|The name Albert Ellis will
be very familiar to readers of Australasian Psychiatry;
Albert Ellis, MA PhD, founded rational emotive behaviour therapy
(REBT) in 1955, the first of the many cognitive behaviour
therapies (CBT). He was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in New
York City. Dr Ellis has published more than 800 scientific
papers, authored or edited over 75 books and monographs, and
produced more than 200 audio- and video-cassettes. As a
clinician, he has practised in psychotherapy, marriage and
family counselling, and sex therapy for 60 years. Currently, he
is president of the Albert Ellis Institute in New York City,
where I spoke with him on 17 June 2004. Dr Debbie Joffe,
currently a Fellow at the Institute, generously arranged our
interview. Dr Ellis dedicated his latest book to Dr Joffe.
far ranging conversation explored the impact of his childhood
illness, sibling relationships and parental divorce, teenage
struggles with dating, the effect of Bertrand Russell, Hitler,
Stalin and aftermath of the Second World War on his pacifist
philosophy, Hornian psychoanalysis, religion, God, mysticism,
his love of humour and singing as a 'shame-attacking' exercise
and, of course, inventing REBT.
G: I was told that you like to sing and that you have a
great sense of humour.
A: I have a lousy singing voice but I'm shameless, so I do
G: And did you cultivate your sense of humour from your
is it your nature, or from living in New York?
A: It wasn't from family or anything like that because my
mother was not very humorous and my father was not around very
much. I didn't ever hear very much of his humour. He had some
sense of humour but I very rarely heard it. So I think I
cultivated it mainly by myself. I don't take anything too
seriously. I try to take much of life with a sense of humour.
G: Perhaps because you've delved to the very depth of the
human condition and use humour as a balance, to cope?
A: Partly, but I was first almost famous for my humorous
verse, which I published in several New York newspapers. Then I
started writing songs, serious and humorous. But at the American
Psychological Association meeting in 1975, we had a symposium on
humour and I sang some of these humorous songs. I was supposed
to accompany them with a tape recorder but the goddamn tape
recorder didn't work so I sang à cappela and I've been doing it
G: Did your singing enhance your reputation or elicit
G: Perhaps later you could sing one of those classic
G: The title of your most recent book intrigues me,
Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, It Works for Me
It Can Work for You (2004). In parts of the book, you
describe your near fatal illness last year. As the inventor of
rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT), you say REBT 'works
for me'. Does this reflect an element of 'physician heal
thyself' as integral to your life's work?
A: Yes, because I would probably never have invented REBT had
I not used something similar to it for myself when I was fairly
young. I was sometimes very anxious and I used humour on myself
and I used rationality which I got from reading philosophy.
I also was able to 'undisturb' myself out of my anxiety by doing
in vivo desensitization invented by J B Watson. So I used
it on myself and then later used it in psychotherapy.
G: In your book, you mention that you had quite serious
kidney problems for which you were hospitalized in early
childhood. Would you say you already used an early form of REBT
on yourself as a child?
A: That's right. My first hospital stay was at 5,
and at 6
I was in the hospital for 10 months. I did a great deal of
reading there and [also] when I returned home. I figured out
certain rational answers which weren't as good as my later ones.
I refused to disturb myself about my kidney problems and my
other physical ills.
G: So you used reading as a form of self-comforting.
A: The hospital had a library and I probably read every book
in it. I used to be able to take out two books a day from the
New York public library that I'd read and return the next day
and get two more. So from the age of about 6 or 7 I was a
everything, mainly fiction, plays, poetry and things like that,
but also enormous amount of science and non-fiction.
G: Was your reading guided by a mentor?
A: No. I had a friend who taught me how to read before I even
went to school and I liked him and we got along. But he wasn't a
mentor and later I had others. One guy was about 3 years older
and I was very friendly with him and maybe he helped me
philosophically. But I don't remember if he did.
G: So would it be fair to say that already the 5 year-old
Albert was healing himself?
A: I would say definitely so.
G: Now where do you think a 5 year-old little boy gets the
notion that rationality can soothe his worries?
A: Well, mainly from the fact that I was feeling disturbed. I
was anxious and somewhat depressed when my parents didn't show
up regularly at the hospital, so I didn't want to be miserable.
So I said to myself, what will I do not to be miserable and I
figured out some of the rational techniques which I used later.
