cognitive behavioral theory

Posted on December 19, 2008
Filed Under philosophy | 1 Comment

I have never had a lot of time for cognitive behavioral theory, thinking it an invention of the crass and unsubtle Americans, incapable of accepting the complexity of the human and instead hammering away at the symptoms like maniacal Pavlovians.  Yet this little story from The New Yorker on Albert Ellis impressed me.  I was particularly fond of his attempts to improve his pick up rate with women.

The second-most-influential psychotherapist of the twentieth century, by the reckoning of the American Psychological Association, turned ninety last month. His name is Albert Ellis, and, in case you didn’t know, he is the founder of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy, or rebt, and the author of more than seventy books, including “Sex Without Guilt,” “Sex and the Liberated Man,” “The Case for Promiscuity,” and “How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything—Yes, Anything!” Ellis started out as a psychoanalyst, in 1947, but soon decided that exploring his patients’ childhood traumas had “nothing to do with the price of spinach.” By the mid-fifties, he had devised his own method, based on the premise, set forth by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, that people are disturbed not by what happens to them but by their view of what happens to them, and also on his personal observation that, as he said the other day, “all humans are out of their fucking minds—every single one of them.”

About two hundred humans turned up at the Albert Ellis Institute, whose headquarters are in a six-story town house on East Sixty-fifth Street, to celebrate the founder’s birth with a day of workshops and symposiums, followed by a catered shindig. Ellis is thin and birdlike, with a prominent nose, and he wears large, black-framed glasses. His voice is high and nasal, and when he gets excited it swoops from a goosey honk to a gullish screech. A gastrointestinal infection almost killed him last year, but now he seemed in fine form. Throughout the day, he held forth on a range of topics, from tolerance (“I don’t damn any person, including Stalin, Hitler, and President Bush”) to self-esteem (“the worst sickness known to man or woman, because it says, ‘I did well, therefore I am good,’ which means that when I do badly—back to shithood for me”) and aging (“None of us can change the fact that we’re going to get older and die—too fucking bad”).

Ellis spoke about the “bad things” that happened to him during his childhood, in the Bronx, and about how they led to his early experiments in rational thinking. During a ten-month hospitalization for nephritis, which he got when he was four and a half, he eased his anxiety and loneliness by telling himself, “If I die, I die—fuck it—it’s not the end of the world.” When he was five, his parents found him naked with their neighbors’ five-year-old daughter, playing a clever game with a funnel and a bottle of milk. “That was my first great heterosexual love—a little beauty, a blond bombshell,” Ellis said. “But then her parents moved away and wouldn’t even tell us where they were moving. So, for a while, I was a very depressed child. But I was still able to use the coping statement ‘There will be other women, and I can always have good times with them.’ ” At nineteen, Ellis tried an experiment to conquer his fear of rejection: he hung around the Bronx Botanical Garden, and, whenever he saw a girl on her own, forced himself to start a conversation. “I got to be one of the best picker-uppers of women in the United States, and finally started making it with them, a lot,” he said.

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One Response to “cognitive behavioral theory”

  1. Kenny on July 28th, 2014 7:17 pm

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