Albert Ellis (1913 – 2007) was born in Pennsylvania, USA, in 1913 and he went on to become a renowned and celebrated Psychologist. My own research leads me to find that a lot has been written about the upheavals he faced in his younger life; from relocating to a life in New York at age four, the often absence of his Father, the Divorce of his parents when he was twelve years old and the apparent neglect of Ellis, and his siblings, by his socialite Mother. Amidst all of this, Ellis is recorded as having experienced childhood illnesses, times in hospital and he is known to have become withdrawn and anxious. In context, this was all set against a backdrop of major world political and economic troubles.
This experience will no doubt have influenced Ellis’ own personal development and his curiosity about human emotional development, in general. I am sure that Ellis was also influenced by his ‘alone time’ while in hospital, and through the many years of family turmoil; he formed an inquisitive and intuitive response that propelled him to want to become a writer and which contributed to his interest in psychology. I can empathise with this. My family was not without emotional turmoil and that has certainly helped to influence my decision to train as a therapist and I also aspire to write.
Ellis, considered as one of the founders of cognitive-behavioural therapies, created Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy; suggesting that addressing ‘irrational’ thoughts and beliefs would resolve unhappiness. Ellis was known for quoting the ancient Philosopher Epictetus (55 – 135) who is quoted as saying “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them”. If we consider this quote, it expresses the idea that people may believe that a certain thing can be disturbing to them but that, in reality, it is not the thing that is disturbing, but the belief about the thing which causes the emotional disturbance. In my work as a Counsellor and Psychotherapist, this simple idea offers a wonderful gift; that we may not be able to change the things that trigger our feelings, but we may be able to change our belief about them, resulting in less troubling consequences.
Ellis developed Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). Ellis focused his work on the belief systems that people develop. Ellis suggested that human beings possess an innate tendency towards the irrational. His intention, in developing REBT, was to enable the therapist to support the client away from irrational beliefs and irrational thought processes replacing them, instead, with rational beliefs and rational thought processes; thus reducing the stress and anxiety that come from negative beliefs.
In addition to creating the ‘ABC’ Model, that explained his theory, Ellis suggested language as a tool; the aim being to help clients to change negative language. This negative language could often be used in thoughts and Ellis named this ‘Negative Self-Talk’. This negative language, he claimed, would only serve to validate unhappy internal thoughts.
By changing the negative language to a more positive alternative, Ellis suggested that positive language could reinforce internal happy thoughts, feelings and emotions. The theory was that these happier thoughts, feelings and emotions would create the more positive consequence; more constructive and happier behaviours.
In my work with clients, as a Counsellor and Psychotherapist, I use both the ‘ABC’ Model and the insight into negative and positive internal language to help my clients learn to challenge their own internal thoughts and beliefs; aiming to replace negatives with something less negative and potentially positive. This can generate a sense of hopefulness which can be a genuine lifeline to those who have developed beliefs that are potentially disastrous or catastrophic in their minds. I have simplified the ‘ABC’ model and so offer my clients a more concise version, but the same outcome is achieved.
This Blog post is a very brief summary of Ellis and his work. There is a vast amount of reading material on the man and his work; including the ‘ABC’ Model and I would recommend further reading to anyone interested in this subject.
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