My solutions were pretty good but not as good as the later REBT
G: So the seeds of REBT were already growing from the age
G: Do you remember if you used this method of coping as
you were growing up during adolescence, for yourself or others?
A: Mainly for my brother who was a year and a half younger
than I. If he got upset about anything I showed him how to do
what I had done. But I also talked to my friends about their
G: Did your brother appreciate your input?
A: Oh yes, he was very rational, very sensible
a sane individual all of his life. Maybe he would have been
without my help, but I did seem to help him.
G: You claim some credit perhaps?
G: And your sister?
A: She was 4 years younger, a screwball, a depressive from
day one. But much later on in life she read several of my books
and made herself less depressed.
G: A 'screwball', do you mean that in a technical sense?
A: No, sadly enough she was severely personality disordered.
She was very depressed and angry most of her life.
G: So how did you feel not being able to offer her
something to soothe her in a way that worked for you and your
A: Well, at first I disliked her. My brother hated her and
never got along with her, and I disliked her immensely. Then at
the age of 15, on the way home from a movie that was about angry
people, I decided that my anger wasn't doing me or her any good,
or anybody any good. So I figured out that I would forgive her
for her sins and let her copy my songs. Because I collected
songs at that time that she copied and messed up. My brother
didn't forgive her until years later, but I used my philosophy
of unconditional other acceptance with her from the age of 15. I
got myself to hate her behaviour, but not to hate her.
G: After adolescence, you've already tested, in a manner
of speaking, your technique on yourself and family. Any other
A: My best friend Eddie probably was pretty disturbed
himself, so he kept asking me what to do about his family
problems. He had to cope with a rather disturbed brother also. I
helped him probably a good deal. That was mainly when I was a
teenager and older.
G: Now you mentioned that during your childhood your
parents didn't turn up as often as you would have liked to the
hospital. Later they separated and divorced.
A: My father only visited me maybe once when I was in the
hospital for 10 months. He was very busy, a businessman. My
mother visited me once a week, while other children were visited
twice a week, because she had two younger children and then at
times she went away to Wildwood, New Jersey for a 2 month
vacation. Usually she visited me once a week on Sunday.
G: A modern perspective would suggest that you were an
A: Yes, and I have a chapter dealing with this in Rational
Emotive Behaviour TherapyIt
Works for Me, It Can Work for You.
G: So as a young child you work out a way to cope with
your early abandonment. You then offer your method to your
brother, and later to your sister. Did you also use the method
to cope when your parents divorced?
A: Yes. They didn't tell us about it at first. I heard my
mother talking to my aunt once when I was 12 and found out that
they had got a divorce. My father had been away a great deal so
that wasn't so unusual, but they did get a divorce. My mother
took it reasonably well and I was never really upset about it.
G: Children can have strong reactions at such times.
Having become self-reliant to cope with earlier hardships, could
you have immunized yourself to deal with your parent's divorce?
A: Yes. When my parents were living together, my father would
be away for weeks at a time on business trips. I describe in the
book that we kissed him good morning about 8.00 a.m. while he
was still in bed, and then we saw him the next morning. Because
he was at work and doing all kinds of things during the week,
when he was home on Sunday he played pinocle or poker all day
with his friends. So he was not a very good father, and he
wasn't there for me or for his other two children. My mother was
also more interested in her friends than in her children and was
not nasty, but was neglectful.
G: Later in life, did you offer your techniques to your
mother or father?
A: Very rarely. I had conversations with my mother; I
probably told her not to take things too seriously. But she was
not a depressive, she was okay and very, very sociable. My
father really wasn't around very much to talk to.
G: Returning to your adolescence, you describe in your
book that around the age of 12, while preparing for your Bar
Mitzvah, you had a revelation of sorts about the absence of God
and the inadequacy of religion.
A: Right. I became a probabilistic aetheist, meaning that in
all probability there is no God, no Allah, no Zeus. They simply
don't exist, which is an idea I got mainly from reading the
literature, Bertrand Russell, H G Wells and others. If God does
exist, then he's not going to be a sadist and cut my balls off
for not believing in him. So I will assume that he doesn't exist
and go about my business.
So, a probabilistic aethiest is not a dogmatic aethiest who
says that there is no God and that there can't be. He says that
in all probability there is none and therefore, since the
probability of there being a God is 0.00001, I will assume there
isn't any deity. If there is, and if he ever comes and talks to
me, I'll ask him to prove that he really is God.
