Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The New York Times on Albert Ellis

The New York Times had an article the other day on Albert Ellis entitled "Sex, Love and the Scolding Psychotherapist" (Hat Tip: Soccer Dad). The article had some poignant excepts from Ellis's previous books that caught my eye. From The Art and Science of Love:

Where one mate has strong prejudices in favor or against certain sex practices, the other partner should try to be unusually understanding and uncritical, even if the practices that are favored or disfavored seem to be outlandish. If the presumably more reasonable mate will at least give the “outlandish” procedures an honest try, he or she may find that they are really not as bad as they seem to be.

From How to Make Yourself Happy and Remarkably Less Disturbable:

If you are still very upset about being abused as a child, you are now, probably, irrationally thinking, “My early abuse absolutely should not have occurred!” “Such unfairness is awful and I can’t stand even thinking about it now!” “The people who abused me are completely rotten! I’m going to spend the rest of my life hating them and getting even with them, if it’s the last thing I do!”... These Irrational Beliefs will keep your original upsetness vividly alive — instead of letting it die a natural death, as disturbance gradually does if you don’t dwell on it and reinforce it by continual crooked thinking.

You can read more except's on Ellis's work here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both excerpts sound remarkably vacuous to me.


1:31 PM, July 31, 2007  
Blogger TMink said...

I think Ellis' strength was in the direct, solid application of self control and accurately positive thinking and personal responsibility. He was not one for, and was rebelling againt the complicated and lofty language of analysis. So it certainly may sound vacuous, that is because it is simple. Certainly not so easy, but wonderfully simple and direct.


2:25 PM, July 31, 2007  
Blogger Adrian said...

Yeah, like a lot of others, I have a lot of problem with the idea that it's irrational to think that people that abuse you are rotten or that such abuse was an injustice. I guess, I can kind of "know what you mean" from the perspective of not using such an injustice as an excuse to subsequently fail at some other unrelated thing. But, it is mistaken to say that injustices aren't really injustices or that it is irrational to think them injustices. And, it is also wrong and kind of mean, and itself an injustice, to tell a victim of injustice that it is irrational for them to think they were wrongfully abused.

But what I find remarkably common amongst psychology folks is this tendency to deny natural feelings -- quite frequently, in fact, while simultaneously asserting that one should never do such a thing (as repress feelings like that). Particularly vengeance is one of the best feelings, in fact, to foster. Vengeance really requires conformance with the moral law. It is perfect in that we can all be extremely vengeful and theoretically never fight with each other -- it only reacts and only to wrongdoing. It inherently treats everyone equally. Of course people misapply it, take it too far, and so on and so forth. But, such short comings just aren't even comparable to other feelings such as lust or greed that immediately and directly motivate people to do wrong.

Vengeance, at best, has the potential to motivate wrong-doing but mostly just motivates people to retaliate against injustice. That's a good thing. There is almost nothing better for society than a mechanism like that, in fact. All this extended effort by all sorts of people, but psychologists, in particular, to attack the idea of vengeance is extraordinarily suspicious. It seems far more likely that these efforts on the whole have been designed far more often to undermine the exercising of justice than they have to do any good in the world. Certainly, that is what they have, in fact, amounted to.

2:50 PM, July 31, 2007  
Blogger TheBrainFromPlanetArous said...

Agreed, Adrian. It reminds me as well of how some people oppose the death penalty because it's "just revenge" - that is, vengeance - as if that were something inherently bad.

2:55 PM, July 31, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


I think what Ellis means is that your response to the abuse is something that you can control. Telling yourself how awful childhood abuse was when you are a grown-up and not going on with your life is limiting your own life through a cognitive mind-set that reinforces what a loser or victim you are for being abused is not the way to heal. I don't think that extends to injustice--that is, say that you are being abused in the here and now --of course, you should not accept that and should do what you can to fight it if it is true abuse and not some kind of phony abuse such as telling yourself you are abused by others when you are not etc.

