Albert Ellis: Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
American Psychologist Albert Ellis had a profound influence on modern psychotherapy. In 1955, after becoming disillusioned with Freudian psychoanalysis, in which he received training, Ellis began to develop what later became known as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). Ellis’ work focused primarily on the importance of cognitive processes in human psychological functioning, and through his insights and writing he helped to lay the foundations for a cognitive paradigm shift in modern psychology. As such, his contribution to the establishment and development of contemporary Cognitive Behaviour Therapies (CBT) is undeniable.
Ellis believed that a rational therapist should adopt a more active and directive approach in psychotherapy. In his view, clients experience emotional discomfort, pain, and anxiety because of a cognitive error: they do not see that their fundamentally irrational personal beliefs and philosophies are responsible for their misery. Consequently, it is up to the rational therapist to help them uncover their beliefs, and to assist clients in understanding how self-defeating, irrational, and rigid many of their beliefs are. This allows for the therapist to encourage the client to act rationally on the basis of their new-found understanding. In essence, REBT therapists aim to assist clients in undergoing a cognitive restructuring process, which involves replacing irrational core beliefs with rational ones, after having gone through a process of rational analysis.
REBT and CBT
Along with Aaron Beck, who laid the foundations for Cognitive Therapy in the 1960s, Ellis’ work helped to establish modern CBT. Cognitive Behaviour therapists today conduct therapy in a way that generally echoes Ellis’ observations – that thoughts have a powerful influence on feelings and behavior, and that therapists should actively teach clients to learn to observe and monitor their thoughts, so they can make better decisions based on rational thought processes. What Ellis in essence has taught modern psychotherapists and clients alike is that if our thinking about the world is inaccurate and inadequate, our actions and emotions will tend to become disordered and problematic. Therefore, the solution to much of our emotional problems lies in learning to think rationally, and to act rationally.