About Ellyn Bader

Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator 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

What Can Couples Therapists Learn from a Martial Arts Master?

  The Japanese sensei who developed Aikido described it as the art of tapping the energies found in any life situation as a means of finding innovative solutions. When I came across a YouTube video of Aikido master Richard Moon, I felt captivated by the smooth, almost effortless movements he used to redirect an opponent without doing harm. As he explains, Aikido isn’t a series of techniques for winning a fight. Instead, it’s peace in action. “In our metaphor,” he says, “the attack represents the energy of change.” Inspired by his words, I felt driven to learn more about the philosophy at the heart of this powerful yet calm practice.… Read more...

Tough Couple Challenge #2: Sparking the Desire for Change

Here you are, preparing to meet with a couple who came to you seeking wisdom and guidance that will lead them to a closer, more supportive relationship.  Like other unhappy couples you’ve seen, this couple has implored you to show them the way. But as you begin defining the issues that are keeping them apart, they’re suddenly fabricating every possible roadblock. Why is this happening? And how should you respond?  In the last blog post, we discussed how you can resist the natural temptation to take on more responsibility when couples avoid the honest dialogue that opens the door for change. Whether motivated by fear and self-doubt, the influence of past trauma, or a simple desire to prove the other partner wrong, these roadblocks can derail your most carefully planned strategies for change.… Read more...

Tough Couple Challenge #1: Do You Take On Too Much Responsibility?

A few weeks ago, my husband and Couples Institute co-founder Peter Pearson and I were talking with fellow therapists about a pattern we’ve all fallen into at one time or another. We’re working with two partners who seem hopelessly stalled. One or both have such deep defenses that we feel ourselves walking in circles, session after session. Conversations may be laced with denial, blame, and resentment, yet neither partner will look deeper at the possible causes. Or things might bounce along brightly, suggesting the denial that often feels like sunshine over troubled waters. Over time, we begin to feel frustration, feeling the urge to do something, anything to break the deadlock.… Read more...

Why the Developmental Model is A Perfect Fit for Working With Sex Issues and Polyamorous Clients

By Martha Kauppi, LMFT and ​​AASECT-certified sex therapist Picture this: I’m a therapist newly in private practice, with a schedule filled with tough relational therapy cases, and not nearly enough tools to work with them effectively. On the plus side, I did have a lot of life experience, considerable professional expertise in sex and sexuality and diverse family systems like polyamory, and a busy practice. But it seemed to me that I was getting an unusually high share of high-conflict couples, and I had next to no idea how to handle them.  I recall one couple I worked with in particular. They were in a polyamorous relationship, and each had one other partner.… Read more...

Helping Fighting Couples

Video: Helping couples see the best in each other It’s like watching a storm roll in. One moment, everything seems fine. Then the couple you’re working with hits a stressful point. Tensions rise. Voices, too. Or maybe a hostile silence falls over the room. Whatever the pattern, the result is the same. As the conversation turns bitter, progress stalls — and you find yourself searching for a solution. When partners lose sight of one another If this couple’s anger seems like a blind force, this might be exactly the point. Trauma from earlier relationships often makes it impossible for them to see each other clearly in the moment.… Read more...

Holding Developmental Tension

Leading the way when couples are lost in their own issues How often do you encounter couples who are so deeply entangled with each other that they can’t tell where one ends and the other begins? It’s a familiar struggle. They may come into your office bickering about what seem like petty conflicts, yet without a clue as to who own is responsible for what. Or they may spend the first several sessions gliding over the surface of major differences they’re afraid to dive into. In many cases, lack of differentiation is the underlying issue. Yet, the right technique for moving these couples forward without getting sidetracked isn’t always clear.… Read more...

Trauma, Part 3: Bringing it Together

  Over the past two months, we’ve examined some key principles behind trauma-informed care for couples. Now it’s time to take a closer look at what these concepts look like in practice. We will explore a case brought to my training group by a seasoned therapist who has been trained in emotionally focused couples therapy and the Gottman method, as well as the Developmental Model. The couple she is treating offers us a chance to see the dynamics of trauma-informed care in action. What we know from the beginning The couple in this case present a complex set of issues. The female partner has a long history of difficulties with attachment.… Read more...

Interesting Ideas from Recent Conferences

In years past, I have shared valuable ideas I’ve heard while attending major conferences, either as a speaker or guest. With so many virtual meetings taking place over the past several months, I’ve had the chance to gather many useful thoughts from a wide range of presenters. I hope these short summaries capture your interest and even stimulate your thinking as they did for me. From attorney and social justice advocate Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy Stevenson’s talk to therapists was designed to stimulate action. He stressed how in the United States, we continue to accept the unacceptable. We must push back against the narratives of fear and anger that surround race relations in the U.S.… Read more...

Couples and Trauma, Part 2: Red flags that may reveal a troubled past

As explained in last month’s article, hidden trauma can be a serious obstacle in your efforts to help partners build stronger, more trusting relationships. We touched on the concept of trauma configurational reflex, which suggests that humans will interpret what’s happening in the present through the lens of the past. Yet when trauma is triggered in therapy, even the most skilled therapist may have difficulty reading the situation at first.  What makes this difficult? In many cases, partners have suffered in ways that aren’t immediately clear. As counseling begins, you may have learned something about their childhood, culture or significant relationships.… Read more...

Couples and Trauma, Part 1: Understanding the Challenges

It’s been said that the past is never really dead. All our prior experiences have the power to shape our thoughts and perceptions – which in turn influences our closest relationships.  The couples you meet with every day are dealing with issues that took root long before they came to you. Yet even after you’ve uncovered signs of past trauma in one or both partners, it’s not always clear how to help them move forward. In some of the next posts, we’ll take a closer look at trauma and couples therapy, offering insights and techniques that will help you plan a highly effective course of treatment. How the past distorts the present  Trauma configurational reflex is a concept that explains how, as humans, we tend to configure what we see in front of us through the lens of our past experiences.… Read more...

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