Albert Ellis Biography

Albert Ellis

Claim to Fame: Cognitive-behavioral therapist
DOB: September 27, 1913
Date of Death: July 24, 2007
Diabetes Type: 1

Albert Ellis was born on September 27, 1913 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the eldest of three children. As a child Ellis suffered from many health problems, from kidney disease to a severe streptococcal infection. Before he was even eight years old Ellis was hospitalized eight different times. His parents, however, were not the pillars of support and affection that he needed. His father was often away on business, and his mother suffered from bipolar disorder, which prevented her from properly taking care of her children. Ellis soon took on the burden of raising his two younger siblings and when the Great Depression hit all three children were forced to find work.

Despite his rough upbringing, Ellis was a determined young man. In 1934 he attended the City University of New York, where he earned his Bachelors degree in business. He then went on to study at the Teachers College, Columbia University, where he earned his Master of Arts in clinical psychology, with a focus on psychoanalysis. Ellis earned his Ph.D. before he began teaching at New York University and Rutgers University.

In 1953, Ellis began advocating a much more direct and active type of psychotherapy. He called this new approach Rational Therapy, which he later renamed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. It hinged on the therapist helping the patient to understand that his own personal philosophy contributes to his emotional pain, and then acting on that understanding. This new theory proposed that, through rational analysis and cognitive reconstruction, patients could recognize their irrational beliefs and self-defeating behaviors, and ultimately develop more rational beliefs and behaviors.

In 1954 Ellis began teaching his new approach to other therapists. The following year he proposed that therapists help people adjust their thinking as well as their behavior through the treatment of emotional and behavioral problems, formally setting forth the first cognitive behavior therapy. Then, in 1959 Ellis founded the nonprofit organization "The Institute for Rational Living", a training institute and psychological clinic.

Albert Ellis was also a well known sexologist who eventually came to be seen as one of the founders of the American sexual revolution. He explored human sexuality and love in a number of books, his most noted was Sex Without Guilt, a liberal exploration of sexual attitudes that he later re-wrote and re-titled Sex Without Guilt in the Twenty-First Century.

Ellis's cognitive behavioral therapies gained a lot of ground in the 1960s, becoming one of the primary schools of psychotherapy in many countries. His impact was so great that many American and Canadian clinical psychologists consider him more influential than Freud. Ellis also served as the editor of numerous scientific journals. Ellis also worked with many prestigious professional societies such as the American Psychological Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, the American Academy of Psychotherapists, the American Association of Marital and Family Therapy, and the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists.

Ellis suffered from health problems his entire life, including the diagnosis of his insulin-dependent diabetes at the age of 40. On July 24, 2007 Albert Ellis died of natural causes at the age of 93. He practiced psychotherapy, sex therapy, and marriage and family counseling for over sixty years. He had written over 80 books and 1200 articles, and was regarded as one of the most influential psychotherapists of his time with his own Albert Ellis Institute in New York.

Reviewed by dLife staff 02/15.

Last Modified Date: February 11, 2015

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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