Dr Debbie Joffe Ellis Interview

Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis Talks About Her Husband, Dr. Albert Ellis

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Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis and her husband Dr. Albert Ellis. Image: By permission of Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis, http://www.debbiejoffeellis.com

Albert Ellis was often described as one of the most important thinkers of the past century. He was one of the founders of cognitive behavioral therapy and he developed a groundbreaking approach to psychotherapy known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, or REBT. His wife, Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis, continues the work that Dr. Ellis left after his passing in 2007. We had the opportunity to ask her some questions about Dr. Ellis, REBT, and her continued work in this area.

In part one of our interview, she talks about her husband and paints a vivid portrait of a man who was passionate about helping others and living life to the fullest.

How did you and Albert first meet?

We first met in person when he visited my home city of Melbourne, Australia.

I was studying psychology at Melbourne University at the time and heard that he would be visiting the University to present lectures and workshops. I attended each one of his presentations.

I had heard of him years prior, however.

My Aunt was a psychologist. I would frequently visit her home throughout my childhood and teen years, and would greatly enjoy looking at some of her books. I loved reading, and my interest in psychology was strong. She greatly liked the work of Albert Ellis and had a number of his books. I distinctly remember looking through one of his books in her library, I can visualize the cover clearly now, titled “Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy”.

I was only about 12 years of age at the time and did not read the book cover to cover! - but some of the words I did read in that book deeply impressed me.

When years later I attended University and studied psychology it was his Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) approach, (called RET at that time – the “B” was added in 1993), which most appealed to me.

I loved its holistic and humanistic nature, its thoroughness and vigor, the compassion it emphasized through encouraging the practice of unconditional acceptance in our lives, its practicality, methods, and techniques. It was compatible with my values and preferences, and I knew early on that it would be a primary focus in my work.

Little did I know at the age of 12, or when I was studying the approach some years later, that I would adore and marry the founder and creator of REBT!

Al and I met again about 15 years later at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention which was being held in San Francisco. Our remarkably close friendship began at that time, we would be in regular contact through mail, and phone calls, and I would visit him in New York each year. Our love relationship began a few years after that.

What was your first impression of Dr. Ellis?

That he was warm, authentic, trustworthy, no-nonsense, brilliant, magnificently witty, kind, and genuinely caring.

He had a reputation in the perception of some people for being loud, for using colorful language at times, for appearing abrasive, curmudgeonly, and provocative.

I felt that some of those modes of expression were simply chosen by him to help get his points across in a definite and memorable way, and were not representative of his tendencies and character.

As I got to know him, my first impression proved to be most accurate, and I increasingly experienced his qualities of gentleness, loving, caring and sensitivity.

Dr. Ellis maintained a rigorous and demanding schedule late into his life and in the face of some serious health problems. What do you think gave him such a strong passion and drive to help others?

His work was his mission, his passion, and it brought great meaning to his life. He cherished life, and he wanted to live a life of intensity and absorption in activities that would enhance his experience and that of others. He genuinely cared about others, and was more mindful than most about how quickly life passes by, and how important it is to live life to the full with maximum enjoyment and minimal suffering. Through finding ways to successfully cope with his own suffering experienced from childhood onwards, and translating it into a theory and methods for lessening emotional disturbance, his approach literally helped millions of people live better lives. He would remind us that life inevitably contains suffering, but by thinking in healthy ways and by changing adversities which could be changed and accepting those which could not be changed – we would not create unnecessary suffering, and could maximize joy throughout our lives.

There was an urgency about him at times, to continue to reach as many more people as he could through continuing to present lectures and workshops, and by writing more books which taught the REBT approach. Al immensely disliked any wasting of time. He believed that with increasing numbers of individuals using their time and energy to create enjoyable lives – despite and including any challenges - and through their helping others to do so, that over the years societies would become healthier. He wanted REBT principles to be taught in schools so that young people would learn of and apply its principles. He was a visionary and idealist, and a realist. He felt great satisfaction and gladness when he helped others and saw them learning to help themselves.

Up till his final weeks of life he continued to help people who would visit him in the hospital, including groups of students who would visit, and Al also showed compassion and gave help to various medical staff in the hospital (where he was a patient fighting hard to recover from his medical conditions) when he heard of any difficult circumstances they were going through. He not only helped people through his words to them, but also by modeling his principles. I often say – he practiced what he preached and preached what he practiced.

Do you have a favorite memory of your husband that you could share?

It is difficult for me to select only one to share with you here! There are many favorite memories. A few of them are:

His warmth and affection.

Another is of his magnificent smile.

The image of Al absorbed in listening to fine classical music.

Another is of his gracious surrender to my enthusiasm about good nutrition and my encouragement to him to change his diet and eat healthier food (prior to my doing so - his food at lunchtime was mostly often meat zapped in the microwave along with frozen vegetables!). I loved his willingness to be flexible, to think about my recommendations no matter how different they were from his long-time eating habits, and to try doing what I suggested.

Another favorite memory is that of him singing songs to me.

Another is of him working on the writing of a book or article, immersed in concentration as he thought – his eyes would look upwards, at times dreamily and at other times with a particularly focused expression, and then the speedy vigorous way he would transcribe those thoughts into written words.

About Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis

Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. For many years she worked with her husband, the renowned psychologist Dr. Albert Ellis, giving presentations and providing training on Ellis's therapeutic approach known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Today, she continues to practice, present, and write about Ellis's groundbreaking approach to therapy.

In 2010, she helped complete her husband's autobiography entitled All Out: An Autobiography! Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, the book she co-authored with her husband, was published in 2011. She is currently working on completing a book that she had worked on with her husband prior to his death in 2007 focused on REBT and Buddhism. She also continues to work in private practice in New York City as well as give seminars, workshops, and lectures all over the world.

You can find more information on her website http://www.debbiejoffeellis.com and at http://www.ellisrebt.co.uk/

For More Information

  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: The acclaimed book: Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy by Albert Ellis and Debbie Joffe Ellis, Published by APA (American Psychological Association)
  • All Out! - An Autobiography, by Albert Ellis, with final chapter by Debbie Joffe Ellis. Available at bookstores and online at www.prometheusbooks.com and other online retailers
  • DVD: Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (Release of DVD on March 17th, 2014): Part of the Systems of Psychotherapy Video Series by the American Psychological Association. In this DVD, Debbie Joffe Ellis demonstrates the influential and impactful REBT approach in a session with a client, followed by discussion with professors and students about the REBT therapeutic approach and the session. This video is intended solely for educational purposes for mental health professionals. For information about the DVD and about purchasing go to the APA website: www.apa.org/pubs/videos
  • Albert Ellis Biography
  • What Is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy?
  • What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

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