Albert Ellis and William Glasser

Albert Ellis and William Glasser have been in the mainstream of psychological society for over four decades. Both have contributed greatly to modern psychotherapy. The Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) of Albert Ellis and the Reality therapy of William Glasser have endured the trendy world of psychology and in fact as they are based in ancient philosophy (Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius), they also remain the foundation for brief therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and ecclectisism. Their strength is in the flexibility and simplicity inherent in each. They go directly to the problem and focus energy there without lengthy psychotherapy. Both prolific writers and dedicated therapists have expanded their views and adapted with the times. They are true humanists in that through non-profit organizations they have been able to alleviate much human suffering by providing sources for personal and professional growth.

In 1955, Albert Ellis used the fundamental concept of truth and logic to help people overcome the obstacles in their lives. By using mans’ high power of rationality Ellis has allowed us to use our cognitive abilities to overcome environmental or social situations. By 1975 Ellis combined Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) with Rational Behavior Training (RBT) and with the collaboration of many other noted therapists, created Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Ellis tells us in a new Guide to Rational Living (1975):

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I (A.E.) originated the system around the early part of 1955 and gave a first paper on it at the 1956 meeting of the American Psychological Association in Chicago Since that time, RET has gone through many minor and some major changes, originated by myself and some of my main collaborators-especially Dr. Robert A. Harper, Dr. H.Jon Geis, Edward Garcia, Dr. William Knause, Dr. John M. Gullo, Dr. Paul Hauck, Dr. Donald R. Meichenbaum, Dr. Janet L. Wolf, Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus, Dr. Aaron T. Beck, and (most notably) Dr. Maxie C. Maultsbie Jr. It has taken on other names than Ret-such as Rational Therapy (RT), semantic therapy, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and (quite popularly) rational behavior training (RBT)…(pg.202)

Based on the strongest tenets of cognitive and behavioral therapy, REBT helps individuals to challenge the cause and effect relationships they believe exist between external events and their own emotional states. Ellis writes:

RET employs an A-B-C method of viewing human personality and disturbance. When trying to help a person, the therapist usually begins with C-the upsetting emotional Consequence that he [sic] has recently experienced. Typically he has been rejected by someone (this rejection can be called A, the Activating Experience) and then feels anxious, worthless or depressed at C. He wrongly believes that A, his being rejected has caused C, his feelings …; and he may even overtly voice this belief by saying something like, “She rejected me and that made me depressed.” The individual can be shown that A does not and cannot really cause C- that an Activating Event in the outside world cannot possibly create any feeling or emotional consequence in his head and gut. For if this were true virtually everyone who gets rejected would have to feel just as depressed as he does; and this is obviously not the case. C, then is really caused by some intervening variable, or by B; and B is the individuals belief system.

So there is the simplicity of Ellis and RET; the knowledge that the individual chooses to believe and behave in a way that causes the distress. The confrontational and often playful style of Ellis’s REBT helps people to recognize and change parts of their thinking that are insensible, inaccurate and not useful. The counselor then confronts the client with this truth and helps them move towards greater self – control. “Disputing” is the type of confronting the therapist uses to help people rethink those dysfunctional beliefs into more healthy and reasonable ones. In the example above, the dispute was whether the A caused C. It is important for the client to be confronted with that disputation of his perception. It is not uncommon for Ellis to call irrational beliefs “nuttiness” or “nonsense” or “silly” or “idiotic”. Other disputations have to do with more complex or long standing personal beliefs that encumber the client.

Statements like ” I am no good at reading, I will never get ahead!” or ” I am worthless no one will ever love me!” have no helpful, healthy basis for an individual’s thinking and may therefore be disputed or put to the test of logic. Logic implies that if something is true then it can be supported by fact. If it cannot be supported by fact, then it is an irrational belief. Ellis is quick to interject with “who said so?” or, “where is your proof of that?” or “where is it written?” The poor reader needs to learn that reading ability like the desire to grow for the better, are things that can be changed. The lonely, insecure person need only understand that love can be reached like any other goal with a little work and perseverance. But Ellis can be very emphatic in pointing out the illogic of someone’s thinking. It is up to the therapist to teach clients new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving so that they can get better at reading to get ahead or to find a new loveable self-concept. But Ellis does not sugar coat the lessons, he is abrupt, direct, and confrontational.

