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by Albert Ellis
Prometheus Books, 2001
Review by Jürgen Klecker, Dipl.-Psych. on Sep 15th 2002
In the 1950s,
when psychotherapy told of dark, irrational things like repressed drives, the self
or reflexes, psychologist Albert Ellis formed a rather unusual theory: people
develop mental disorders because they hold irrational beliefs.
Based on this
assumption, Ellis developed a therapeutic strategy in which the clients
irrational beliefs are identified, challenged, and replaced by more rational
ones -- all of this through philosophical dispute. To Ellis, irrational beliefs
usually take the form of core musts or to use his original term,
musturbations. If you strongly believe you must be successful in a
situation, you will become anxious or depressed if you fail. Change that must
into a strong preference and youre better at handling frustration,
which in turn cures anxiety and depression.
Ellis theory is now known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT),
and its principles and applications are laid out in his latest book Overcoming
Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviors. The book is a collection of
articles, lectures and interviews that were compiled to give therapists and the
informed layperson a primer on REBT. Though not a self-help book in the usual
sense, Ellis plain writing style and wealth of examples from the Albert Ellis
Institute in New York make it accessible to anyone with an interest in this
insightful therapeutic method.
Ellis and his co-workers have published more than 60 books and hundreds
of journal articles on REBT, many targeted to the general public. If youre
looking for a solution to a problem, from Sex without Guilt to How to live
with a neurotic: at home and at work, Ellis has a booklet for you.
Ellis newest book, however, begins with theoretical/conceptual issues
of REBT for the therapist, material that may be rough going, or of no interest,
to the layperson. The first half of the book has no real common thread. The
only common denominator is that all of these can be summarized under the
umbrella New directions for rational emotive behavior therapy - the books
subtitle. Practitioners will find discussions on everything from the semantics
of REBT to Issues in Counselling in the Postmodern Era. These chapters might
be of vague general interest to the average practitioner, but they at times
seem written more to lend a certain sex appeal to REBT than to influence
practical therapeutic work. Ellis moves onto more solid ground in his chapters
on REBT in group and family therapy, which may be valuable for everyday
Whats new is Ellis use of action verbs, which aims at changing the way
a patient thinks of a mental condition. Ellis says you depress or you
anxietize instead of using the terms depression or anxiety, which many
patients (wrongly) see as conditions that exist by themselves, out of their
control. REBT says that we largely can control our emotional destiny,
Ellis writes. I emphasize this in some of the language I use in this book.
In his book,
Ellis also addresses one of the recent criticisms of REBT: it seemed to assume
the primacy of cognition and neglected the fact that behavior also influences
cognition and emotion. Ellis now stresses the importance of behavior change in
therapy, and he argues that REBT is and always has been multimodal in practice.
However, he does not seem to feel the need to revise his theory accordingly.
The layperson who
has waded through the theory in the first half of Ellis book may be especially
rewarded in the second half. These often vividly written chapters show REBT in
action, using case studies to illuminate a wide selection of problems,
disturbances and disorders. Ellis humor comes through in many places, such as
in Chapter 25 (Treating Individuals with Morbid Jealousy), which includes the
lyrics of an anti-jealousy song to the tune of Yankee Doodle. As a drawback,
part two of the book has no common style or principle, and useful material
found in one chapter may not show up in another. Chapter 23 (Treating Elderly
People with Emotional and Behavioral Disturbances) includes a list of typical
irrational beliefs for these clients and their emotional consequences -- a
useful tool that would have been enlightening in the chapters on other
With the mix of
practical examples and conceptual background information, Overcoming
Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviors is a book that brings the
reader up to date on REBT. The book is too detailed to serve as an introduction
to the theory, and readers who prefer self-help books will probably find it too
heavy. But if you already know a little about cognitive therapy and want one
book that explains it all, Ellis latest should be your choice.
© 2002 Jürgen Klecker
Jürgen Klecker, Dipl.-Psych., is a
clinical psychologist trained at the University of Würzburg, Germany and at
Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. Hes worked as a teaching assistant in
clinical psychology and held several seminars on applied cognitive behavior
therapy. He now works as a drug therapist in a privately owned clinic.