I don't think Ellis would say to seek out the parents that abused you or hang out with the perp of childhood abuse. I think he would say that you do not want to harm yourself or make yourself mentally ill by ruminating over and over about it.

3:11 PM, July 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I dont dispute what seems to be Ellis' central tenet -- forgive and forget -- the fact that he made a living and attracted many followers by espousing this tenet demonstrates how vapid most psychiatry and psychotherapy really is.

Ellis "theory" has been preached (literally) for a couple of thousand years. It is sound advice for many people, but certainly not for those whose problems are of physiological or chemical origin.

4:14 PM, July 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Going through life reinforcing a vindictive bitterness just isn't cool. Mourn, shout, cry on a friends shoulder, get angry... Do what you have to do and then move on if you're able. Helen's conclusion makes sense to me: "...he would say that you do not want to harm yourself or make yourself mentally ill by ruminating over and over about it." The Ellis quotes made sense to me.

I've also found Viktor Frankl to have interesting ideas about surviving horrors in Man's Search for Meaning. It's worth a look...

5:29 PM, July 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a corollary of the second statement, I think it's particularly abhorrent when media types or other wags pronounce a child's life "ruined" because of abuse. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but to so publicly predict it presumes it and minimizes a person's ability to recover and live a full life in spite of it.

The first statement, while seeming to cut both ways, really favors going along with an act rather than refraining from an act. I think the whole trend of the last 40 years is to imply to people they should be willing to swing from the chandeliers or else they're inadequate.

There are a lot of risky and painful acts that I don't think a person should feel conscience-bound to do just because a partner pleads for it.

5:37 PM, July 31, 2007  
Blogger Serket said...

I'm not seeing the connection. Is it that you should overcome negative feelings?

I am still virgin (am I supposed to admit that?) and there are some sexual things that I do not have an interest in. I would prefer a partner that is understanding and does not pressure me towards them. I may reconsider if she is nice and thoughtful about it.

5:43 PM, July 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Helen,

spread the word:


7:25 PM, July 31, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


I am not sure what you don't understand--Ellis's premise? That one should try not to make oneself miserable by confirming that the world is indeed an unfair and rotten place?

As for being a virgin, what's wrong with that? Nothing in my book. It is up to each person to decide when and with whom the time is right and what type of sex they want. Ellis seems to be fairly open and free about sexuality which is fine for some, but not for everyone. But I think Ellis is just saying to have an open mind.

8:28 PM, July 31, 2007  
Blogger El Duderino said...

I'm going to buy Ellis' book for my wife as preamble for when I show in our marital bed in gigantic Elmo suit.

While I realize this activity may not be for everybody, is it really so odd for a grown man to dress up as a Muppet and seek to be tickled?

9:05 PM, July 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...is it really so odd for a grown man to dress up as a Muppet and seek to be tickled?

Funniest thing I've read all day. Thanks!

9:33 PM, July 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

el duderino,

"...when I show in our marital bed in gigantic Elmo suit."

You too, huh? The part that most troubles my wife is my insistence that she address me as Sir Tickle Me Elmo. The whole Knighted Elmo thing rocks giggling world.

It just gets a little weird with her dressed up as Margaret Thatcher and all.

9:35 PM, July 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You guys are just getting silly now....
I feel something coming out....Mmmmmuuuppet...
green....smells like..... PORK!!


Donuts! Is there nothing they can't do?

10:48 PM, July 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something to keep in mind is that Ellis was working at a time when psychoanalysis was still predominant and later throughout all manner of absurd and dangerous trends in psychotherapy. Some of his commentary seems deliberately provocative, a way to challenge the assumptions that psychotherapy has foisted on a gullible public.

I think that his admonishments to victims of abuse was intended as a criticism of the tendancy to derive ones identity from the insults and traumas that they have suffered. This habit may be profitable for therapists, and comport with their view of the world, but is often not healthy for the victim.

