Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis, the developer of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), contributed greatly to the practice of psychotherapy through his clinical practice, involvement with numerous professional organizations, publications of books and articles, and teaching. Ellis was born in Pittsburgh and was raised in New York City. He had a difficult childhood and, due to the family discord, focused his attention toward books and understanding others. In junior high school, Ellis planned to study accounting. Experiencing the Great Depression, however, altered this goal and he graduated from college in 1934 with a degree in business administration from the City University of New York. In 1942, he returned to school, entering the clinical psychology program at Columbia. He started a part-time private practice in family and sex counseling soon after he received his master’s degree in 1943. Ellis earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Columbia in 1947. He had been trained in psychoanalysis as the primary form of treatment and he entered into a training analysis program with the Karen Horney group. Ellis completed the full analysis and began practicing classical psychoanalysis. During this time, Ellis taught at Rutgers and New York University and was the senior clinical psychologist at the Northern New Jersey Mental Hygiene Clinic. He also became the chief psychologist at the New Jersey Diagnostic Center and then at the New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies.

Although trained in psychoanalysis, Ellis experienced frustration when his patients showed only moderate improvement when he worked with them from a psychoanalytic orientation. He observed that when he saw clients once a week or even every other week, they progressed as well as when he saw them daily. Ellis found that patients seemed to improve more rapidly when he was active and direct in his methods. The perceived lack of efficacy of psychoanalytic treatment caused Ellis to turn back to his philosophical roots of Greek, Roman, and ancient Asian philosophers and seek a more effective form of therapy. Ellis worked through many of his own problems by revisit-ing and studying the philosophies of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Baruch (or Benedictus) Spinoza, and Bertrand Russell, and he began to teach his clients these principles.

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By the mid-1950s Ellis had completely abandoned psychoanalysis and begun focusing on altering behavior by confronting clients on what he termed their irrational beliefs, and then teaching and strengthening their rational beliefs. In 1957, Ellis published his first book on rational-emotive therapy (RET), How to Live With a Neurotic. Two years after this publication, Ellis founded the Institute for Rational-Emotive Therapy and conducted workshops on RET principles for other therapists. Ellis continued to revise and expand on his style of cognitive-behavioral therapy. In the early 1990s the institute, which is now called the Albert Ellis Institute, sponsored a conference titled “A Meeting of the Minds. Psychoanalysis and cognitive-behavior therapy: Is integration possible?” that resulted in changing the name of the therapy from rational-emotive therapy (RET) to rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Albert Ellis published more than 50 books and over 600 articles on REBT, sex, and marriage. REBT has become a staple in cognitive therapy.


  1. Albert Ellis Institute. (n.d.). About Albert Ellis. Retrieved May 30, 2016, from
  2. Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy. New York: Lyle Stuart.
  3. Ellis, A. (1973). Humanistic psychotherapy: The rational-emotive approach. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  4. Ellis, A. (1977). A basic clinical theory of rational-emotive therapy. In A. Ellis & R. Grieger (Eds.), Handbook of rational-emotive therapy. New York: Springer.
  5. Ellis, A., & Harper, R. A. (1975). A new guide to rational living. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  6. Prochaska, J. O., & Norcross, J. C. (1999). Systems of psychotherapy: A transtheoretical analysis (4th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  7. Sharf, R. S. (2004). Theories of psychotherapy and counseling: Concepts and cases (3rd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

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