Blog Post – 2nd July 2019
Albert Ellis and the Unhappy Golfer: A critique of the simplistic ABC model of REBT
by Jim Byrne
In his 1962 book, introducing Rational Therapy to the world, Dr Albert Ellis presented his now famous – or infamous (in my view) – ABC model. When Ellis uses this model with an unhappy golfer – who came to him because he was unhappy about the fact that his golfing peers did not like him – he uses it to claim that the golfer “upset himself”, rather than being upset by the fact that his golfing peers clearly did not like him.
Ellis has railed against Sigmund Freud, and claimed his Rational Therapy work to be a great step up from Freud’s theory; but what they both have in common is a kind of ABC model. Ellis’s is explicit. Freud’s is implicit. Freud (in the parts of his work that I have reviewed) argued that his patients were not upset (or neurotic) because of their family of origin, but because of their ‘phantasies’ about members of their family and others. In other words: A = Actual social environment. B = beliefs or phantasies. And C = neurotic (emotional and/or behavioural) consequence.
But what Ellis and Freud overlook is this: The ego (or personality) of the client is created out of years of cumulative, interpretive experience of being treated in specific ways by mother and father, and others.
And Ellis takes none of this into account in trying to understand why his golfing client might be upset (or terribly unhappy) about being rejected (or not liked) by his golfing peers.
We are not ‘belief machines’, as Ellis thought. We are much more complex than that. For example: Our brain creates an internal map (or movie) of every aspect of our felt, physical existence, (and our feelings about those sensations), which is managed from an area of the brain called the insula. According to Giulia Enders (2015), “It may be time to expand René Descartes’ proposition along these lines: ‘I feel, then I think, therefore I am’.” (Page 133).
We were feeling beings from the beginning. Our socialization and education added on aspects of thinking to our feeling nature; but we continue to be feeling beings.
Ellis claimed to be influenced by John Dewey. However, John Dewey, a famous American philosopher/ psychologist/ educationalist, published a book, titled ‘The Need for Social Psychology’, in 1917. And in this book, he describes humans as “social animals”. More specifically, Dewey wrote that, in social psychology, “our problem” is two-fold:
(1) “…to know the modifications (brought about) in the (brain/mind) of (humans) by the fact that the elements of (human) endowment operate in this or that social medium”; and:
(2) “on the other hand, we want to know how control of the environment may be better secured by means of the operation of this or that native capacity”.
In other words, we want to understand the interactions of organism-and-environment – or the B (where B = body-mind) and the A (or environment) – as a bi-directional process.
But Ellis relates to his golfing client as a unidirectional ‘individual’, responsible for his own shape and form; his own feelings and attitudes; as if he had fallen from the sky!
And the ‘therapeutic environment’ that Ellis provides for his client is highly directive, ‘controlling parent’, which is most likely to promote the emergence of either a conforming child ego-state, or a rebellious child ego-state; neither of which is going to work very well on the golf course of tomorrow!
It would have been much more helpful if he’d contrived to produce an environment (in the therapy room), for the unhappy golfer, which evoked a growing adult ego-state; a seeker after self-correction (of any social-relationship errors; and so on).
I have written in detail about the mistakes Albert Ellis made in dealing with his golfing client, in my recent book, Albert Ellis and the Unhappy Golfer.***
Please take a look at this page of information.
Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling
 Dewey, J. (1917) ‘The Need for Social Psychology.’ Psychological Review, 24 (1917): 266-277.
 Dewey (1917) wrote: “Henceforth it is, I submit, pure wilfulness if any one pretending to a scientific treatment starts from any other than a pluralistic basis: the complexity and specific variety of the factors of human nature, each operating in response to its own highly specific stimulus, and each subject to almost infinite shadings and modulations as it enters into combination and competition with others. The conception of social psychology resulting from this mode of approach becomes essentially one with that set forth by Professor W. I. Thomas in his paper on the province of social psychology at the St. Louis Congress of Arts and Science in 1904. On the one hand our problem is to know the modifications wrought in the native constitution of man by the fact that the elements of his endowment operate in this or that social medium; on the other hand, we want to know how control of the environment may be better secured by means of the operation of this or that native capacity. Under these general heads are summed up the infinity of special and difficult problems relating to education on the one hand and to constructive modification of our social institutions on the other. To form a mind out of certain native instincts by selecting an environment which evokes them and directs their course; to re-form social institutions by breaking up habits and giving peculiar intensity and scope to some impulse is the problem of social control in its two phases. To describe how such changes take place is the task of social psychology stated in generalized terms.”