Albert Ellis and Rational Emotive Therapy

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Like Wolpe (but without knowledge of his work), in the mid 1950s an internationally renowned American psychologist named Albert Ellis became discouraged because of his poor therapeutic results using psychoanalysis. Again like Wolpe, as a psychotherapeutic rebellion, Ellis developed a highly effective, authoritatively directive method of psychotherapy called Rational Emotive Therapy. The main stimulus for Ellis' new treatment method was the Greek stoic, emotional canon: "People do not get upset by things, but by the view they take of them.''

Ellis saw the great psychotherapeutic relevance to that philosophical observation. So, he converted it into his internationally acclaimed, empirical, ABC model of human emotions. That model of human emotions has proven to be one of the most clinically useful psychotherapeutic concepts in the twentieth century. In addition, Ellis' ABC model probably made Rational Emotive Therapy the first comprehensive behavior therapy.

In the ABC model of human emotions: A is the activating event, that is, any event to which the person reacts. B is that person's personal belief about that perception. C is that person's emotional response to that A, the activating event. Ellis's ABC model reveals that people's emotional feelings are not caused by the activating events at A. Their emotional feelings are directly caused by their personal beliefs at B about their A-activating events. Ellis reasoned, therefore, that the drug-free, therapeutic way to help people most quickly behave better physically, or to most quickly feel better emotionally at C, is to get them to adopt "better personal beliefs'' at B about their A perceptions.

To Ellis, "better personal beliefs'' meant beliefs that seem to be the most logical ones for the person's desired new emotional and physical self-management. Ellis called such beliefs rational, and the contrary ones irrational, beliefs. Logically, therefore, Ellis' technique has always focused on getting people to recognize and eliminate their irrational belief systems. That fact probably made Ellis' technique the first cognitive therapy. In fact, Ellis is now recognized by many mental health professionals as the "father" of the cognitive therapeutic movement in behavioral psychology.

Initially, Ellis gave patients/clients and trainees little or no specific empirical guidelines for recognizing and

Behavior Therapy discovering for themselves if their beliefs were rational. Still, the following two features made his method more rapidly and comprehensively effective than the other then-popular psychotherapies seemed to be. (1) Ellis' method encouraged therapists to be active, objective and firmly directive. (2) It also encouraged the effective use in talk therapy of Pavlovian-type verbal conditioning of more rational beliefs than those that seemed to have caused the patients/clients' problems. That feature enabled therapists to rapidly help patients /clients create the new emotional ABCs that produce and maintain the self-management they desired.

The inclusion of Pavlovian type conditioning in Ellis' method was sufficient for Eysenck to classify Ellis' Rational Emotive Therapy as a behavior therapy. In the 1994 revision of his original 1962 "bible" of Rational Emotive Therapy, entitled Reason and Emotions in Psychotherapy, Ellis changed the name of his historic therapeutic technique to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.

Of course there is much more to Ellis' therapeutic technique than his ABC model of human emotions. But space limitations do not permit their coverage here. However, those unmentioned features all are logically based on or related to his ABC model of human emotions.

Remarkably similar to Ellis' cognitive orientation is Aaron Beck's cognitive therapy. Beck's technique has been proved to be as effective for treating some depressive disorders as is medication. Beck's method has also proved to be more effective than medication for preventing recurrences of those depressive disorders; it therefore prevents the unhealthy medical side effects of long-term drug treatment. [See Cognitive Therapy.]

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