About Ellyn Bader

Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., and her husband, Dr. Peter Pearson, are founders and directors of The Couples Institute and creators of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy.

Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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Here are my most recent posts

Going Deeper: Moving from Hostile Symbiosis into Differentiation

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been discussing angry fighting couples who are arrested at the first stage of development. If you’ve been following along, you’ve been laying a strong foundation for change; assessing motivation and doing some trust-building. Now it is time to push for individual development. A big stumbling block is partners’ focus on changing each other rather than changing themselves. But self-accountability is crucial to making lasting change. Here are some questions I like to use to shift partners into focusing more on internal change. 1. What kind of relationship do you want to create?… Read more...

What Can Bruce Lee Teach You About Angry Couples?

Your therapy is underway. You thought you had good positive momentum and then one of your fighting couples starts dumping new issues on you every week. It can be an arduous journey to get them from emotional reactivity to predictable and reliable behavior. Here’s how you can regain control and keep making progress. But read carefully, because the solution is counterintuitive. 1.Tell the couple you would like to do an experiment. And, at first, it will seem counterintuitive, but it will be effective if they persist. Tell them they are allowed to make only one change. That’s it. They are allowed to choose to change only one thing.… Read more...

How Do You Build Trust?

Dillon and Megan came to me because their fights had persisted for so long that spending time together was painful. Megan wanted to feel free to be with her friends, go to dance classes, see plays on weeknights, and go on camping trips on the weekend. Avoiding Dillon meant escaping their fights. Dillon felt threatened by how much distance she wanted, so he started alternating between clinging and attacking. Megan would come home from a friend’s house at 10pm instead of 9pm and he’d grill her about why she was late. “I thought you were just watching a show? That’s only an hour. Why were you gone 2 hours?” His questioning made her want to spend more time away, which made him grasp even tighter.… Read more...

4 Diagnostic Questions

Fighting couples unload massive problems on you. He’s controlling. She’s bossy. He lied about our finances. She overspends on clothes and won’t stick to a budget. He’s too strict and yells too much at our kids. She’s too soft. He hates her parents; she hates his siblings. Holidays are a nightmare. And on and on. Working with these problems takes strong leadership. It means identifying the couple’s developmental arrest. One thing I give trainees in my Developmental Model program is a 21-point diagnostic questionnaire. Today I’ll share 4 questions with you that are particularly good for assessing what went wrong for fighting couples.… Read more...

What do diets and fighting couples have in common?

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The Sequence of Change is neither simple nor smooth, especially for fighting couples. In fact, it’s usually messy and rarely linear. For most, the process of change encompasses 5 stages, starting with denial and ending with commitment. A therapist in my Developmental Model program named Neil said, “This is a wonderful video to see what change looks like in the context of a relationship.” Now that you know what it looks like, my hope is that you have an easier time keeping the couple engaged, encouraging them to actively define themselves, and challenging each partner to stick with the journey when they regress.… Read more...

Why Trust Is So Fragile

I remember one couple I saw a few years ago. Trevor and his wife Rebecca ran a small marketing agency together. Over the years, Trevor had lost many contracts because he was late delivering products he promised. He missed countless other deadlines. He borrowed money without Rebecca knowing. He would attack Rebecca for being let down by his irresponsible behavior. He called her expectations unreasonable, and wished she was more nurturing and forgiving. Resentful Rebecca started contacting an old boyfriend of hers and lying about who she was talking to on Facebook. She’d tell Trevor she was in client meetings when she was sneaking around to get coffee with her ex.… Read more...

The Couples Motivation Equation

The Motivation Equation will pinpoint whether you need to stress systemic or individual work for each partner. Claudia, a trainee in my Developmental Model program, said “Most useful is the ability to identify where the the individual is actually stuck, so interventions can be much more targeted.” If you’re ready for more targeted interventions, check out The Motivation Equation video above.   Act Now My Developmental Model training program teaches couples therapists to understand motivation and leverage it for progress. The program is currently closed but you can click Developmental Model to read about it and get on the waiting list here. … Read more...

How Assessing Motivation Helps You

When you’re working with a Hostile Angry couple, you’ll save yourself a head of grey hairs if you assess motivation as early as possible. Your approach with the couple will depend upon whether they are motivated, unmotivated, or a third type, “motivated/unmotivated,” which I’ll explain below. A motivated partner comes to therapy for growth and change. They will set goals and do homework. An unmotivated partner doesn’t want to take an active role. They don’t identify problems.  They don’t set goals. They may not want to be there at all. They often expect to be blamed. They may have already decided to leave the relationship.… Read more...

5  Symbiotic Beliefs that Prevent Relationship Growth

Rachel, a student in my Developmental Model training program, posted a common frustration the other day: I sometimes get exasperated with hostile-angry couples and think, “Why don’t you just grow up?” There is a feeling of being overwhelmed and wanting to give up. Do you have any perspectives on how to keep my head above water? Rachel nailed it with that exasperated feeling. One of the most frustrating aspects of working with hostile angry couples is that even your best interventions never seem to hold. You think you’ve made a breakthrough and when they come back next week it’s gone. Do you blame yourself?… Read more...

7 Traits of the Hostile Angry Couple

Have you ever felt yourself totally stymied by an angry fighting couple? That happens to just about every therapist, because change isn’t simple. Propelling reliable change takes working with a very specific set of principles and a very targeted set of skills. And, you need to be a strong leader, who sets firm boundaries, and addresses  underlying deficits without letting either partner bully you into discussing the fight of the week. That’s a tall order! Who would want to work with the type of couple that challenges you so much and so often? Don’t be afraid to acknowledge that these types of couples stretch you.… Read more...

Psychotherapy is one or more processes to help improve psychological and emotional functioning. Examples are psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive therapy, or group therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy are blends of different approaches. For example, newer forms of psychotherapy called energy psychology draw upon recent advances in brain and neuroscience. These approaches often build on cognitive behavioral methods.

Clinical Psychologist. After graduating from college, it usually takes about five years of graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Psycholgy. It then requires an additional two years of supervision and passing a written (and often) an oral exam. There are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe medications (with additional training) but that is uncommon.

Psychiatrist. After graduation from medical school, there is a generally a 4-year psychiatric residency. After the completion of this training, psychiatrists must pass an exam issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to obtain certification and legally practice in the field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

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