Post-September 11th Perspectives on Religion, Spirituality, and Philosophy in the Personal and Professional Lives of Selected REBT Cognoscenti: A Response to My Colleagues

By Ellis, Albert | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Post-September 11th Perspectives on Religion, Spirituality, and Philosophy in the Personal and Professional Lives of Selected REBT Cognoscenti: A Response to My Colleagues


Ellis, Albert, Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


Stephen Weinrach's (Steve's) excellent idea of getting a group of selected rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) cognoscenti together to discuss their perspectives on religion, spirituality, and philosophy in their personal and professional lives has produced some fascinating results. More than practically all other systems of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), REBT particularly stresses philosophy. Why?--because I borrowed much of its theory and practice from ancient and modern philosophers rather than from professional therapists. Its main theories are therefore philosophic and include profound religious and spiritual elements.

It is very interesting to see how some of REBT's leading practitioners think, feel, and act about its goals and values. As this symposium shows, they sincerely reflect on REBT theories and practices and react to them with unusual self-disclosure and honesty (Weinrach et al., 2004). In Steve's discussion at the end of the article, he has nicely summarized some of the salient points made by the authors, including himself; so I shall not try to repeat his summary. It effectively shows their personal attitudes and professional leanings.

Let me give my own views on what happened on September 11, 2001, and how the authors personally and professionally reacted to them. First of all, they all correctly cited my two main approaches to unconditional other-acceptance when people have committed violent acts, such as terrorism, that most of us judge as being extremely immoral. I pointed out on the REBT Web site in September 2001 (Ellis, 2001a), right after the terroristic attacks on the World Trade Center and other targets, what I have been saying for many years: I (like most other people in this world) consider terroristic attacks quite "wrong," "immoral," and "inhumane" deeds. But, I also stated, I am strongly opposed to damning the terrorists as evil people. I think that this kind of damnation will not induce them (or their allies) to change their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Instead, I said, it will most probably result in increased hatred and terrorism by them (and possibly other people; Ellis, 2001 a, 2003).

At the same time, I reiterated the REBT philosophy that holds that the basic solution--if indeed there is one--to reduce the commission of unusually immoral and "terrible" attacks of violence is to condemn their sins but not to damn the perpetrators as sinners. If we are to achieve this REBT philosophy of unconditional other-acceptance, we will have great difficulty in doing so--because people all over the world most frequently resort to conditional self-acceptance and other-acceptance. They consequently, forcefully, and emotionally insist, "I am a good person when I do good acts and I am a bad person when I do bad acts." Also, "Other people are good people when they act properly and they are bad people when they act unjustly or immorally." Alfred Korzybski (1992) brilliantly noted this kind of overgeneralizing and postulated that the is of identity ("I am what I do") is foolishly held by most of the people most of the time and that they thereby render themselves "unsane." Bertrand Russell (1965), Wilfred Quine, and several other philosophers also noted this kind of illogical thinking.

To induce people to reduce this highly inaccurate kind of overgeneralizing is very difficult; however, REBT, following Korzybski, tries to have its clients--and others as well--believe, "I am a person who often acts badly (according to the mores and rules of my community) but I am never, and can't ever be, a bad person--because a bad person would always and only perform bad acts. So let me fully acknowledge my responsibility for my thoughts, feelings, and acts but never condemn my self or personhood for them. Thus, I will have more choice in changing my misguided and immoral behaviors" (Ellis, 1962, 1972, 1973, 2001b, 2001c, 2003; Heidegger, 1962; Rogers, 1961; Sartre, 1968; Tillich, 1953). …

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