World-Renowned Pychologist Speaks to SJU

You are human. You make mistakes. And you know what? That’s ok. Live with it.

That’s the basic approach Dr. Albert Ellis takes with his patients. Ellis came to St. John’s on Oct. 17 to speak before more than 500 students and faculty in an event hosted by the Student Psychological Association.

“You are a fallible human being,” Ellis said. “And you know what? That’s too damn bad.”

Ellis is the founder of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), a practice that is based on the belief that people are not disturbed by events or people, but by their view of the event or the person.

“He’s such an influential person in the psychology field,” said Lisa Kohn, vice president of the Student Psychological Association. “All of our psychology books have chapters on Dr. Ellis.”

The key assumption of REBT is that people have faulty or irrational views that cause them to have difficulties. Ellis’s therapy focuses on changing irrational thoughts into rational, coherent thoughts, and thus relieving the patient’s distress and psychological problems.

“I like that it changes people’s behaviors, and it doesn’t base them on what happened to them during their childhood. It makes you realize what you’re doing wrong and actually change it, rather than blame the responsibility on someone else, like your parents, or friends.”

“The worst that can happen won’t kill me,” Ellis said, when explaining what he tells his patients. “And if it does, [forget] it, I’d be dead.”

Ellis explained that needing something is irrational, and that we simply must change our irrational thoughts into rational thoughts.

Ellis gave the audience a rare glimpse into his life, talking about his early years as a student, and the beginning of his practice. The audience was captured by his down-to-earth approach to his patients.

“He is so direct and to the point,” Courtney Jaffe, president of the Student Psychological Association, said. “He says, ‘You can’t change reality, you have to change the way you look at it.’ We wanted to give everyone the chance to see.”

Ellis spoke to the crowd directly, then demonstrated his technique through the use of audience volunteers.

Through a series of questions and answers, Ellis appeared to help volunteers by getting them to admit they were being irrational, and by helping them turn those irrational thoughts into rational ones.

One of the audience volunteers explained that she wanted to lose weight. Ellis helped her admit that feeling ashamed and guilty when she overate was not a reasonable thought process, and that she should stop feeling this way.

REBT uses rewards for patients when they turn irrational thoughts into rational thoughts, and punishments when they were unable to do so, thus conditioning the patient into only having rational thoughts.

“I liked his philosophy,” said David Roofeh, a psychology and philosophy major from NYU. “I honestly believe that it’s better than some of the other therapies that I think he could use. But I think there are some problems that I don’t think can be solved by the REBT.”

Julie Gutman, a first year studen,t pursuing her doctorate in clinical psychology at St. John’s, disagreed. She found the talk quite interesting and felt that most problems could be solved using REBT.

“Some of the things he said were a little simplistic for demonstration purposes, because a real patient wouldn’t be able to make a jump that fast,” Gutman said.

“But in general, the ideas behind it, yes, I agree with it.”

Overall, the Student Psychological Association was pleased with the turnout and plans on more events in the future.

“It’s not often you get to meet a famous psychologist,” Jaffe said. “We wanted to give everyone an idea of what his therapy is like.”