Book Review: Albert Ellis

‘Albert Ellis’ is a short book (167 pages) by Joseph Yankura and Windy Dryden covering the life of Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy.

The book is densely packed with fascinating information about Ellis and his publications. The book is divided up into chapters about biography, contribution to theory and practice, criticisms and an overview of his influence.

By looking at Ellis, the originator of REBT, the authors indirectly make REBT more accessible. There were many fascinating insights I gained from reading this book. Ellis’s hard work ethos is evident from his 3700 therapy sessions per year at the age of 75! It was also interesting to read that Ellis uses his techniques to work through his own difficulties and that he wrote about this in ‘Psychotherapy without tears’. Ellis has in turn been influenced by the historical figure Epictetus and in the REBT community there is frequent use of the phrase ‘People are disturbed not by things but by the view which they take of them’.

There is a detailed discussion of Ellis’s contribution to theory. Ellis’s concept that irrational beliefs can be applied to the self, the world and to others and his suggestion that some beliefs can have a biological basis is profoundly important (and vaguely reminiscent of Chomsky’s arguments about language). Ellis goes onto discuss the concept of healthy and unhealthy emotions and in 1975 produces his ABC model relating events, emotions and behaviours. Some of the events do not need to have occurred but instead are mental events – precursors of anticipated events. The possibility of secondary emotional events in response to the primary emotions adds to the complexity of Ellis’s model. One of Ellis’s more tricky ideas is that the effective therapist should be able to use humour appropriately in therapy sessions whilst warning against the dangers of ‘excessive warmth’. Ellis’s writings on efficiency in therapy and iatrogenicity are very interesting also.

What is immensely interesting is that Ellis himself has been under the research microscope – one study looking at tapes of his sessions showed that he used three approaches to disputing irrational beliefs pragmatic, logical and empirical disputing methods. The therapist’s occasional use of profanity I found a little surprising. Indeed there are critics who state that this is never appropriate within sessions. Some of Ellis’s statements about healthy goals have also been criticised including the suggestion that people should aim towards long term hedonism. Ellis has looked at several practical issues including dealing with resistance in therapy and also the qualities of a good therapist.

In summary, this book is an easily accessible guide to Ellis and his theories/practice of REBT. This will be especially useful for anyone with in interest in this area. For therapists using different approaches (or eclectical approaches) there are many valuable insights into the originator of this school of thought.


Areas that Ellis thought would be important for health – Self-interest, Social Interest, Self-direction, Tolerance, Flexibility, Acceptance of Uncertainty, Commitment to Creative Pursuits, Scientific Thinking, Self-Acceptance, Risk-Taking, Long-range Hedonism, Non-Utopianism, Self-Responsibility for Own Disturbance


Yankura J and Dryden W. Albert Ellis. Sage Publications. 1994.


The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


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