Albert Ellis is one of the most influential and well-known psychologists in the world of clinical psychology, especially due to the fact that he is the author or developer of the so-called Rational Emotive Therapy. But although this is his best-known contribution, his work was much more prolific, including various works related to sexuality, religion or the practice of psychological therapy in general.
Ellis’ contributions and research were and remain highly relevant within the practice of psychology, with a particular focus that has served as inspiration for many other models.
Knowing the life of this author can be of great interest both for those who are dedicated to clinical psychology and for those who are interested in knowing one of the most prominent figures in this field, which is why throughout this article we are going to see a light biography of Albert Ellis.
A brief biography of Albert Ellis
Albert Ellis was born on September 27, 1913 in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, being the firstborn of three brothers born to a couple of Jewish origin. His relationship with his parents was cold and distant, his father being a less successful businessman who spent very little time at home and his mother someone cold and distant with a possible bipolar disorder.
Ellis himself thought that in his childhood he and his brothers had been neglected by their parents, having him take care of his younger brothers. Although initially this situation generates great pain, over time he learned to feel indifference towards this situation. The family economy was precarious and especially at the time of the Great Depression, something that forced minors to work to survive.
The health of Ellis was delicate from childhood, to suffer since the age of five kidney problems that required hospitalization, in addition to severe infections that made it happen until seven years visiting hospitals regularly. This seriously affected his socialization, since he could not participate in intense games.
After completing his basic training, Ellis enrolled at the University of New York to study in the field of economics and commerce, specifically pursuing a career in Business Administration in 1934. After that, he began to work as such and work with his younger brother in opening a business of patches and auctions for trousers.
In his memoirs Ellis relates that throughout his life he was afraid of coming into contact with women, something that made him decide at nineteen to start trying to force himself to talk to anyone he found sitting on the banks of the Bronx Botanical Garden, with the end to overcome your fear.
In 1936 he met the actress Karyl Corper, with whom he had a stormy but intense relationship that would culminate in a wedding. However, in 1938 and a year after their wedding the couple would request the annulment, although they would maintain a good relationship and even the author would donate his sperm to have children.
He would be named director of personnel in 1938 in a well-known company, while he used his free time to write works of diverse literary and theatrical genres. Although it came to have a large number of works, it was not able to be published, which decided to deviate to the academic.
Interest in psychology and sexuality
At that time also began to show interest in love, eroticism and sexuality, writing various articles and even a book called The Case for Promiscuity that however would not come to be published.
All this eventually led him to become interested in sexology and clinical psychology. This interest, which was increased thanks to the works of Sigmund Freud and psychoanalytic theory, caused him to enroll in the College of Professors of Columbia University. There he graduated in 1943, to then start working in private practice.
Later he would do a PhD in Clinical Psychology. Although initially he wanted his thesis to deal with the subject of love in university students, he finally had to change it due to the censorship and controversy generated.
Instead he did it on the personality questionnaires, which he criticized harshly and indicated that for him only the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory was valid scientifically. He finished his doctorate in 1947, while living and continuing with clinical practice in his apartment in the Bronx. He tried to work as a professor of psychology, but in those moments of his life he was not accepted. He also participated in Kinsey’s experiments and research on human sexuality.
Relationship with psychoanalysis
Throughout his training Ellis acquired a great admiration for psychoanalysis, which led him to analyze with Richard Hülsenbeck for several years and to train at the Karen Horney Institute. In it, he also discovered a concept that would later be useful in the development of his own therapy: debos. Also, his career was ascending: he was contacted by Rutgers University and by the University of New York to teach at the end of the forties, and little by little he obtained the post of chief of clinical psychology at the New Jersey Diagnostic Center.
However, the little effectiveness that the method seemed to have in his patients with psychoanalysis and the influence of authors who had split off from that branch to generate their own school (like Adler, Horney or Sullivan) ended up making him change to a position something further away from that vision and focused on brief therapy. In fact, in 1953, he abandoned psychoanalysis and began to investigate and develop his own, more directive, theory.
The emotive rational therapy
In his clinic, Ellis began to apply more active and direct techniques when treating his patients, who improved more than in other types of approaches. It would be in 1955 when Ellis would leave psychoanalysis altogether to try to focus on changing people’s adaptive ideas and constructing more rational alternatives.
He would begin the rational emotive behavioral therapy, initially called rational therapy in 1955, and begin to show his theory in the American Psychological Association. The fact that it focused on cognition and beliefs (in a fundamentally psychoanalytic period) meant that, in general, in the beginning it was little valued at the academic level. His theory indicates that our behavior is determined by the presence of an activating event that generates an emotional reaction based on the previous activation of a belief system.
Thus, the cause of the behavior or emotion is not the event itself but the belief system that it awakens.
In 1956 with the dancer Rhoda Winter Russell, a union that ended in divorce a few years later. His first major publication, in which he would explain his vision and therapy, appears in 1959 under the title How to live with a neurotic. That same year he founded the Albert Ellis Institute, in a building in Manhattan that he would compare in 1965. In addition to his original therapy, Ellis also developed a series of workshops on Friday nights that would become a great source of satisfaction for him.
His interest in the sexual and his contact with Kinsey continued throughout the years, in such a way that he would also publish different books on the subject, among which “Sex without guilt” stands out. Likewise, initially he considered homosexuality a pathology, but with the passing of the years this vision was modified and he started to consider it a sexual orientation.
He also participated and collaborated with professionals such as Aaron Beck in aspects such as beliefs and cognition. The rise of the cognitive-behavioral current propelled his career to receive your theory more support, and over time was changing the name of his therapy to the current emotional rational therapy. He also worked on aspects such as integrity and religion for two decades, and founded the “School of Life” for children in 1970.
He lived as a couple with Janet Wolfe between 1965 and 2002, when she decides to end their relationship. After this rupture and with the step of the time it would begin a relation with the psychologist Debbie Joffe, with which contracted marriage in 2004.
Throughout its life it has been considered along with Rogers and Freud like one of the most influential figures in the scope of psychology, in addition to having received multiple distinctions at a professional level.
Last years and death
Despite his great prestige, this did not prevent his last years from facing various difficulties. Among them stands out the attempt by the board of directors of the Institute to cease their participation in the board and the professional practice within the same center (holding the directors that the author had a confrontational, eccentric and wasteful style that put at risk the good operation of the institute), although in 2006 the Supreme Court made the decision to reinstate him in the board of directors of the Institute that bore his name.
During the spring of that same year, Ellis had to be admitted to the hospital for pneumonia, a hospitalization that would last up to fourteen months (in which he continued to write and give interviews). After more than a year of hospitalization, Albert Ellis asked to be taken to his home, on top of the Albert Ellis Institute. His death occurred during the year July 24, 2007, in the arms of his wife, because of heart and kidney failure.