G: Has that happened yet?
A: No, he hasn't appeared to me and I've lived very well
without his help.
G: There's always revelation.
A: Right, if you are crazy enough to believe in it.
G: Now at one level that sounds provocative, maybe
jocular. But at another level, you say it with complete
seriousness. You've thought this through and actually arrived at
this position as rational and reasonable. Maybe the only
reasonable rational conclusion?
A: Right. I've had some help from a good many philosophers,
and in the vast amount of fiction and non-fiction that I've
read, up to and since the age of 12.
G: Having read so widely, did you subsequently meet any of
A: No. Later when I was in college, I invited several of them
by writing them in verse. I invited Ogden Nash and other
writers. Some of them came to talk to the psychology club. So I
met them then, but when I was very young I don't remember
meeting any authors. I was always reading.
G: Moving from college, where you graduated in business
administration, in graduate school you turned to psychology.
Why? What made you choose psychology from all the possibilities?
A: Well, like I think I say in the book, I was a political
and economic revolutionist at the age of 19, but I got
disillusioned by Stalin and Hitler and I was against the
American communist party. I was an American revolutionary like
Thomas Jefferson. But then I saw that revolution was going
nowhere, so I decided to give up political revolution and
decided to go for sexual liberty, to promote a sexual
revolution. So I read hundreds of books and articles on sex,
love and marriage and became a scholarly sexologist.
G: In your chapter, 'My Philosophy of Sex Revolution',
you highlight the political intrigue that surrounded your
election as the first President of the Scientific Study of Sex.
You mention that one of your friends, Hans Lehfeldt, said that
you were too 'dangerous' for this position and he almost blocked
you from getting it. What made you so dangerous?
A: Well, at that time, that was about 1956, I had written two
books, The Folklore of Sex and The American Sexual
Tragedy, and I was a scholar but known to the public
already. Hans thought that The Society for the Scientific Study
of Sex, which I founded, was too respectable to have a
controversial sex revolutionary like me for its president. In
spite of some opposition, I still got elected as its first
G: So one reason for being labelled 'dangerous' was simply
being ahead of your time?
A: Yes, I was already becoming too public. The people who
founded the Society with me were very liberal, sexually, but
they weren't publicly popular. Hans was afraid that my public
support would be disruptive, but it wasn't clear what the danger
G: Prior to this period in the mid-1950s, you practised
psychoanalysis for 6 years. I read a quote of yours that
suggested that it was more or less a wasted 6 years.
A: Yes. I was trained in liberal psychoanalysis by a
psychiatrist who was a fellow of the Karen Horney School. I
practised psychoanalysis from 1947 to 1953 and then I abandoned
G: After the Second World War, in 1947, you earned your
PhD in psychology. But prior to and during the war you were a
revolutionist. Did that arise partly from being disillusioned
about human nature?
A: Well, the Second World War helped make me a revolutionist
as there was so much badness in the world, including the war
itself. Then Hitler came in to make things much worse.
G: Clearly, war expresses the fact that some conflicts
only killing might resolve. How did you reconcile that with your
evolving thoughts in relation to what would later become REBT?
How did the confrontation with the reality of the war impact on
A: Well, I was always a pacifist, even before I was a
therapist, because I was influenced by Bertrand Russell and
people like him. So when I formulated REBT in 1955, I decided as
one of its main essences, to help people accept themselves with
their flaws, and to also accept other people unconditionally.
REBT says that people's thoughts, feelings and actions are
often immoral but that they are not bad people.
G: You say in effect that you didn't damn Hitler, although
you did damn his actions and worked vigorously against them.
A: Yes. To this day, especially in New York at my Friday
night workshops where many of the participants are Jewish
people, they get horrified when I say that Hitler wasn't a
louse. He was a fallible, very disturbed individual who often
a person who did evil but not a totally evil man.
G: With my family's Holocaust background, I found your
comments yesterday about Hitler really confronting. I was
curious to understand how you reconciled not damning Hitler. You
explained that in fact you damned his actions, not him. That
distinction then made real sense. But hard to accept.
A: Yes, that's unconditional other-acceptance. People do do
bad things but they are never, never bad people.
Nor are they good people when they behave well.
G: Now my understanding of how definitive you are about
unconditional acceptance was clarified during our talk
yesterday. There is no qualification there.
A: Yes. You can always accept yourself and others, no matter
what you or what they do.
