Ellis kicked off board of institute he founded

By Richard E. Gill Assistant Editor
November 1, 2005 - Last updated: May 31, 2011

A man who was once proclaimed the second most influential psychologist in the past 100 years has been summarily dumped from the board of the psychotherapy institute he founded nearly a half-century ago.

Albert Ellis, Ph.D., who about 10 years ago was named in an American Psychological Association survey as one of the leading psychologists in the past century, ahead of notables such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, said his attorney Michael de Leeuw, who has filed a lawsuit against the Albert Ellis Institute for reinstatement.

The lawsuit was filed, said de Leeuw, because the institute acted improperly in removing Ellis from the board of directors.

“The institute has bylaws that say if you’re going to remove somebody (from the board) you have to give them a week’s notice and hold a special meeting. They didn’t do that.”

A source, speaking on condition of anonymity but close to the situation, said that since the vote to oust Ellis at least two members of the board have claimed they were coerced into voting Ellis off the board and later repudiated their votes.

In a written report submitted to the rest of the board, the two members made it clear they did not agree with the steps taken to remove Ellis and said the director of the institute, Michael Broder, Ph.D., and his lawyer coerced them into voting against Ellis, the source said.

Contacted at his home, Ellis said, “I think it’s unfair, but they have the right as fallible, screwed-up humans to be unfair.. That’s the human condition.”

If reinstated, “I hope to get things back to where they were months ago, when we were not ruled by a few authoritarian people who are out for their own interests and not at all interested in the ideas and goals of the institute I helped established years ago.

“They’re interested in making money themselves,” Ellis said candidly, “and running things in their own manner. I want that replaced the way it used to be.”

Ellis asserted that certain board members were intimidated and warned they would be persecuted if they maintained a friendship with him or sided with him on any issues. He specifically pointed to Broder for most of the problems. A call to Broder was not returned.

Added Ellis, “I’ll let the board really be free to control things themselves and not be intimidated. I’ll let them think for themselves and they’re not doing that now,” said Ellis who still has a sharp mind and keen intellect.

“I’d like the board to take control of the institute and throw out Michael Broder and perhaps other members who are out for themselves and not at all for the institute and who don’t follow the principles and practices of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) as I set it up many many years ago.”

Ellis founded the institute in 1959 and purchased a brownstone on East 65th Street on the Upper East Side for about $400,000 to promote his platform of a revolutionary new psychotherapy. The building has been the home of the institute since. The source said the building is now valued in excess of $15 million.

In developing REBT, Ellis insisted psychologists spend less time drawing from childhood experiences and instead address issues occurring in people’s lives now. As a result of his new theory, Ellis is considered one the pioneers of cognitive behavior therapy.

The problem started, de Leeuw explained, in 2003 when Ellis was hospitalized and required emergency nursing care. The institute helped pay for Ellis’s nursing care. The source said Ellis received assurances from certain board members, including Broder, that, “We’re going to take care of this, don’t worry.” More than a year later, after a rift had formed between Ellis and Broder and other board members, Broder claimed that Ellis’ nursing costs were an improper “excess benefit” under the tax laws.

A short time later, Ellis and the institute entered into negotiations to resolve the dispute, along with numerous other disagreements between Ellis and the institute. Those negotiations ended abruptly when, at a regularly scheduled board meeting, six members left the boardroom and returned 90 minutes later and informed Ellis that he had been voted off the board.

The institute had even issued a veiled threat of a lawsuit to recover the funds, de Leeuw said, “which was a preposterous thing to do.

“You know,” offered de Leeuw, “there are ways of dealing with things and this is not the way you deal with a 92-year-old luminary in the field. You just don’t do this. The fact that they’re treating him this way shows immense disrespect … it’s absolutely terrible.”

Said de Leeuw, “It has always been Ellis’ position that if there were improper payments made on his behalf when he was sick, he’d repay them. Period. If he was not entitled to something he would not take it.”

But the problem goes far beyond that, the attorney offered. “We’ve been in negotiations for more than eight months on a whole range of issues to try to resolve the disputes between Dr. Ellis and the institute.”

Negotiations included the copyrights of the 75 or more books Ellis has published over the years, the royalties of which were donated to the institute, along with access to his books, papers and records that chronicle the development of REBT and are an invaluable resource, de Leeuw said.

According to de Leeuw, Ellis has always wanted these important materials to go to the institute on his death, but de Leeuw questions what will happen to them now in light of the way the institute has treated Ellis.

Other issues involved his living conditions. Ellis’ living quarters are above the institute. De Leeuw called them deplorable. There is water damage, leaking roof, and peeling paint. “He’s been living in this room that’s ill-equipped for quite some time.”

Additionally, there were life-style issues including the way his wife was treated, which de Leeuw described as shabby, and more simple things such as not getting his mail or phone messages and not providing legal pads and pens to Ellis who remains a prolific writer.

“The institute is wasting its most precious resource,” said de Leeuw. “This is a guy who is truly selfless. He’s given everything of himself to the institute. So the fact that this is going on is particularly galling.”

When told at least one psychologist suggested Ellis had outlived his usefulness, de Leeuw bristled.

“By far, the biggest turnout the institute gets to any event it runs are the Friday night workshops that Ellis operates. So to claim that he has outlived his usefulness is an absolute falsehood.”

The workshops normally have 100 or more attend the sessions, but when the institute arbitrarily canceled the workshops hundreds showed up to voice their displeasure.

In the overall scheme of things, Ellis no longer holds the influence he once did, but he is still an immensely respected man, the source maintained.

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