A Guide to Rational Living


Albert Ellis is the grand-daddy of modern psychology, and this book is the classic. While many psychologists and authors focus on one or several “pet techniques,” Ellis and this book show you how to adapt an integrated set of rational (cognitive), emotive, and behavioral tools to your personal situations. And Ellis writes this and many of his other books for us non-psychologists…not just for “professionals.”

The book starts by briefly summarizing the results of Ellis’ ground-breaking work on what we do that causes us to feel and behave differently than we want. The author then teaches his general cognitive system…which includes very specific instructions…on how to change these feelings, behaviors, and thoughts. Ellis terms this system the “A, B, C, D” method of “disputing” irrational thoughts that are “irrational” because they (i) are not true and (ii) produce results that we don’t want. The book then moves beyond this general system and shows you how to easily use cognitive, emotive, and behavioral tools to effectively stop your unwanted patterns. While the methods are extremely user-friendly, they do require work…beyond the reading.

Because this book shows how to effectively tackle a wide variety of patterns…the following is a partial list of chapters:
1. Overcoming the influences of your past
2. Refusing to be desperately unhappy
3. Tackling dire needs for approval
4. Eradicating dire fears of failure
5. How to feel undepressed though frustrated
6. Conquering anxiety
7. Acquiring self-discipline
…and others.

While many other psychologists/authors, such as David Burns in his “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” use cognitive methods, Ellis shows how to use many of them far more effectively than most others. And he also includes emotive and behavioral tools, many of which he created years ago and that his non-for-profit institute has used successfully for decades. While Burns’ book has some excellent additional tools, I strongly suggest that you start with “A Guide for Rational Living” and then move on to Burns’ book if you want.

I’ve gone back to this and a few others of Ellis’ books several times during the last 10 years or so. After working through a new situation, I keep realizing how much this one volume still does for me.

In my opinion, the book’s only weakness is its stlye of writing. It’s older style is less interesting than that in some of Ellis’ newer books. I strongly recommend it not for its literary value, however, but for what it can do for you.

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10 responses

  1. Hi, I would be interested in understanding the overlap between REBT and EItheory. What are your thoughts. I have not read your blog in depth but will. I am an expert in REBT tho and would like to have a conversation regarding EIthoery.
    Ann Jorn, PhD

    • What a great question! I have spent a great deal of time thinking about it.

      The most important function of eitheory is that its framework is dependent on the application of a bio-psycho-social intervention strategy; something I don’t believe REBT emphasizes.
      You are keen to pick up the fact that eitheory borrows from REBT. The essential philosophy of REBT is used to address the “psychological” portion of a bio-psycho-social intervention. REBT (unlike the practice of CBT) expects from its practitioners a level of commitment to holistic emotional and behavioral change that is more likely to have an impact on brain plasticity. REBT requires a persistent focus on cognition and behavior that is more likely than any other cognitive paradigms to strengthen and weaken neuronal pathways. (Of course CBT is issue-specific and is not likely to have that level of impact on the structure of the brain.)

      I don’t remember Ellis emphasizing much more than cognition and behavior (of which behavior only began to be emphasized in the early 90s.) Unfortunately, other than homework and in vivo exercises, behavior is still very much under emphasized in the practice of REBT. From my experience, the main focus of REBT is on thinking and using the ABCs. The behavior portion of the paradigm is still, from my perspective, under-emphasized.

      eitheory places a great deal of emphasis on behavior change by promoting the use of articulated thought. Behavior, in this way, becomes central to the practice of eitheory. Articulated problem identification and articulated disputation are believed to be more beneficial than simply relying on one’s thoughts to stay focused on problem solving, e.g., one’s mind has a tendency to wonder. Emphasizing that the entire eitheory problem-solving process be processed out loud is believed to benefit the client on more than one psychological level. In addition, paper and pencil diagramming often fails due to a lack of initiative. Articulated thought appears to be more beneficial than the alternatives. Articulated thought is emphasized in all client contacts.

      eitheory emphasizes self help over help from others. eitheory promotes the idea that the “therapist” is more a teacher or guide, student or learner and avoids labels such as therapist or patient. Building one’s skills in social problem solving is believed to be more life-enhancing for the individual. Making the student learner free from dependence on the guide or teacher is also believed to be more life-enhancing.

      eitheory uses an educational model, as does REBT. eitheory emphasizes a life-style change, as does REBT (in contrast with CBT which is issue specific and does not require a change in how the individual views h/erself entirely).

      eitheory stresses that there is an essential correlation between emotion, the limbic area of the brain and the major organs of the body. REBT does not emphasize this connection. eitheory notes that emotion is not a “thing” unto itself. The expression of emotion includes a variety of other functions of the body that must be addressed as part of the plan for intervention. REBT does not recognize that “in the moment” cognitions are not likely susceptible to change and that change might be left postponed, while neurochemicals and hormones are left to decrement. Planning and commitment to change outweigh immediate change.