Ellis is like a father or coach or teacher when counseling. His REBT is both practical and goal oriented as it focuses on new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving towards personal fulfillment. Goals like reading better to get ahead or creating a new self – image involve attacking those inner obstacles of irrational beliefs. He encourages strength and bravery in the battle for self-fulfillment. Emphasis is placed on individual responsibility to enhance personal growth and deal with problems through hard work. Clients strive to think, feel and behave in a more functional manner through practice and homework. Owning those irrational beliefs causing emotional distress and accepting that they are the real place to focus energy, is key to REBT. Ellis will not let anyone slide. He may support and collaborate with the client to identify those existing problems to learn new behaviors.

In the process of helping clients deal with the unsavory aspects of affect, Ellis ingeniously uses emotional and behavioral techniques designed to reduce the upset and maximize personal effectiveness. These include guided imagery, assertiveness training, behavioral homework, communication skill training and others. All of these focus on the present. Regardless of past realities or self-concepts, the client is allowed to try new ways of looking at the world.

Guided imagery helps the client to perceive and believe that success is attainable by picturing or imagining a new scenario where the client is reading with more ability, or being loved or winning in some other way. It is a form of hypnosis usually done in a calm atmosphere employed with progressive relaxation techniques. The client reframes the self-concept of the past with images based on hope and logic. Logic requires that for a person to change, one must imagine that it is possible and achievable with a little work. This technique is preparatory in nature for goals like conquering fears, but is very important in creating a relaxing state at any time. Guided imagery is a skill that the client can use as a post-therapy tool to be used for life if needed.

Assertiveness training allows the client to act on the idea that personal worth and rights can be defended with quiet dignity or insistence. The idea is to train clients how to not be bullied, manipulated, or otherwise abused. More importantly it trains the individual how to express one’s own needs and desires without resorting to bullying, manipulating or other abuse. Clients often go through guided imagery sessions prior to practicing assertiveness in the real world.

Part of the therapy requires that a certain amount of practical behaviors be practiced away from therapy. Stimulus control is a way to keep a client from indulging in unwanted behaviors by having the presence of mind to avoid chances to do them. Ellis writes in How to Make Yourself Happy (1999):

“Is stimulus control an inelegant solution to your indulgence problems? Yes, to some extent it is because if you allowed yourself to be in tempting situations and still resisted them, you would be working harder to overcome your low frustration tolerance (LFT) and would be changing your irrational beliefs that create and sustain this LFT. There is no reason you can’t do both: dispute your irrational beliefs and also employ a measure of stimulus control.”(Pp 161-162)

The client may be required to do homework like logging the amount of times one was assertive or used profanity or practiced phonics and reading or repeated self affirmations. Interestingly sometimes the task is paradoxical in nature. Do not think of your fear of sidewalk cracks is turned around to think of your fear of sidewalk cracks. Ellis as coach, parent, and teacher insists on clients taking their work seriously. The homework is checked in therapy and the client is sometimes shamed for not trying or not trying hard enough. REBT has a refreshing if not startling amount of confrontation in the conduct of sessions. This doesn’t suggest an overall brusque manner on his part.

Recently, Ellis has written How to cope with a Fatal Illness and Optimal Aging, and it is clear that his style is flexible in that he still confronts but is very aware of the sensitivity surrounding special issues like those of aging and dying. What is consistent across all his work is that he does not wish anyone to be miserable if it is possible to avoid it. To whit: he is very caring as a therapist as person and has dedicated his life to make people feel better in dealing with life’s travails.

The cognitive behavioral techniques of Albert Ellis’ REBT are mirrored by William Glasser in Reality therapy. William Glasser is a medical doctor, a psychiatrist. He and Dr. G.L. Harrington developed Reality therapy in defiance of traditional psychotherapy, which they saw as severely lacking, being built on the wrong premises. People are not psychotic or demented or schizophrenic, but rather frustrated in fulfilling their basic needs. Glasser can reduce client distress down to a matter of three basic concerns: Reality, Responsibility and Right and wrong (rectitude). Reality is the unchanging world that the client must live in with all its’ rules, limitations and demands while trying to fulfill basic psychological needs like love and self respect. Responsibility is inherent within the individual to act in accordance with the confines of its’ rules, limitation, and demands.

Glasser (1965) writes: “Responsibility…the ability to fulfill one’s needs, and to do so in a way that does not deprive others from the ability to fulfill their needs.”(Page 13) Right and wrong have more to do with the choices of behavior that people make and their inherent consequences. Personal responsibility for acting justly in life is the basis for Reality therapy. Reality therapy like REBT is based in the here and now. Accepting that the past may contribute to a clients’ current condition, Glasser writes in Reality Therapy (1965) that past irresponsibility has little to do with what can be changed right now, calling past problems “psychiatric garbage.”(Page 37) The “what” of behavior is important then, not the “why” a client did something.