11:20 PM, July 31, 2007  
Blogger Danny said...

I think y'all have misinterpreted whatEllis wa strying t get at. Whathe said, as I understandit is thsi- yes ,it is real bad they youwere abused or hurt in some way. But, thinkingabout it 24/7,and obsessing about it,and making your victim-hood your entire existance,is not a healthy way to live your adult life.
Cuz, yuo are more than just a victim. You are a human being with potential,and dont throwit down the storm drain just cuz you cant stop whiningand bitchingabout how, 30 yrs back your parents abused you. And dont even get me started with the stupid 'repressed memory" crap!!

11:54 PM, July 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In fact, in most cases we all understand that we ought not to allow bad childhood experiences to ruin our lives. It is only with the horror of abuse that we seem to short circuit common sense.

It is not that I am trying to equate being bullied, being stood up for the Prom, being cut from the basketball team, or having distant/absent parents with being sexually abused.

It is that we expect people to eventually "get over" these things, not because of how trivial they may be, but because the getting over it is itself important.

We don't tell anyone "Now that you've been publicly humiliated in high school, you will never be able to have a normal life again." We understand people who are still affected by such an experience two years after it happens, but not 30.

A friend of mine was violently raped by an ex-boyfriend. She told me more than one person told her "You will never get over this." She made sure to find a counselor who was actually willing to help her get over it.

A couple of years later she was even told that since she thought she was over it, she should seek counseling to help her with her repression and denial.


1:08 AM, August 01, 2007  
Blogger TMink said...

I do a lot of work with people that were abused as children. It is one of my specialties. The whole point of doing the work is to get better so it does not bother you much.

A lot of us think of the healing process in three parts: in the early part the person feels like a victim, they are afraid and miserable; in the middle part the person feels like a survivor and they are angry; and in the third part the person feels like a thriver and they are wise.

Some people have the kind of supportive relational surround (family and friends) that they never need to see someone like me at all. That is wonderful! Other people see me for a little while to get started, then they are fine on their own. A few people see me for a couple of years then they are out the door.

Dr. Ellis' work is absolutely sound, but it works best for people with relatively intact egos who can utilize his techniques. Part of the reason for his success with patients was his forceful and charismatic personality. I am certainly no Albert Ellis, and hardly anyone believes what I say just because I say it. So I have to work with people helping them discover what they need to find out.

But I have always admired his work and how great a contribution he made to healthy people and cognitive therapy. The session he did on the "Gloria tapes" is a hoot. Lots of us in psychology and social work say those in training, and it is a shame that they are not more widely seen.


10:59 AM, August 01, 2007  
Blogger Serket said...

I am not sure what you don't understand--Ellis's premise? That one should try not to make oneself miserable by confirming that the world is indeed an unfair and rotten place?

The connection between his two statements you posted (freedom of sexuality and overcoming childhood abuse).

12:35 PM, August 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone think that the media have pushed a "romantic" frame around the whole subject of life crises such as war experiences, life-threatening injury or disease, and rape. In most fictional and documentary treatments of the victims of these incidents, it seems as if they never work to get on with their lives and try to be normal. Either they're tragic victims whose lives are ruined by whatever happened to them, or they're triumphant victims who dedicate their lives to bringing the perpetrators to justice or helping other people with the same problems. No matter which kind of victim they are, they are always emotionally and mentally scarred by their past.

An epiphany or "life changing event" story can satisfy our desire to escape the mundane crap we all deal with in real life. There's something attractive about the idea that, in one defining moment, our lives can suddenly acquire direction and meaning. That meaning can be positive and empowering or negative and enervating - but it's always crystal clear. Everything can change in an instant.

I'm wondering if life is really like that, and whether we expect victims of tragedy to conform to our media-inspired expectations. Maybe this is why Tsiroth's friend heard people say she would never "get over" her rape. They had been told for years that rape victims never do.

