Dr. Ellis Interview About REBT

Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis Talks About REBT

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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 passed away in 2007 at the age of 93. As one of the founders of cognitive behavioral therapy, Ellis is often described as one of the most important psychotherapists in history. His wife, Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis, has continued to teach people about his approach to psychotherapy known as rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT).  In part two of our interview, she talks about Dr. Ellis’s important contributions to the field of psychology and the future of REBT.

Part Two of Our Exclusive Interview with Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis

How has REBT continued to evolve since Dr. Ellis's passing in 2007?

"In his final years, he and I worked together in every aspect of his work. We were presenting more on REBT and Buddhism than he had in earlier decades, and we began writing about that topic. I hope to complete a manuscript this year which he and I started work on a few years prior to his passing. So, as more and more people experience greater stress, anxiety and depression for various reasons at this time in human history, and increasingly turn to spiritual and other such groups, I talk and write about commonalities and differences seen between them and REBT, and more about the “spiritual” aspects of REBT. Spiritual does not mean metaphysical in REBT – it refers to an attitude and willingness to help others whenever possible, and to having compassion for others and for ourselves.

This is actually not a new part of REBT – but as time goes on we see perhaps a stronger emphasis on such REBT aspects when writing and presenting about it - encouraging mindfulness and compassion which have been part of it from the start.

Also, Al wanted schools to present REBT principles to students, and in South Australia, the first “Albert Ellis Learning Centre” opened in 2012.

Hopefully, many schools will incorporate REBT into their syllabi as time goes on."

How do you envision the future of REBT?

"I touched on one of the ways above: seeing it taught and practiced in schools – having school counselors, teachers and administrative staff attend workshops, learning and practicing REBT principles on themselves, which will facilitate their teaching the principles to students – and modelling it.

As time goes on, it will continue to be made relevant through the focus of writings and teaching on relevant topics of the day.

I trust that more research will be done, in this world which favors and has an appetite for ongoing evidence-based theory. The excellent and voluminous published CBT research by Aaron T Beck and his colleagues support REBT principles, however, it will be beneficial to have more research done which focuses on the unique REBT qualities.

All going well, REBT’s rightful place in history will not be distorted or rewritten. I have read books in which authors appear to be inventing psychotherapeutic wheels which were first and thoroughly presented in the writings of Al.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Al would frequently acknowledge the influence of his work from his reading of the works of classical philosophers, stoic philosophers such as Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, Asian wisdom found in writings of Lao Tzu and Confucius, contemporary philosophers and doctors of his era including Russell, Dewey, J.B. Watson, Alfred Adler and others. Let’s hope that current writers, presenters, and practitioners in the field will accurately acknowledge Al’s place in psychology and his contribution or inspiration to their work and theories. Not only as a matter of respect, but also for the sake of historic accuracy.

Some graduate students have told me that from what they heard in their classes they had the impression that REBT came after CBT, or that it was an offshoot of it. The fact is that REBT was presented more than a decade and more before the major cognitive approaches which are now well known in the field were written about and presented. A few letters of correspondence between Aaron T Beck and Al can be read in Al’s autobiography. I have met people who embrace Positive Psychology who have no idea that many aspects of Al’s work were influential in its development – a fact which Martin P. Seligman (a main originator of the positive psychology movement) has respectfully acknowledged."

I recall reading an article in which Dr. Ellis described himself as shy when he was younger. It surprised me considering his reputation for being outspoken and even confrontational at times. Is there anything you could share about your husband that you think would surprise people?

"One of the reasons I feel that REBT is such an effective, dynamic and impactful approach is that some of the core aspects of it were born from the ingenious ways Al created to help him overcome his own difficulties and emotional upsets. He was his own test subject! Indeed, he was painfully shy when he was in his teen years in particular, and overcame it by pushing himself to do uncomfortably what he wanted to become comfortable doing. That method of in vivo desensitization became one often recommended as appropriate for clients who want to overcome debilitating fears and phobias. He cured himself of his shyness about approaching and talking with women, and also about public speaking.

What else might surprise readers about Al? …….

In our times together – the immense degree of his gentleness, caring and nurturing he gave.

