive behavior therapy, or REBT.

Ellis also wrote a great deal about human sexuality. He began seeing clients before he had even completed his Ph.D.. At the time, there was no formal licensing of psychologists required in New York state.

Ellis maintained a rigorous work schedule even up to the end of his life. He continued to work even in the face of multiple health problems, seeing as many as 70 patients a week.

Contributions to Psychology

While REBT is often described as an off-shoot of CBT, Ellis's work was truly part of the cognitive revolution and he helped found and pioneer the cognitive-behavioral therapies. He is often described as one of the most eminent thinkers in the history of psychology. In one 1982 survey of psychologists, he was ranked as the second most influential psychotherapist in history (Carl Rogers came in at number one, while Sigmund Freud came in at number three).

Ellis also authored more than 75 books, many of which became best-sellers.

Selected Publications

Ellis. A. (1957). How To Live with a Neurotic. Oxford, England: Crown Publishers.

Ellis, A. (1958). Sex Without Guilt. NY: Hillman.

Ellis, A. (1961). A Guide to Rational Living. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall.

Ellis, A. & Greiger, R. (1977). Handbook of Rational-Emotive Therapy. NY: Springer Publishing.

Ellis, A. (1985). Overcoming Resistance: Rational-Emotive Therapy With Difficult Clients. NY: Springer.

Ellis, A. & Chip, R. (1998). How to Control Your Anger Before It Controls You, with Raymond Chip Tafrate. Citadel Press.

Ellis, A. (2003). Sex Without Guilt in the 21st Century. Barricade Books.

Ellis, A., Abrams, M., & Abrams, L. (2008). Theories of Personality: Critical Perspectives, with Mike Abrams, PhD, and Lidia Abrams, PhD. New York: Sage Press.

References

Epstein, R. (2001, Jan. 01). The prince of reason. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200101/the-prince-reason

Kaufman, M. T. (2007, July 25). Albert Ellis, 93, Influential Psychologist, Dies. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/25/nyregion/25ellis.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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