G: This unconditional acceptance has qualities almost akin
to divine acceptance.
A: Yes. But the divine is invented and probably doesn't
exist, while people are real and do exist. I'm not the only one
who advocates unconditional acceptance of people. And you can
accept people and yourself without hypothesizing a divine
acceptance. You can accept yourself because you think there is a
God who accepts you. But you can also do it, without inventing
G: Perhaps we'll come back to that. I'd still like to
explore how, with your profound sensitivity, you coped during
the war years. The saying 'necessity is the mother of invention'
would suggest that the war years were triggers for your
response, through extreme creativity, to develop your new system
of thought, as a way to cope with the extreme confrontation the
war provoked in you, especially being a pacifist.
A: Well, not only the war but Hitler and Stalin after the
G: Can you say more.
A: Hitler as you know killed 6 million people, mainly Jews,
Gypsies, communists and pacifists. Stalin killed about
he was worse in many respects, with famine and everything else.
Therefore, I gave up the idea of having a dictatorship of the
proletariat that supposedly would wither away as Lenin said it
would. So the war was bad enough, very stupid in most respects,
but Hitler and Stalin, you might say, were a little worse. They
devoutly believed in burning people.
G: Now, against this background, do you think there is a
link that prompted you to enter psychoanalysis in 1947?
A: That was after I got my PhD. My graduate programme was
mainly Freudian and Rogerian. I waited until I got it out of the
way, I didn't want it to interfere and then I immediately went
for analysis. I was not disturbed, but I wanted to train and be
accepted as an analyst, so I had to be analysed.
G: So in 1947, your career decision is to be an analyst.
You have your personal analysis and training. Six years later,
you turn 180° against psychoanalysis. Why?
A: Well, the main thing is that I'm an empiricist. So I
practised analysis, but mine was a fairly liberal analysis. My
analyst was a psychiatrist, was a follower of and a friend of
Karen Horney, and also an existetialist. So I was never a
pronounced Freudian. But my technique was at first fairly
My analyst used free association and really listening to his
analysands. So I tried his method and ran up against all kinds
of problems. I decided to give homework because I saw that
people really didn't change unless they pushed their arse to do
things differently. So I thought I would sneak in homework. But
then I concluded in 1953 'this psychoanalysis is crap!' So I
gave it up almost completely and went back to active-directive
psychotherapy and started to develop REBT.
G: And so in your analytic practice you are increasingly
frustrated with your patient's lack of change. So you prescribe
A: Yes, I started prescribing homework. I was analysing a shy
woman who understood all principles of analysis, but still
wouldn't go out and talk to a man. She was scared shitless, and
don't forget I used in vivo desensitization on myself
when I was 19.
G: Would you like to briefly describe that episode when
you desensitized yourself?
A: Well, I saw that I was scared shitless of talking to
women. I flirted with them, but never approached them. So I said
this is silly philosophically. What is there to lose or to be
ashamed of? If they're going to reject me, are they going to cut
my balls off? So I gave myself a homework assignment to go to
Bronx Botanical Gardens every day in August and whenever I saw a
woman sitting alone on a park bench, whatever shape or size she
was, I would talk to her. I would sit next to her, not on a
bench away from her, and I gave myself one lousy minute to talk
to her. If I die, I die!
So I found a hundred and thirty women sitting on a bench
alone and sat next to all of them. Thirty got up and
walked away immediately; but I spoke to a whole hundred of them
about the birds, the bees, the flowers, the season, any goddamn
thing, and if Fred Skinner, who at that time was teaching at the
Indiana University, had known about my exploits, he would have
thought I would get extinguished! Because, of the hundred women
I spoke to, I only made one date and she didn't show up! But I
went on to the second hundred and started making dates.
G: That proves you're an optimistic empiricist for sure.
You didn't follow the dogma of the day, Skinner's extinguishing
theory. Left with little option, you were bound to develop your
A: Right, I kept developing my own theory, mainly for working
G: I'd like to explore this relationship between your
theory derived from work with clients, and relating to your
personal anecdote, working on yourself. How do you find the
balance between using your new ideas on yourself and your
which comes first?
A: Sometimes, I've done it for myself first, like this in
vivo desensitization. But at other times, I just figure,
well what I'm doing now is not working with my client. What will
work? Let's experiment. I'm an experimentalist, so I try
some things don't work, but other things do. So I keep
incorporating in my theory the things that sometimes work.
