01/19/2007 04:38 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Quiet Hero Wronged

As a society, we fail on a variety of levels. Some failures are compounded by being ignored due to apathy and others by purposeful calculations. I'm about to tell you one concerning the latter.

There was a compelling albeit quiet story in The New York Times on December 10th, 2006 about Dr. Albert Ellis. It's quite likely I would have skimmed the article and not thought much about it, except for the fact my friend Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D. had been telling me about this man who wrote the foreword to Cohen's latest book, The New Rational Therapy: Thinking Your Way to Serenity, Success, and Profound Happiness. According to the article, a 1982 survey of clinical psychologists ranked Albert Ellis as the second most influential psychotherapist in history. Carl Rogers, inventor of Person-Centered Therapy, was number one and Freud ranked three. I found that impressive, but when my daughter, who is majoring in psychology, was home on break from college and immediately recognized Dr. Ellis's name when I mentioned it to her, it kicked it up a notch for me. She knew that Dr. Ellis invented Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT.) What she wasn't aware of is that, in part, REBT is the cause of disagreement in the legal issues facing the ill 93-year-old man. This is where purposeful calculations come into play.

Cohen has written about this in an essay he titled, The Hijacking of Happiness and the Betrayal of a Living American Legend. To provide some background, the Albert Ellis Institute was founded in 1959 by Dr. Ellis, who lived in an apartment at the institute in midtown Manhattan where he immersed his heart, soul and teachings, not to mention his life-savings, for years. Confounding as it is, Ellis was thrown out of his own institute and barred from conducting his famous Friday night workshops there. Serious illness has since followed.

According to the Times article, "... about a dozen students from St. John's University went to see and, more precisely, hear Dr. Ellis. They were not at the Albert Ellis Institute, the center on East 65th Street where he once held his popular sessions; they were at Dr. Ellis's nursing home on the Upper East Side."
The Times continued, reporting, "A judge ruled that the board of trustees had improperly removed Dr. Ellis as a trustee of the institute, located in a valuable Upper East Side building. The board had argued that paying for Dr. Ellis's expensive care would hobble the institute's finances and violate its mission as a nonprofit medical facility."

In other words, there was no legal basis for these claims.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the institute has also changed its Mission Statement, which now includes not only REBT but also cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Dr. Ellis did not approve the change in this Mission Statement. Cohen explains the importance of this detail:

"The problem is not merely of historical importance. Ellis's theory has helped millions of people. The issue therefore looms well beyond any single human being. What is at stake is the future of psychotherapy itself. Under the auspices of Albert Ellis, the Albert Ellis Institute has been a beacon of light for millions. While Ellis' theory of REBT is one among several (at least five) other forms of CBT, it has distinct characteristics all its own. The Albert Ellis Institute was chartered with the mission to advance REBT, and not to dilute it with other therapies. The other variants of CBT already have their own adherents and research facilities. For example, Aaron Beck, the founder of Cognitive Therapy (CT), has the Beck Institute for the advancement of CT. On the other hand, the Albert Ellis Institute has, until now, been the preeminent facility dedicated to promoting the theory and practice of REBT."

I couldn't help but think of Dr. Ellis in his advanced years and in ill health put in this unjust position of having to fight to keep his institution as he founded it, an institution that has helped millions of people across the globe to overcome incapacitating and serious behavioral and emotional problems. One could equate it with a parent's child, a brainchild, if you will, being compromised beyond recognition. How does one simply allow that to occur? One doesn't, and Cohen and other members of the Albert Ellis Foundation Board are trying to help Ellis with his fight in order to preserve his legacy.

Admittedly, I have never taken a psychology course so my knowledge is lacking; however, it doesn't take a genius to see when someone has been wronged. It was this sentence in Cohen's essay that stirred me to write about Dr. Ellis's lawsuit:

When quiet heroes are struck down by others in self-serving pursuit of power, money and fame, most of us rarely ever hear a sound.

This blog is only a small voice in support of one man's need to be heard and to help expose the wrongdoing of select members of the Board. Because, be it from apathy or purposeful calculations, if something like this can happen to one of the most prominent psychologists in history, it can happen to any of us.