Albert Ellis died today, arguably as one of the most widely disliked psychologists of all time. He was 93 years old and to his dying day espoused the principles of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy he had created over the last 50 years. He will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most influential psychologists of all time.
I had a chance to see Albert Ellis talk around the turn of the century when he was in his 80's and I was still very new to the field of psychology. I saw a picture of this little man with Harry Carrey glasses and wondered what the big deal was about this little guy; until he opened his mouth. In the first 30 seconds of his speech this nearly 90 year old man let out a stream of obscenities that would make a truck driver blush, and this was before he was even done with his introduction. I knew I liked this man immediately.
Albert Ellis used humor in therapy like no other therapist had before and likely ever will again. A favorite tactic was blowing up someones anxiety to comical proportions so they could see the absurdity of their faulty thinking. Ellis was not afraid to openly mock his client's thinking in a therapy session, careful to explain that he wasn't mocking the client but instead their way of thinking. He believed that by aligning with the client against their self-defeating behavior, he could create a situation where people could begin to get some perspective on how the way they thought about the world was responsible for much of their problems. Ellis created dozens of funny songs over the years about the absurdity of faulty thinking, and he passionately stuck by his principles despite being openly dismissed as irrelevant by most of the psychological establishment.
A 1982 survey listed Albert Ellis as the second most influential psychologist in history. Despite upsetting the powers that be in psychology for over half a century, his contributions eventually prevailed, and Cognitive-Behavioral therapy is now arguably the most widely practiced branch of psychology today. Although many disagreed with Ellis' particularly harsh brand of humor, he was undeniably one of the most influential pioneers of using humor as a way to cope with the world. He was also personally a very funny man, and his especially unique use of humor in the therapeutic situation will be analyzed and discussed for many years to come. As someone who was personally very much influenced by his emphasis on taking personal responsibility for one's actions, I am deeply saddened by this loss, but also know that his contributions will live on. Rest in peace you magnificent bastard.
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