G: So your theory has been evolving from principles from
your childhood, side by side with the mature, fully flourished,
later validated life experiences.
A: Yes, I experimented even as a child on me and then later
on me and my friends.
G: Yet for all your troubles, when you present your work
to the psychological, analytic and wider mental health
community, they're hostile.
A: They were very hostile.
G: How did you relate to hostile critics at that stage
when you were inventing your ideas in the mid 1950s?
A: The same way as to the women who rejected me at the age of
19. Too damn bad! They're prejudiced against my view, I'm
prejudiced for mine. We'll never meet. Who gives a shit
what they think of me?
G: Well, that makes sense at one level. Yet, as a
scientist, needing to validate your clinical evidence to advance
your ideas, you need peer discussion, feedback, acceptance in
order for your ideas to be adopted and your ideas eventually
become one of the most influential psychological paradigms of
the 20th century. The father of REBT, you become one of the most
highly quoted psychologists. Clearly, you must have been in
dialogue with many colleagues. How did you overcome the intense
A: Well, I first won over a few and then I started recording
my REBT sessions and sending them out to people, like friends
and then other psychotherapists. I also kept writing, writing,
writing and talking, talking, talking and soon convinced more
and more therapists. Ten years later, Aaron Beck, Donald
Meichenbaum and other cognitive behaviour therapists got into
the act. Beck was also an analyst at first, started doing
cognitive therapy 10 years after I had already published on
G: Can we explore the differences between Beck's cognitive
therapy and your REBT
how do you distinguish between them?
A: Well, I recently wrote a paper and he wrote one with
Christine Padesky, showing the similarities and differences.
Beck is largely informational processing and does what I
originally did, but I have become more philosophical. I teach
people the general philosophy of self-acceptance,
other-acceptance and world-acceptance and Beck really doesn't do
Also, I added all kinds of behavioural and emotional
techniques that I took from others or made up to include in
REBT. Like my famous shame-attacking exercise, which I made up
because I said right at the beginning in 1956 in my first paper,
'Thinking goes with feelings and behaviours. Feeling goes with
thinking and behaviours. Behaviour goes with thinking and
feeling.' All three! That's the way humans are. So REBT includes
a great many thinking, feeling and behavioural methods.
G: Yes. You say that's your philosophical foundation
contrasted to Beck's more narrow informational. It could almost
be said that REBT verges on the philosophicalspiritual.
Do you think that's a fair assessment?
A: Some people think so because part of REBT promotes
unconditional other-acceptance, which some people call
spiritual. You don't just think of yourself, but you think of
the rest of humanity. I don't like the use of the word
'spiritual' because it has other meanings. But if you want to
call REBT spiritual, then many people think that it is. I met a
rabbi whom I taught some REBT, who said, 'You know you are the
most spiritual person I know. If you want to speak from my
pulpit, you can do so.'
G: Did you ask him why he thought that?
A: Yes, because he thought that REBT tries to help the
individual and all humanity to have a fully accepting philosophy
and not to damn anyone.
G: Your rational emotive behaviour therapy seems to me to
resonate with the Jewish mystical tradition, which includes
thought, speech and action as the garments of the soul. There's
a very powerful parallel with your 'rational' thinking,
'emotive' feeling and 'behaviour' action.
A: Yes. A psychiatrist in Upper New York wrote me a while ago
and sent me a paper on Maimonides, showing that Maimonides saw
some of the elements of REBT in the 12th century.
G: Maimonides' philosophy was to tread the middle path,
that balance is a better pathway to recovery from various mental
conditions. Did you study his writings?
A: No, I read them much later, after I had already created
G: Let's turn to the development of the Albert Ellis
Institute, an impressive six-storey townhouse in New York. How
did you choose this site?
A: Well, I set up the Institute in 1959 from royalties on my
books. Initially, I ran everything from my private practice as a
psychologist. Then, in 1964, we wanted to get a larger place,
really expand it. We looked around and finally found this as a
very logical place, which we could buy for $200 000. We moved in
1965 and got it fixed up a bit. The Woodrow Wilson Institute had
been here for 10 years before us.
G: So next year will be the 40th anniversary of your move.
A: Well it's going to be the 50th of my founding of REBT, in
Debbie: There's going to be big celebrations in July 2005.