The question is then, if the behavior is one way, can it be better? This is a very simple and straightforward look at therapy. What behavior is responsible for causing the difficulty and how do we modify it? He highlights in the Identity Society (1975) principles of Reality therapy: involvement of the therapist or helper, awareness of the current behavior, evaluating behavior to see if it is good for the client or people who care about the client, Planning responsible behavior, commitment to the plan (usually with a signed contract), non acceptance of excuses for irresponsible behavior, non punishment of failures (only praise and reasonably agreed upon consequences). (pp.77-102)

The techniques employed by Glasser are as simple as the concept itself. Glasser is very paternal in his demeanor and very patient but stern in his approach to those resistant to change. Perhaps his work in correctional institutions and school systems has tempered his style. He sets firm guidance for change (acting responsibly) and challenges the client to meet the grade. His insistence on discipline reflects his notion that when people refuse to meet the rules of the world they cannot be fulfilled. Glasser knows his clients can succeed, so he sets some high standards for changing.

He is moralistic in his approach also as he posits that pleasure for pleasure sake is not redeeming. (page 38) Glasser wants mankind to act reasonably and with a purpose. His idea of right and wrong does not sit well with some psychologists who allow clients to act according to whim. Glasser does not agree that people who act bizarrely or irresponsibly are sick and therefore not responsible for their actions; rather, he believes that they are acting in a manner of trying to get what they want, and need to be reminded when their behavior is inappropriate. He expects the therapist to model behavior and engender trust by that behavior.

He suggests in Reality Therapy (1965): “The therapist must be a very responsible person-tough, interested, human, and sensitive… Neither aloof, superior, nor sacrosanct… always strong never expedient. He [sic] must withstand the patients’ requests for sympathy, for an excess of sedatives, for justification of his actions no matter how the patient pleads or threatens”(page22). If this sounds severe, it is actually based on a kind of tough love. Glasser is humanistic and very accepting of even the worst of clients but he refuses to be manipulated, wallow in the self-justification of why someone does something. He requires that the client accept the reality that their irresponsible behaviors may be harmful to themselves and others.

Like the alcoholic who must admit to the reality of that lifestyle before beginning the road to recovery, Glasser leads clients to face reality. He is sensitive enough not to push too hard, in fact relies on the client to make moves toward self- improvement as he patiently offers his therapeutic services. Unlike Ellis who will goad, cajole and otherwise actively direct the client toward change, Glasser leaves the client with full responsibility to make the initial first move. Glasser is not less warm than Ellis but perhaps more stoic and inflexible in his demeanor due to his convictions. It is simply a matter of technique when helping the client change. Glasser shows his human side in Choice Theory (1998):

Huge numbers of people are not willing to settle for lives with no happiness. They are not willing to turn their lives over to the search for pleasure without happiness. Many of these unhappy people want very much to find others to love, but because of the reality of their life situations – they are poor, old, uneducated, unattractive, workless, homeless, sick or criminal, the list is long, – they are unable to. There may be an answer to the poignant question posed by the Beatles: All the lonely people, where do they all come from? They come from a world in which they are separated from their husbands, wives, children, teachers, and employers by this destructive psychology (external locus of control). (Page 195)

Glasser as therapist person is very sensitive and caring, he understands behavioral training in the discipline arena and juxtaposes it with societies’ notion of punishment reward (stimulus/response). He will encourage an attempt at changing, even if it results in failure, thus exhibiting confidence in the clients ability to eventually win and not turning the situation in to one of conditional regard (I will help you only if you succeed all the time.) This is in the tradition of the very best coaches and mentors as well as therapists. Glasser will give time out only for the length of time it would take for an offender to figure out a way to negotiate a way to work within the rules. In this ingenious way, he always leaves the power, control and responsibility in the clients’ hands, where he argues it should be. In The Reality Therapy Reader (1976) Barbara Hobbie writes:

Reality therapy stresses warm human involvement; shuns pedagogic psychiatric categories such as dementia praecox, paranoid schizophrenia, and manic depression; avoids examination and analysis of early trauma or past history; holds patients responsible for their own recovery; and, in fact, rejects the idea that there is such a thing as mental illness. What Reality therapy seeks to do, in short, is to force people to face their own reality and reshape their behavior in order to fulfill their needs. When people do not fulfill their needs they regard themselves as failures. (Page 253)

The therapy itself is in the hands of laymen as well as those who come to therapy. Ellis and Glasser offer uncomplicated ways to help individuals change. Generally anyone can read either therapist’s works and with enough desire can head toward change. They are both matter of fact, no nonsense therapies based in the here and now. Both require the client to evaluate, confront their behaviors, and seek goals of attaining alternative behaviors. REBT and Reality Therapy have stood the test of time and some of their techniques remain the cornerstone of many cognitive and behavioral as well as many eclectic therapies. They are simple in concept and easy to put into practical use. They are both user-friendly therapies available to laymen, in books, tapes, and videos and now on the Internet. Both have undergone revisions, adapting to the increased value on multicultural sensitivity.

