Dr. Deborah Joffe Ellis, the wife of psychologist Albert Ellis, visited Seton Hall on April 6 to discuss her late husband’s foundational work, called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).
REBT is a cognitive therapeutic approach that explains how a person’s emotions can be handled based on his or her thinking. Ellis said that she came to Seton Hall to talk about REBT because it has been her mission to continue her husband’s work since his passing.
“It’s a great pity,” Ellis said. “As time goes on, a good number—more like a bad, not-so-pleasant number—of students I have spoken to have not heard of Albert Ellis and REBT, and confuse it with other cognitive approaches.”
Ellis said that REBT has been the foundation of many other psychological cognitive approaches. However, she said, the creators of these new approaches do not acknowledge Albert Ellis for his influence on their work and that there should be historical accuracy when teaching REBT.
Associate professor Andrew Simon, who coordinated the event, said in his introduction that he wanted students to understand the importance of Dr. Ellis’ work.
“Dr. Albert Ellis’ ideas are foundational to how people understand human behavior and psychology and to a lot of treatment protocols that we see today,” Simon said.
Ellis explained that REBT has three elements—the perception of events and circumstances create emotions. Everyone has awareness and choice and healthy emotions, in response to adversity, are created by thinking in healthy, rational ways. These elements illustrate the differences between healthy rational thinking and unhealthy irrational thinking.
She explained that unhealthy negative emotions are debilitating and include anxiety, panic, depression, rage, shame and guilt. Healthy negative emotions include concern, grief, sadness and “healthy anger.”
She added that college students can use healthy negative emotions to motivate themselves to finish assignments.
“REBT gives a simple-to-understand method for preventing or reducing anxiety,” Ellis said. “I think that students can benefit from learning how to reduce and prevent anxiety and other debilitating emotions.”
Ellis presented a live demonstration with a member of the audience and showed how therapists can use REBT to help patients create healthy emotions.
She concluded the event by playing rare footage of Albert Ellis in his final years presenting and demonstrating REBT.
Naquan Ross, a graduate student studying experimental psychology, attended the event and said that Ellis made REBT easy to understand and engaged the audience. He added that he completely related to REBT and that other students can as well.
“We often carry these unhealthy negative emotions such as anxiety and depression, as Dr. Ellis mentioned,” Ross said. “If we become more aware and rational, we can channel those emotions into healthy negative emotions such as concern and healthy sadness.”
Ellis said that she hopes her presentation inspired students and that they can share information about REBT to others suffering from disturbing emotions.
“It’s such a powerful approach that’s not only effective, but also a way of life,” she said.
Liam Oakes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.