Even worse, I wonder how many victims also expect these things and feel guilty if they don't become crusaders or if they just aren't as torn up as everyone says they should be.

As this relates to Ellis, I think he would say that the victim doesn't have to conform to either of the stereotypes - that he or she can consciously choose what to think and believe about the tragic past even. What they choose to think, in turn, strongly affects how they feel now.

I don't mean to deny the genuine suffering that people go through when horrible things happen to them. I just know that life is much less dramatic than we are frequently led to believe.

1:02 PM, August 01, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


There is no connection--these are just two excerpts from two different books. The only similarity between the two is that they were both written by Ellis.

1:17 PM, August 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the first commenter. I may agree in the main with what I at least THINK he is espousing. But his writing makes him seem terribly unintelligent.

3:50 PM, August 02, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've only read one of his books, but based on that I'd say he follows the old rule "write like you talk." It's just his style; for self-help books it seems appropriate. I imagine some people would prefer a more formal presentation.

Personally, I could do without all the "advertisements" for REBT scattered througout the book. He'll be telling you something useful, then break the flow of information with "...and the special thing about REBT which makes it better than all other therapies and which its detractors completely mischaracterize is..." Makes you feel like he's selling something rather than trying to help.

Again, though, I think that's just part of his style - almost a writing "tic." His ideas are sound.

Does anyone know whether he wrote any "professional" books about REBT - ones with a more formal, clinical tone? Or was he always the rebel?

11:31 AM, August 03, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


Ellis has written many academic papers and textbooks such as this one on REBT:


3:04 PM, August 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Unfortunately, clinical psychology has morphed into a hodgepodge of political leftism and Oprah-style "feelings" that has barely any resemblance to science. Compounding all of this is the competition for money as (far too many) psych grads look for a way to earn a living. Completely normal human responses to everyday living are defined as pathological and needing "professional intervention." Meanwhile, criminal and evil behavior is also considered for "therapy" when, in fact, jail is the only reasonable "treatment" needed. Finally, political correctness pervades the whole, especially the care of children. So instead of getting the pot-smoking 30-year-old mother of 5 children by 5 different men to see that her behavior is hurting her kids, the kids are given labels (ADHD, ODD, Bipolar, etc.) and drugs, including antipsychotics, as early as age 2 years. Meanwhile, the therapy train steams right along...

Comments from a reader’s review of - “HOUSE OF CARDS:Psychology & Psychotherapy Built on Myth,” by Robyn Dawes. (amazon.com)

Once called “the healing profession,” psychology is now a cultural virus, a tool of the feminist “Victim Mentality Industry,” a feeder trough for the Nanny State.

Ask any reputable psychologist (well, that's a stretch ... 76% of them are women with feminist sensibilities) -- so, ask any competent (oh crap, how can you tell?) any, any, any psychologist to define “normality.”

Then, get ready to write out many checks before you get the answer you seek -- ten years from now.

Snake-oil circus barkers ... Shills... Charlatans. Every single one. Shameless.

4:22 PM, August 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, well, thank you for that...whatever that was.

I thought I did therapy because I felt like killing myself. Here all the time I was just a victim of the Feminist Victim Mentality Industry.

Gosh, maybe I really am a sheeple.

5:02 PM, August 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As I have said to you before, and will again many times, I think you are one of the wonders of the world. OK, so my opinion is not important. OK, so we don't know each other outside of this wonderful blog, and wouldn't if we met in a car wreck.

Many of your statements leave me howling with laughter. I can't wait for your next post (no pressure, honest!). And equally important to me, cause me to stop and think. I absolutely love the banter we trade from time to time. In short, you're a blast.

I wrestle with depression off and on; sometimes it shows up in my posts here. I know there are levels of severity.

The right words never come to me. It ticks me off. Let me say I am thankful for bugs.

11:43 AM, August 06, 2007  
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