The original works of both Ellis and Glasser are written in the masculine second person with many sexist, racist (albeit innocent terminology based on the norms of that era) and ageist language. What existed in the early works of both and remain to date is an unparalleled commitment to excellence in the field of psychotherapy. Ellis and Glasser were both reformers and breakaways from the traditional psychotherapy of their day. Both are closer to the nature of human misery in that they have defined what frustrates so many human beings, and that is humans need to be fulfilled with love and feelings of worth that come from success in life. They think and behave in order to become fulfilled and when they are unfulfilled, their thoughts and behaviors are the problem.

While Ellis and Glasser recognized it they understood that many people are not capable of being scientific. To whit: most people routinely think illogically, irrationally and often with emotion based on impulse. What both gentlemen have offered is a rational way to see the world and a simple plan to clarify that view for better navigation within it. They pick up where other therapies fall short by allowing the client to experience the flush of pride and strength that comes from taking responsibility for their behaviors and consequences that come with them as they grow towards personal choice and freedom. Other therapies do a disservice by suggesting that the client is not to blame for responding to the forces of the world and the demands of society. Those psychologists take the responsibility away from clients and deny them the refreshing touch of reality. Both therapies give the client a place in the world and strength to move through it confidently without drugs or denying their place in it. Both are highly productive in a group setting. They do what drugs cannot, that is: change behaviors that weaken nervous and immune systems in the first place. They do have their fundamental differences even though at face value they are inconsequential when comparing the two therapists.

Albert Ellis is fun spirited and takes life not so seriously. It is part of his personal philosophy that there are no “shoulds”, or musts or other absolutes with which to govern ones life by. In fact he revised his writing style to avoid hypocrisy when other colleagues and students noted that his first writings were full of shoulds, musts and other absolutes. He seems to enjoy life because he is not bound by any absolutist credo. He is free to work as hard or as lightly as he pleases. Without such pressure he is absolutely prolific, working sometimes 7 days a week, flying all around the globe giving seminars and maintaining his post as chairman of the Albert Ellis Institute of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.

William Glasser on the other hand is kind but more sedate in his professional comportment. He is warm sensitive and caring but maintains a very dignified composure when working with clients. It is against his nature to ridicule a client, as he is certain that the risk of harming a client through such behavior does not justify the gamble. His view on confrontation is basically to read a client and see what the client is ready for. He likens pushing too much to denying young lovers to see each other only to force them to elope. William Glasser would rather coax a client towards growth with his appeal as a steadfast, competent, caring helper rather than behave in a way to scare or insult the client. He would never “shame” a client, as would Ellis because it is a form of punishment. Glasser does not believe in punishment. Punishment to him is an external control that can seldom be effective because people understand that they have choices and never internalize (when the locus of control is external) the lesson intended by punishment. He was notably successful for not using punishment when he worked at the V.A. hospital, the Ventura school and other institutions in California through the years. Glasser as well is very prolific in his works and is chairman of the William Glasser Institute.


  • Bassin, A., Bratter, T. E., & Rachin R. L. (1976) The reality therapy reader New York, NY, Harper and Row
  • Ellis, A. (1999) How to make yourself happy: Atascadero, CA Impact Publishers
  • Ellis, A. (1973) Humanistic psychotherapy the rational emotive approach New York, NY Julian Press,
  • Ellis, A. & Abrams M. (1994) How to cope with a fatal illness New York, NY Barricade Books
  • Ellis, A. & Harper R. (1975) A new guide to rational living, No. Hollywood, CA Wilshire Book Company
  • Ellis, A. & Velten E. (1998) Optimal aging Peru, IL Carus Publishers,
  • Glasser, W. (1998) Choice theory, New York, NY Harper Collins
  • Glasser, W. (1984) Control therapy New York, NY Harper and Row
  • Glasser, W. (1971) The identity society, New York, NY Harper and Row
  • Glasser, W. (1965) Reality therapy New York, NY Harper and Row

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Albert Ellis and William Glasser. (2018, Jun 07). Retrieved from