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

A Closer Look at Early Differentiation

What is real developmental progress? How do we recognize and support it? Many couples in therapy are starting to move from the symbiotic stage into early differentiation. It’s not the kind of progress that comes with fanfare and celebration. In fact, the couples might not even recognize their progress. So it’s especially helpful for you to know exactly what’s happening in this stage. Let’s examine what is going on during early differentiation and look at how you can support your clients at this stage. Clients in early differentiation start to express their own thoughts, feelings, and desires more actively.… Read more...

Working with Couples Who Are Stuck – How The Developmental Model Helps You

As relationships grow and develop, we often see couples who have gotten stuck in a particular developmental stage. In a previous blog post, I outlined what I see as the normal, predictable stages of couples relationships development. If you missed it, you can check it out here. When you approach couples therapy from a developmental framework, you can assess and diagnose each partner’s developmental stage and use stage-specific interventions to help both move into the next stage. In my experience, I often see couples get stuck in the very first stage of development in one of two ways: 1. Hostile-angry Couples These are couples whose relationship is characterized by tremendous hostility and competition and, in the worst cases, domestic violence.… Read more...

A Developmental Model for Healthy Couples

Throughout my experience as a couples therapist, I’ve observed that couples relationships typically progress through 5 normal and predictable stages. In healthy relationships, a couple’s development closely parallels the stages of early childhood development originally conceptualized by Drs. Margaret Mahler and Fred Pine. In what ways are these developmental processes similar? And how does understanding the Developmental Model increase your effectiveness working with couples? The Beginning: Symbiosis Mahler describes a brief period of time in early childhood development during which a newborn becomes acclimated to being alive.… Read more...

Quotable Moments From Recent Conferences

This spring I presented keynotes and workshops at The Couples Conference in Oakland and at a UCLA conference called Relationships and the Health-Promoting Power of Connection Across the Lifespan. Both events featured faculty that trained, enlightened and entertained participants. I’m still reviewing in my mind some of the great things I heard there. And I thought I’d share a few quotable moments. It’s impossible to paint a complete picture using just snippets, but I think you’ll agree that these are some memorable ideas and turns of phrase. I hope you enjoy them – and remember them when they might be helpful!… Read more...

Searching for Intimacy and Aliveness

Here is the transcript I promised you in my most recent blog post, “Moving Couples Through Defense and Ambivalence Toward Intimacy.”  In that blog post I said that when I hear clients “intellectualizing” a desire for intimacy, it’s an indicator that they’re in the “Adult-ego state,” and probably covering vulnerability and fear. This transcript demonstrates the Gestalt two-chair work that I discussed in that blog post. Two-chair work can be extremely helpful in identifying parts of the self that are blocked. Notice how difficult it is for Sue, the client, to feel her aliveness. Wanting it and experiencing it are two different things.… Read more...

Hello Undifferentiated Self

In the Bader-Pearson Developmental Model of Couples therapy, you may hear about differentiation. But what is it? This blog post includes the poem, “Undifferentiated Self,” which touches on differentiation. In case you are unfamiliar with this concept, here is a note of clarification to help you understand one aspect of the broader term. According to Couples Institute co-founder, Dr. Ellyn Bader, “self-differentiation is the capacity to go internal and notice and express one’s thoughts, feelings, wishes and desires without blame or criticism.” It takes maturity to interact in this way and it is not uncommon to struggle at times in this regard – especially in important relationships.… Read more...

Moving Couples Through Defense and Ambivalence Toward Intimacy

It’s easy for partners to say, “I want more intimacy” while having no idea what they mean and no history of expressing their desires to one another. They may be afraid to pursue what it is they really want. Or perhaps they don’t really know what it is. Clients often mask this ambivalence by talking intellectually about the issues that are getting in the way of closeness. Or they may complain, “There is never enough time for us.” To help deepen their connection, we often have to help each partner face their ambivalence and stand behind what they truly desire. When I sit in a session and hear an intellectual discussion of intimacy, I know the intellectualizing is often covering up something that’s painful or scary.… Read more...

When Circumstances Complicate Developmental Stages

A trainee in my Developmental Model training class asked me the following question: “Can you speak a little bit about the nature of the stages of development? Do you think of them as true stages? For example, can one regress to an earlier stage? That’s a great question. When couples come in, usually the developmental energy of each partner is primarily invested in one stage and that’s why I talk about and focus my assessment and interventions based on the primary stage. However, of course there is going to be some fluidity. For example, it’s very common during the grief following the death of a parent for one partner to long for symbiosis.… Read more...

Integrating Goals and Growth in Couples Therapy

The other day, a therapist in my Developmental Model training program asked me the following: “How do you integrate a couple’s goals for therapy with the specific developmental tasks that a couple needs to accomplish?” I want to be direct and collaborative about this with the couple. Once I get a sense of the stage, I want to involve them by giving information, by giving them feedback, by giving them a sense of where I see them stuck and where I believe they could move. For example, with a couple who are conflict-avoidant, I might talk to them about the cost of lost intimacy that occurs in conflict avoidant relationships.… Read more...

Getting Started: Disrupting the Cycle of Externalization and Blame

Many of the couples who come to see us are stuck organizing their complaints around an external symptom or problem. It’s easier for them and preserves individual self-esteem when partners deflect the focus away from themselves and place blame on the other partner for problems in their relationship. Surely you’ve heard examples such as “He drinks too much. She always puts her work before me. His clutter drives me crazy.” And when externalizing has become entrenched, it can be a challenge for you to shed light on each partner’s role and move them toward increased differentiation. So how do you disrupt this gridlock and help each partner create more of an internal locus of control?… 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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