Columbia University's Rare Book & Manuscript Library has acquired a comprehensive collection of manuscripts, personal correspondence, and documents from the estate of American psychologist Albert Ellis (1913–2007), founder of the precursor to cognitive behavioral therapy, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).
In Ellis' approach, patients were taught to eliminate self-defeating thoughts while focusing on those that were beneficial and self-accepting. He popularized his approach in numerous best-selling books and in weekly seminars held at the Albert Ellis Institute. The author of more than 80 books, including such bestsellers as How to Live with a Neurotic, Sex Without Guilt and How to Control Your Anxiety Before It Controls You. In 1982, American Psychologist surveyed 800 members of the American Psychological Association (APA) to learn which psychotherapists were believed most influential in the field. Ellis was voted the second most influential 20th century psychotherapist, behind Carl Rogers but above Freud, who ranked third.
"Albert Ellis was a true iconoclast, lambasting the dominant psychoanalytic traditions of his time, writing song parodies reflecting this theme ('I cannot have all my wishes fulfilled; whine, whine, whine' to the tune of the Yale Whiffenpoof song), and introducing live audiences to the intricacies of clinical sessions by inviting volunteers to engage in dialogues with him at his Institute," said Barry A. Farber, professor and director of Clinical Training at Teachers College. "This collection represents an extraordinary opportunity for mental health professionals and interested laymen to study the origins and development of cognitive-behavior therapy, surely among the most important clinical innovations of the past 50 years." Moreover, Professor Farber notes, the life of Albert Ellis is well-worth studying in its own regard.
Born in Pittsburgh and raised in New York City, Ellis had a difficult childhood. A serious of illnesses and the strife in his family (his parents were divorced when he was 12) led him to work at understanding others.
In junior high school Ellis set his sights on becoming a writer. He planned to study accounting in high school and college, make enough money to retire at 30, and write without the pressure of financial need. The Great Depression put an end to his vision, but he made it through college in 1934 with a degree in business administration from the City University of New York.
While working towards his PhD at Teachers College, Ellis started a part-time private practice in addition to working as a psychologist for the State of New Jersey. He became chief psychologist for the State of New Jersey in 1950. After receiving a doctorate in clinical psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1947, Dr. Ellis spent several years undergoing classical psychoanalysis while using its techniques in his job at a state mental hygiene clinic in New Jersey. By 1952, he had left to begin a private practice specializing in sex and marriage therapy and soon started drifting from Freudian methods, finding them, he said, a waste of time.
He turned to Greek, Roman, and modern philosophers and considered his own experience. Out of this came rational emotive behavioral therapy, which he decided would focus not on excavating childhood but on confronting the irrational thoughts that lead to self-destructive feelings and behavior. In 1959 he established the Albert Ellis Institute, a non-profit organization whose mission was to promote Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
The collection includes manuscripts of books and articles going back to Ellis' days in college; reading notes and large subject files; extensive correspondence with colleagues and clinicians, and clients; audio and video tapes of lectures and addresses; files relating to the Ellis Institute; and other important historical materials.
When cataloged and processed, the Ellis Papers will be available for use. For more information, call the RBML at 212-854-2232.
The Rare Book & Manuscript Library owns over 500,000 rare books in some 20 book collections and almost 28 million manuscripts in nearly 3,000 separate manuscript collections. It is particularly strong in English and American literature and history, classical authors, children‘s literature, education, mathematics and astronomy, economics and banking, photography, the history of printing, New York City politics, librarianship, and the performing arts. Individual collections are as eclectic as they are extensive. For more information, please see: /content/libraryweb/indiv/rbml.html
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