He was very considerate, not confrontational in the way you mention he could be seen in public presentations: confrontation was simply an approach he used when presenting to individuals and audiences in aid of helping them shake-out and rid themselves of unhelpful and destructive irrational thoughts - which they were rigidly holding on to. He could at times also be straightforward and confronting to people who worked with him who he perceived to be rigidly holding unhelpful attitudes and ideas.

When people acted in destructive ways against his goals, preferences, and wishes – he may have hated what they did, but he did not hate them. He truly practiced unconditional other acceptance. He expressed to me at times his compassion for them and their disturbed ways of thinking and behaving.

If Al and I disagreed about anything (which we hardly ever did) we comfortably talked about whatever the issues were, and easily found resolutions.

Some readers might be surprised to read that he loved going to performances of classical music, Broadway shows, and movies when he was a teen and young man, and if he had not become a psychologist he would have loved to have studied music and to write music and lyrics in addition to writing more published fiction, including the great American Novel. In his middle age and later years, his focus was predominantly on the REBT work and he did not have time for going out to the theater and the like, though he did continue to write lyrics, rhymes, and verse.

He wrote rational humorous song lyrics to numerous popular song tunes from the American Songbook and from some light operas.

Whilst he did not particularly share my intense love of animals, he did not ever make fun of it – nor of anything else I cared about. He was supportive of me and of the environmental causes I feel passionate about.

He would always carry a pen and small notebook with him, for jotting down ideas or poems or funny song lyrics that came to mind during times he was travelling (car, bus, or plane), and whilst waiting for doctor, dentist and other appointments. He did not waste a minute by doing “nothing”.

He was regularly interviewed for newspapers, magazines, radio and television (including CNN, popular talk shows, by Barbara Walters and others), he is significantly talked about in the award-winning stage show and documentary “Trumbo”, and was named one of the Icons of the Century in the golden edition of Variety in 2005.

In 2007 the New York Times wrote that “Dr. Ellis has had such impact that … clinical psychologists ranked him ahead of Freud when asked to name the figure who had exerted the greatest influence on their field”.

Younger readers may not know that Al was a friendly colleague of, and at times advised, Alfred Kinsey; that Al was an impactful part of the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s; that he fought loudly and vigorously in favor of equal rights for women and gays from the 1940’s onwards, and in support of additional civil rights issues.

He was given 100’s of awards throughout his career honoring his immense contributions, and in 2013 the American Psychological Association celebrated his centennial year and honored him at their annual convention with their prestigious APA Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology."

Could you tell us a bit about the work you are doing to keep your husband's memory alive and to promote REBT?

"I present on, and write about, the uniqueness of Al, his life, his creation of REBT and the principles of REBT whenever and where ever I can. Al entrusted me to do so, and it is my joy, my passion, my mission. I do so in New York, my home base city, and in other places throughout the USA. I present in other countries around the world. This year I will be giving 2 Webinars organized by the Open Center: one in March on REBT, and one in November in collaborating with my dear friend and colleague Dr. Stanley Krippner – about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The American Psychological Association produced a DVD as part of their “Systems of Psychotherapy” DVD series in which I demonstrate the REBT approach followed by a discussion about it with professors and psychology students. (Available from March 2014).

I am in the process of completing a couple of manuscripts which Al and I starting work on before his passing, and additional manuscripts on various topics incorporating REBT application. I attend major conferences on psychology/therapy, and whenever I hear misconceptions or inaccuracies presented about REBT or Al – I do my best to counter them with the true facts. In many of my presentations, I include a live demonstration of the approach with a volunteer from the audience. Al used to do that in his famous weekly Friday Night Workshops, and in additional workshops and seminars. These live demonstrations are unrehearsed, authentic, unprepared and in no way role-playing. The volunteer benefits, and the audience members can often relate to the issue and/or deepen their understanding of REBT.

Finally, I do my best to live my life incorporating the REBT philosophy – not only to teach it, talk and write about it and use it with clients and others I care about. I strive to live it."

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

"I hope they will learn more about REBT principles, in order to apply the principles and enhance their lives. I hope that they will continue to increase their cheerfulness, to make an ongoing effort to prevent and eliminate unnecessary emotional suffering, and to help as many other people as possible to enjoy life more and stress less (in their personal as well as professional lives). I hope that they will work on keeping things in healthy perspective, and remember to think about and feel grateful, each and every day, for all that is good in their lives."

Learn more:

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 a 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 a 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.

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