      I think there are a number of very strong relationships between eitheory and REBT. But it is only a portion of the intervention paradigm. Bio-psycho-social intervention is far exceeds any connection the theory has to REBT.

      I really enjoyed answering your question. Please feel free to ask anything you like. I will be happy to contribute to this discussion.

      • Hi, sorry for the late response. You have given me a lot to write about. I will start by saying that Ellis only changed the name of his therapy in the early 90’s to include behavior in the title. REBT has always had a strong behavioral component and also is actually considered the first multi-modal therapy for its emphasis on humans as biological state and sociological influences.

        You note that Eitheory does not see emotion as a thing in itself. REBT agrees 100%. In fact, Ellis revolution against psychoanalisis’ deification of emotion was aprimary goal of his. Ellis (1962, Reason and Emotion) conceptualizes human psychological functioning as an efficient and interactive system of cognitions, emotions, behavior and biology responding to environmental conditions. He proposes that people function in four basic ways: they sense or perceive, emote, act, and think. Each of these operations interacts and interrelates to form a whole system. “Emotion, then, does not exist in its own right, as a special and almost mystical sort of entity: it is rather, an essential part of an entire sensing_moving_thinking_emoting complex (p. 47).”

        I am not quite sure what you mean by the following “REBT does not recognize that “in the moment” cognitions are not likely susceptible to change and that change might be left postponed, while neurochemicals and hormones are left to decrement. Planning and commitment to change outweigh immediate change. ” I will try to respond as best I can. REBT stresses that irrational beliefs are well learned and are resistant to change, and, therefor regular work is important for change to occur. Only with increased awareness and practice of behavioral, emotive and cognitive disputes or challenges is change likely to occur.

        Well it was fun learning more about Eitheory and I agree we have a lot in common. Take Care

      • hello again: i too have been a follower of rebt and ellis since 1992. i was a graduate student and met him in chicago for his certification weekend. i have practiced rebt in my own life since then. i will say that i practiced exclusively using an rebt paradigm until i started work on the phd in health psychology and behavioral medicine. the exhaustive reading process of creating the annotated bibliography (a one year project in my program) started me to wonder more about the role of behavioral in rebt. of course thinking is a behavior but i am more interested in involuntary behavior, e.g., the autonomic nervous system as well as brain anatomy and physiology. oftentimes (as you know) the body has a mind of its own and responds to threat in a manner that may prevent using rational thought as a reasonable option for regaining emotional balance. ellis in my experiences and reading never truly emphasized much more than the abc paradigm. i did work with him three other times and can say that i never saw a hint of a health psychologist in anything he said or did. in fact i dont really know that he ever actually wrote anything scientific at all in relation to mental health. he did, however, write a great deal of unsupported opinion and anecdotal reference. i want you to know that albert ellis is responsible for every step i have taken beyond his teaching. every book on eitheory i have written (including my dissertation) is dedicated to him.

        i believe eitheory is takes more of a biopsychosocial perspective on mental health than does rebt. the “psycho” part of the biopsychosocial model will always be a derivative of rebt. but there is much more to do with cognitive behavioral theory. rebt can be reworked and rearranged in order for it to grow beyond its current boundaries. i remember speaking with ray digiuseppe many years ago a bout disagreeing with ellis – especially on his views on human sexuality. he said, “great! do that. and make sure all gets a copy of your publications.” ellis encouraged people to disagree with him.

        i am printing my third book on eitheory and starting another soon. i have always credited dr ellis in my acknowledgements and references. he was a master and as irrational as it may sound, my super hero. i will be spending a great deal of time with debbie joffe ellis this spring. i hope to have this very discussion when i see her. i am glad you are interested enough to talk about these things. i dont want to be a usurper of cognitive behavioral theory like beck. of course i cant even be counted among the ranks of such clinicians. i do however want to develop my knowledge of rebt beyond where ellis was so gracious to leave it for us. please write back. it is a joy to read your comments. where do you live? it would be great to have a good, long discussion. my eyeballs are falling out. you can send email to michael.cornwall@ky.gov if you would prefer not to post on the blog. cheers!

  2. Thanks so much for checking out ADDandSoMuchMore.com – just tripped over the notice and am on my way to bed (4;30 AM – I GUESS SO!). I’ll have to come back with a few more neurons firing to check our more of what you’re doing over here – but you had me at “bio-psycho-social intervention strategy.” Looking forward to picking your blog’s brain!

    Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, SCAC, MCC – (blogging at ADDandSoMuchMore and ADDerWorld – dot com!)

  3. Pingback: Your Terms of Enragement | eitheory.com

  4. Pingback: A Guide to Rational Living | eitheory.com

  5. Pingback: Dr Debbie Joffe Ellis | eitheory.com

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