Dr. Albert Ellis | The Power of Beliefs

Dr. Albert Ellis | The Power of Beliefs

Albert Ellis


Albert Ellis was an American psychologist who helped revolutionize psychotherapy. In 1955, he developed Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, a new way of helping people understand and change their own behaviors. A 1982 professional survey of U.S. and Canadian psychologists rated Ellis the second most influential psychotherapist in history – after Carl Rogers, and ahead of Sigmund Freud.

Ellis was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1913. His father was a businessman who was often away, and he described his mother as a self-absorbed chatterbox with opinions on most subjects that were rarely supported by facts. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Columbia University in 1947. His legacies include the Albert Ellis Institute and the many books he wrote for professional and general audiences that still influence psychology today.

Dr. Albert Ellis | The Power of Beliefs

Rational beliefs bring us closer to getting good results in the real world.”

I learned from Albert Ellis that it is not rational thought but our beliefs that interpret events and trigger our emotional and behavioral responses – and that we don’t have to let them do that.

A psychiatric nurse was working with kids with behavioral problems at an elementary school in Edmonton. She was teaching them strategies based on Albert Ellis’s principles of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy that would help them manage the emotions that were preventing them from learning effectively. One Saturday, I was a guest at a session she held to show parents how they could help their children with these techniques at home.

I watched these parents become overwhelmed – some even burst into tears – as they realized that they could not only help their kids, they could also use the strategies themselves when their own emotions got out of control.

I have since read everything Ellis has written, and his theories have become a core part of my view of the world. He showed me that we are what we believe. Attitude is nothing but beliefs, and the voices of our negative beliefs prevent us from moving forward.

It is a simple but profound model: A leads to B, leads to C.


Here is an example. Let us say that you are cut after the second round of tryouts for a sports team. (This is the activating event, Block A, in the diagram above.)

If one of your beliefs (B) is, “I must make the team to be popular,” or “I am worthless if I don’t make the team,” now you’ll get anxious and depressed. That is called the “consequent emotion” (C).

We tend to “awful”-ize things. But we can change our irrational beliefs by asking questions like: “What is the evidence for my must/should?” (e.g., “Why did I believe that I was worthless if I didn’t make the team?”). We can ask, “Why is this situation terrible? Why is it awful? Why can’t I stand it?”

In Ellis’s view, we just need to add a D and an E to the ABC model to move forward. If we change the wording of our belief only slightly – in this  case from “I must make the team” to “I prefer to make the team” (D), our emotional responses change immediately (E).

Until I read Ellis, I thought that we had to get our self-limiting beliefs right out of our heads in order to avoid negative emotional responses. Now, I realize we just need to change them a little.

Dr. Albert Ellis | In His Own Words

The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.

Acceptance is not love. You love a person because he or she has lovable traits, but you accept everybody just because they’re alive and human.

People have motives and thoughts of which they are unaware.

People don’t just get upset. They contribute to their upsetness.

Happiness is experienced largely in striving towards a goal, not in having attained things, because our nature is always to want to go on to the next endeavor.

There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.


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