G: I presume the planning and the organization is well
under way. To return to the shame-attacking exercise you
mentioned earlier when you sing in public. Would you sing one of
A: I usually tell people that my singing is a shame-attacking
exercise. I say I'm going to use my godawful baritone and you're
going to use your godawful baritones, tenors, sopranos, altos.
Let us all shamelessly sing out. This is Love, Oh Love Me,
Only Me! (The tune of Yankee Doodle.)
Love, oh love me, only me
Or I will die without you!
Oh, make your love a guarantee
So I can never doubt you!
Love me, love me totally
Really, really try dear!
But if you demand love, too
I'll hate you till I die dear!
Love me, oh love me all the time
Quite thoroughly and wholly
My total life is slush and slime
Unless you love me only solely!
Love me with great tenderness
With no ifs or buts dear,
If you love me somewhat less
I'll hate your goddamn guts, dear!
G: I'm sure it's not just the voice or lyrics, but also
your unique rendition which gives it that special quality.
What's another favourite song of yours?
A: Glory, Glory Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory Hallelujah
Mine eyes have seen the glory of
relationships that glow
And then falter by the wayside as love and passions come
Oh, I've heard of great romances where there is no
But I am getting skeptical!
Glory, Glory Hallelujah! People love you till they screw
If you'd lessen how they do ya
Then don't expect they won't!
Glory, Glory Hallelujah!
People cheer ya then pooh-pooh ya,
If you'd lessen how they screw ya,
Then don't expect they won't!
G: Clearly, someone might say that this is enough to turn
any lover cynical! Yet, you retain an honesty and vitality and a
passion. So knowing what can happen to love, how do you manage
to take that fact?
A: Well, you take a risk. If your love lasts for ever, that
would be most unusual. So you assume that it may not last, but
you enjoy it while you may.
G: How do you cope with the pain of losing love, when it
doesn't last, or when something that you invest yourself in goes
A: You feel healthily sorry, frustrated and annoyed but not
unhealthily depressed, anxious, and despairing. That is, if you
G: Debbie explained to me how to use the REBT Self Help
Form. I was a bit slow, but she persevered and eventually I
realized that, according to your REBT, there are unhealthy
negative emotions which you can transform into healthy
A: Yes. REBT is almost the only therapy that says you'd
better feel healthy negative emotions, not destructive
G: Now why do you call grief a healthy negative feeling?
A: Well because it is. If somebody you love dies, you first
have positive feelings for him or her, and you want to have
healthy negative feelings of sorrow, regret, or sadness. You
certainly don't want to have no feelings. So we define
your grief as a healthy negative emotion.
G: So it's negative in the sense that it's on the
'downside' of human experience but necessary for growth.
A: You're losing by death something you really want, so you'd
better not be deliriously happy! But you also don't want to be
G: So what would you call a state when everyone else
around the person is quite down but the manic person goes on
shopping expeditions and does quite outrageous things? What
would you call that state?
G: So there are both unhealthy positive and unhealthy
A: Yes. Pollyannaism, for example, is an unhealthy positive
G: You say quite rightly that most of the other cognitive
behaviour therapies do not attend to emotions. How could they
omit such an essential human experience?
A: Well, they're now dealing with emotions because they're
now copying my REBT. They have the cognitive and to some degree
they have behavioural, but they sort of neglected the emotional.
We never did. But, finally, Judy Beck in 1995 included several
emotional techniques in cognitive therapy. And some of the other
cognitive behaviourists have used emotional techniques for quite
G: I read in a recent review that you have moved from
Dr Freud to Dr Phil (the TV personality), meaning that you made
therapy accessible to ordinary people. You've transformed
culture by bringing therapy from the analyst's couch to the
wider culture. Do you think that's a fair summary of your life's
A: Yes. I was one of the very first to show people how they
construct their own beliefs, feelings and behaviours badly and
how they can reconstruct them and could do it even without a
therapist if they read my books and followed them. I was the
first to have put real rational emotive behaviour therapy in
audio- and video-cassettes.
G: Your revolutionary spirit from your college days,
through your professional career, transforming the culture and
landscape of psychology seems to be your hallmark. Are you still
a revolutionary now?
A: Compared to many people, yes. But many psychologists were
against me, especially conservative academic psychologists,
because they were against popular books.
G: How do you classify your books?
