Psychotherapy Blog


Albert Ellis and the Traveling Road Show

Posted by Howard Rosenthal, EdD on 8/13/12 - 1:54 PM
As a master's level graduate student at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, I was very fortunate to have Dr. Patricia Jakubowski as my advisor. Pat was not only a recognized behaviorist, but she was also a pioneer in the assertiveness training movement. Best of all, she had befriended a psychotherapist who was very close to Dr. Albert Ellis. That's right the Dr. Albert Ellis.

At the time, it was virtually impossible for a student such as myself who didn't own a master's degree sheepskin to attend an ongoing training session with Dr. Ellis, but Pat worked her magic (can you say used her connection?) and there I was at the Institute for Rational Emotive Therapy in New York City. Although Ellis came across as dynamic in his writings, he was ten times as colorful and entertaining in person. During the training Ellis cast many gems of wisdom related to his baby, RET, which stood for rational emotive therapy. In his mind it was the ultimate form of counseling and psychotherapy. Later, with a little coaxing from psychologist extraordinaire Raymond Corsini, Ellis renamed the modality rational emotive behavior therapy or REBT in 1993. Thus REBT is the name which lives on in the pages today's textbooks and counseling classes.

But the one thing that stands out in my mind after all these years was a remarkable story he shared that transcended the boundaries of his own theory. Ellis mentioned that during the early 1970s he was conducting a presentation at a major national conference. After his speech another presenter demonstrated a new form of therapy. Suffice it to say that this other treatment modality was everything RET wasn't. This novel approach stressed intense catharsis, abreaction, and focused heavily on one's childhood experiences. Convinced of the superiority of RET over any other form of helping Ellis was ready to dismiss the whole idea until he watched a demonstration of the new system in which an acutely disturbed client was cured of what ailed her in less than sixty minutes.

Even the great Dr. Albert Ellis was amazed and could not believe his eyes. Could this innovative form of therapy be that effective? But make no mistake about it—Ellis had an open mind and decided he would investigate the new paradigm. His investigation came to a surprising and screeching halt in less than 30 days. You see, not long after the first conference, Dr. Ellis was scheduled to present at still another national conference. At the second conference he spied the same psychotherapy expert, curing the same client, of exactly the same problem, in precisely the same period of time.

So the moral of the story is that if some new, improved form of psychotherapy makes a giant splash onto the helping scene that just seems too good to be true . . . just use a little creative visualization and think of Albert Ellis and the dreadful deception of the traveling road show.
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