As a therapist, Ellis was not merely active: He was confrontational.Behavioral therapy saved my life at one time. I'm sure it's saved many others. Ellis began in a time when psychotherapy was all the rage---you know, sitting around and talking about all the bad shit that's happened to you. Ellis thought it was too time consuming to wait for patients to come to conclusions on their own. He sought to be more proactive.
No matter what the trauma — a terminal illness, an abusive past, the murder of a loved one — his response was essentially: Stop complaining and deal with it.
One of Ellis' favorite words was "awfulize," as in don't awfulize an upsetting situation. He taught people to view their problems rationally and separate their sense of identity or self-fulfillment from the source of their unhappiness. He delivered this message in language that was often unprintable and always blunt.
"Why can't you understand that some people are crazy and violent and do all kinds of terrible things?" he once told a woman whose sister had been killed by a drug dealer. "Until you accept it, you're going to be angry, angry, angry."
When something bad happens, "you can easily upset yourself, but you always have a choice to feel sorry, regretful, frustrated, annoyed and not depressed, anxious and despairing," he told National Public Radio in 2004.
I remember when I was going to therapy, about 4 months in, I was sitting there one day and I wasn't attending to the situation and I wasn't really present in mind or spirit and all my answers were "I don't know."
My therapist said, "Don't pull that crap with me. You are the *only* person that knows. Just because it's difficult to talk about doesn't mean you can use it to hide yourself with. Either answer my questions and talk with me or get out."
I was shocked---but that kick in the ass made me realize that I was there for a reason and why in the *hell* should I waste my and her time with my...reluctance. That was the whole stinking problem in the first place---that I was wallowing and not confronting.
Six months of one-on-one and six months of group therapy later, and I was kicked to the curb---the problems that drove me into therapy resolved. I have yet to feel like I need to go to therapy again---though if I had problems, I wouldn't hesitate. It's not that I expect to be able to cope with everything that life throws at you, it's that I haven't wallowed unhealthily in anger and depression and whatnot since then. Once I dealt with all my shit, my physical problems that drove me into therapy in the first place disappeared---insomnia gone, panic attacks gone, social anxiety gone, depression gone.
For me, behavioral therapy was a way to look at my unhealthy behavior without all the attendant guilt, and then work to replace those behaviors with ones that were healthy and beneficial. And by doing that, I was able to fix my problems and move in the direction I had so desperately wanted to for some time.
What Ellis has done for me and for countless others will be his legacy. He *truly* helped people.
And I, for one, am grateful.