A: Several of them are almost purely popular, but others are
for the profession and are both popular and, you might say,
G: You've never shied away from popularity, but it sounds
like you've certainly never compromised your standards in order
to be popular, either. Turning to your current work, I was
intrigued by the title, which is A History of the Dark Ages
the 21st Century. Could you briefly outline your views?
A: I decided to write that when I was 19 and in college. I
was going to write it because the world was so rotten then and I
figured out that today we don't let blood because we know it's
wrong but we do do lots of other things that are stupid and
wrong, which we know are wrong. So this is the real Dark Ages,
because we have the knowledge and we don't use it.
I was going to write a book The History of the Dark Ages
the 20th Century, so I collected thousands of articles and I
never got around to writing them up, because I have too many
other things I am busy doing. But then I thought of doing it in
the 21st century. So I just used material from this century and
I've written this book that isn't published yet.
G: What are your other current projects?
A: I have another book, called Is Self-Esteem a Sickness?
It shows how self-esteem, as against self-acceptance, is one of
the worst sicknesses ever invented. I expect a lot of opposition
because self-esteem has been pushed, pushed, pushed by most
therapists for many years.
G: It sounds to me like this is vintage Albert Ellis in
A: And I am revising another of my old books, Is
Objectivism a Religion? I said it was. So now I've revised
that. That isn't published yet. It's to knock down Ayn Rand's
fascist philosophy. Rand was ostensibly an objectivist but
actually she was highly emotional and she was fanatical in her
damnation of all non-capitalists. The book I'm now proofreading
is The Road to Tolerance, Rational Emotive Behaviour
G: It sounds like you work a 25 hour day!
A: Oh, I've got along with Debbie's help.
G: I now appreciate your dedication to Debbie in your most
You've been extremely generous with your time. I think its
time to wind down. To finish, a New York Times article on
you ends with the quote, "'While I'm alive', Albert Ellis said,
'I want to keep doing what I want to do, see people, give
workshops, write, and preach the gospel according to Saint
A: That's just humorous.
G: I see the twinkle in your eye and your smile, broadly
grinning, would there ever be
A: I'm against all gospels.
G: Okay, so have you ever had a calling to become Rabbi
A: Well, as I told you, several rabbis have wanted me to
speak in their temples.
G: Do you think their invitations convey a message?
Recruiting you to the pulpit?
A: Well, some of them are very rational.
G: If some are very rational, what about the others?
A: Well, not the orthodox. They're often dogmatists.
G: So how does dogmatism and mysticism relate in your
scheme of things?
A: Well, dogmatism means that you say something and it's
absolutely true for all time because you believe it is and
mysticism says that we know the essence of it all, we can't tell
you what it is but we know it. There are some mystics who are
rational and some are irrational, so they all overlap to some
G: If you were to be invited by a rabbi, would you accept
the offer to speak from a pulpit?
A: Why not?
G: This is the revolutionary next phase perhaps?
G: Just briefly, before we finish, I'd like to recap from
our talk yesterday, as I was intrigued by your reflections on
the ADHD experience in America. You mentioned that you felt that
with the drugs that were introduced in the 50s to treat mental
problems, you had an elegant word to describe the drug's actions
A: Yes, derigidicize some of the mental symptoms.
G: Some people said that you felt that the advent of
psychotropic drugs adds more and more support to REBT. I am
curious about your thoughts on the decade the 90s, with the huge
increase in children with ADHD. You said, I think, that you
thought such children had two problems, one, the biological
problem that was the ADHD and then a secondary one, with how
they felt about their ADHD.
A: Putting themselves down for not being competent in our
G: Yes, you also emphasized the importance of competence
in all cultures, but not all cultures dole out as much
A: Well, it's like psychosis. Psychosis involves a great deal
of incompetence. Psychotics are often able to do the things that
other people do, and in our culture and most cultures, even
children are supposed to be competent, get high marks and be
good at sports. So when children with ADHD see that they don't
understand things the same way as other kids do, they often put
themselves down, saying 'it's not good and I'm no good'. So that
adds enormously to the biological handicap of ADHD.
G: And this aspect would be accessible to treatment with
the REBT approach to alleviate their self attack in combination
A: Yes. Even with schizophrenia we get them to accept
themselves as schizophrenics.
G: So that would be the model that you would use in ADHD?
G: Wonderful, I just wanted to clarify that. Thank you
very much for your time and for your unique rendition of your
songs and to Debbie for arranging this delightful meeting!