Book review – I am Albert Ellis by Meenal Kelkar

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Dr. Albert Ellis needs no introduction. He is one of the greatest psychologists, the pioneer of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) which is said to be the forerunner of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I have not studied psychology in any capacity but it has always fascinated me. So when the opportunity to review Dr. Anjali Joshi’s I am Albert Ellis (translated into English by Meenal Kelkar) came my way nobody was happier than me. It was a revelation. For people who are debating whether or not to go for therapy, read Albert Ellis and you will find the answer.

In the beginning we are introduced to Albert as a child and his family. With an absentee father and neglectful mother, he looks after his younger brother and sister and becomes self-reliant very early in life.

We all live together in one house but separately.

Isn’t that the reality for most of us? Ensconced firmly in our (technological) bubbles we come to the surface only when we are in dire need of real time and face-to-face social contact.

We see how in college Albert becomes self confident, forms opinions and sticks to them, even getting expelled as a result of standing for what he believed in.

The book talks about him studying in the public libraries of New York and forming his views on sexology by reading numerous books and papers. We see the trials and tribulations of getting his work published and being rejected by publishers. Because he uses words which most people shy away from it makes his publishers uncomfortable.

He starts seeing clients and his success as a marriage counsellor leads to the formation of Love and Marriage Problems Institute (LAMP). To make it official, he decides to register his organization and get a degree in psychology. He decides to train in psychoanalysis and the course of history is forever altered. Psychoanalysis as it was then didn’t appeal to his scientific mind. The philosophy of Epictetus resonated with him and thus was born Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a new approach to psychotherapy. The theory of REBT states that our behavior and emotions originate from our beliefs towards the events, not the events themselves.

Albert is adept at self-counselling and comes out of whatever life throws at him with the right attitude. That doesn’t mean it is easy. He was devastated when his first marriage to Karyl failed. He has to look at his mental process objectively and decide to act a certain way. And it has to be practised for the new way of thinking to take root.

His second marriage to Rhonda also ended in a divorce. Since alimony took a large chunk of his money he decided not to marry again. This was at a time the concept of live-in relationship was yet to be accepted by the larger public. Later we are introduced to Gertrude. They were in a relationship for 5 years but parted ways amicably. In his later life Albert was in a relationship with Jane which didn’t end well. Albert was frank and unapologetic about his life and chose to live life on his own terms.

Since many universities called him for training, he established Institute for Advanced Study in Rational Psychotherapy. He also opened The Living School with the aim to better the mental health of children. He incurred a debt of a million dollars since profit wasn’t his primary motive. The school had to be closed down but the experiment was a success which delighted Albert.

To people who don’t know him he will appear to be a rebel without a cause but he arrives at a conclusion only after critical evaluation. This makes it easy for the reader to accept his findings which were frequently at odds with prevailing societal norms. He makes it amply clear that his job is not to be agreeable but to question tried and tested norms.

The writing is free from jargon and ideas are presented lucidly. At over 430 pages, I am Albert Ellis would have benefitted greatly from a contents page because the chapters are quite long. The English is stilted in some places and the copy editor hasn’t gone over the book with a fine toothed comb. Since I haven’t read the original I cannot comment on the translation.

Reading about the life of Dr. Albert Ellis gave me insight into the man who changed the face of psychology. I am Albert Ellis is a book you should read if you are interested in psychology, and would like to know a little more about the things you do, see patterns and change a behaviour which you thought was set in stone. I immensely enjoyed reading it and my brain being pulled into different directions.

Note – Thanks to the publishers for the review copy.

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