Albert Ellis

An American psychologist who originated rational-emotive behavior therapy (REBT). He was also renowned for his work as an author and counselor in the areas of marriage and sexuality.

Raised in the Bronx, New York, Albert Ellis was shy and physically frail when he was young. Although he had literary ambitions in his teens and twenties, he earned degrees in accounting and business. While still in his twenties, he found that he had a knack for advising his friends and peers on matters related to sexuality and undertook an intensive independent study of human sexuality. Deciding to become a professional therapist, he earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the Teachers College at Columbia University in 1947, followed by four years of psychoanalytic training with Charles R. Hulbeck (1892–1974) at the Karen Horney Institute. By 1952, he had a fulltime practice in Manhattan.

Ellis rapidly became dissatisfied with the limitations of psychoanalysis. He found it slow and ineffective, and he found the passive role of the psychoanalyst frustrating. In 1953, he began experimenting with different therapeutic techniques, and within two years he developed rational-emotive behavior therapy (REBT), initially called rational-emotive therapy, which he began to utilize and to advocate in writing. It was based on the idea that psychological problems are caused by selfdefeating thoughts (such as “I must be loved or approved by everyone” and “If I don't find the perfect solution to this problem, a catastrophe will result” ). Once such thoughts are shifted, emotional and behavioral changes will follow. The therapist's task is to help the client recognize illogical and self-destructive ways of thinking and to replace them with healthier, more positive ones. Ellis envisioned an active role for the therapist and his own therapeutic style involved continually challenging the client's illogical and self-destructive ideas in a dynamic and provoking manner.

Psychotherapist Albert Ellis delivering a lecture at 91 in 2006.

Psychotherapist Albert Ellis delivering a lecture at 91 in 2006.
(© Ramin Talaie/Corbis)

See also Horney, Karen; Marriage Counseling ; Rational-emotive behavior therapy; Sexuality.



Bernard, Michael Edwin. Rationality and the Pursuit of Happiness: The Legacy of Albert Ellis. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Carpenter, Laura M., and John D. DeLamater. Sex for Life: From Virginity to Viagra, How Sexuality Changes Throughout Our Lives. New York: New York University Press, 2012.

Eagly, Alice H. Sex Differences in Social Behavior: A SocialRole Interpretation. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis, 2013.

Ellis, Albert, and Windy Dryden. The Essential Albert Ellis: Seminal Writings on Psychotherapy. New York: Springer, 1990.

Ellis, Albert, and Robert A. Harper. A New Guide to Rational Living. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975.


The Albert Ellis Site. “Albert Ellis Information.” (accessed November 14, 2014).

REBT Network. “Albert Ellis & Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).” (accessed November 14, 2014).

REBT Network. “Dr. Albert Ellis.” (accessed November 14, 2014).