Dr. Bersoff, Dr. Norman Anderson, Dr. Nancy Gordon Moore and team, APAMembers and guests, Thank you.
My magnificent husband would have felt delighted to receive this honor from you.
With this award you highlight his profound and historic role in the life and evolution of psychology.
Al was an outstanding, extraordinary and unique man. His life was devoted to helping as many people as possible learn how to suffer less emotional misery, so that they could experience immense joy and happiness throughout their lives.
Al lived his life intensely, with passion and full immersion in his work.
As Dr Bersoff indicated – from early childhood on, Al faced various challenges, yet creatively and ingeniously found ways to cope and minimize distress, and many of those strategies are found in REBT. He did not whine about his adversities but sought ways to overcome them.
This vitality infuses the REBT approach – fueled by Al’s conviction that while we may at times have to cope with circumstances we do not create and may not be able to change, we have the power to choose and control our emotional experience and reactions to those circumstances by thinking in healthy ways. He was able to put his theory and methods into reader-friendly language that was comfortably received by both academics and lay people.
His whole life was devoted to helping people not only to “feel better”, but to “get better.” With their use of REBT, countless people have overcome debilitating anxiety, depression, rage, addictive behaviors and more.
When Al first presented his REBT approach at the annual APA meeting in Chicago in 1956, he was booed and jeered. His approach was called simplistic, superficial, and worse. Yet he never gave up. He never diluted his approach in order to gain acceptance and – courageous maverick that he was ! – persevered in presenting it, writing about it, conducting research – and boldly heralded in the Cognitive Revolution in Psychology and Psychotherapy. His work, and the great work of others in the field who were influenced by Al’s contributions, continues to flourish.
Al’s REBT is holistic – recognizing the intertwining of head, heart and actions. It emphasizes and encourages the importance and benefit of having an Unconditional Acceptance of oneself, others and life itself.
For all its boldness and its assertive no-nonsense character, REBT is infused with kindness, compassion and encouragement.
While millions admired, respected, and loved Al, there were people who did not like his directness, his blatant honesty, his sharp wit, the humorous songs he wrote, his colorful language, and his willingness to be ruthless – when he considered it appropriate – in order to better aid his clients to change their lives.
Some people did not like REBT’s greater emphasis on the client’s present, and its lesser focus on the client’s past.
Yet those who had the eyes to see, the discernment to recognize benevolent intent, and the heart to feel, even those who were not enamored with Al’s theory or style – often acknowledge his authenticity and total commitment to help others as fully and effectively as possible.
Al also contributed significantly to the changing of previously long-held unethical and immoral societal attitudes.
Even though it was most radical at the time, he loudly supported equal rights for women, gays, racial equality and the abolition of censorship.
There is no question that his life was devoted to helping others.
This work brought him joy, and meaning.
Even when times were very tough for him, Al continued to practice what he preached, and to preach what he practiced.
Despite declining health from May in 2006 onwards – following a severe bout of pneumonia – he continued to see individuals and student groups in the rehabilitation home where he was attempting to regain his health and strength.
One day during a time Al was in the hospital, only months before he died, a group of students was due to visit Al. He was very weak and I implored him to cancel the visit– but he insisted that they come. So the students came and he spoke to them for over 30 minutes, and then invited questions.
“Dr Ellis”, one student said, “It is an honor to be with you, and thank you, but Debbie told us how ill you have been. Why did you not cancel?”
Al joked “In order to continue spreading the gospel of St Albert.”
And then in sincerity he replied, “In order to help you understand REBT better. If you do, and apply it, you will have happier and healthier lives. And when you do this, you can be much more effective at helping more people to suffer less and to be happier more”.
Later, doctors told us that based on blood work they had taken that very morning, Al had suffered a heart attack just hours prior. He was gravely ill. Yet he had refused to cancel his date with the students.
In his very final weeks, he continued to practice the REBT philosophy.
Although it was an excruciatingly painful time, every day he focused on what still was positive in our time together, namely the deep love between us.
When he had hardly any energy left to speak during his final days – he still would say “thank you” to nurses and doctors and me. And to me, each day, he added, “I love you”.
Dr. Bersoff and APA, thank you for honoring the life and work of the remarkable Albert Ellis PhD.
- If Al were here he would probably want to remind us to relish and cherish our gift of life, which passes so quickly
- He would encourage us to help as many others as possible, both in our professional lives, and in our personal day-to-day lives
- He would hope we would feel grateful for the privilege of being part of our profession, in which we can contribute in caring and helpful ways to others.
- He would want us to live, enjoy, and create marvelous lives, despite and including the challenges therein – he would remind us… eyes gleaming and with his beautiful smile – To Have a Ball!!!
With all my heart, where Al still resides –
and on his behalf: THANK YOU.