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

Sharing Inspiration from my Volunteer Work

  There’s a scene in The Little Mermaid after Ariel trades her voice for legs and makes it to land to have dinner in Eric’s palace. New to the human world, she picks up a fork – and starts brushing her hair with it at the table. The audience laughs, knowing surely this is not what a fork is for! This whimsical and lighthearted scene may seem fit for just Disney movie fantasy, but I can tell you it also rings true for a group of kids in Africa. Over the last 8 years, I’ve been working in resettled refugee communities in Kenya. With the organization Village Impact [formerly called World Teacher Aid], Pete and I and our daughter Molly have helped build 14 schools including 120 classrooms and helped educate over 5,000 students. … Read more...

Couples and Addiction

My advanced online training group recently has been focusing on working with addiction issues in couples therapy. For this blog, I thought I’d share some important insights from Sue Diamond, a couples therapist who specializes in treating addiction. Many couples come to therapy with addiction as an undisclosed issue. In fact, the addict has had many years, maybe even decades, to build up defenses that unconsciously deflect their awareness and prevent them from facing their addiction.  Also, when a couple decides to come for therapy, confronting an addiction may not be their top priority. They may be more concerned with their hostility or broken agreements.… Read more...

Building Your Child’s Confidence: Creative Determination

  “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” –  Babe Ruth  My uncle Neil was born and raised to be a rancher. He spent his entire life ranching in Afton, Wyoming. Like all successful ranchers, he worked hard and he worked long hours and taught his six children how to do the same. The boys were up early to milk the cows and feed the stock, and in the summer, they cut, baled, hauled, and stacked hay. The girls also had their chores, which kept them as busy as their brothers: weeding the garden, gathering eggs, hanging out the wash, and cooking the meals it took to keep them all fed. Uncle Neil was a respected man, known in the community as friendly and helpful to others.… Read more...

Choice Points in Disrupting Symbiosis in Conflict-Avoidant Couples: Moving These Couples Forward

When you are working with a conflict-avoiding couple, it is especially difficult to create positive forward moving momentum. These couples merge boundaries often and it can be a challenge to disrupt the status quo. If you search for openings in the issues they present, you will find choice points that enable you to disrupt their symbiosis. First, start by supporting their interactions that are truly positive and that are part of a healthy relationship. This is important because, once you start disrupting their symbiosis, it will be scary for them. So, the more they sense that you're in their corner – with them as a couple and as individuals – the safer they're going to feel, and the more able they will be able to risk new behavior.… Read more...

Using Initiator-Inquirer to Support Growth in Couples

One of the reasons I find the Initiator-Inquirer process especially valuable in our work with couples is that it exposes so much about where they are developmentally. It helps us see the cutting edge of their development and reveals ways we can challenge each of them to work at their growth edges. Now if you are unfamiliar with the Initiator-Inquirer Process, you can find out more about it here. As you use this process, it’s important to learn how to look at what your clients’ edges are. What are the places where they fall apart with each other when you’re not around? For example, I often see couples who are stuck because they lack the self-capacity to allow one of the partners to come forward.… Read more...

Getting Started with an Enmeshed Couple Moving to Early Differentiation

Couples who marry young often establish enmeshed relationships that inhibit individual growth. They have not had the opportunity to mature and do much differentiation work prior to getting married. When partners organize their relationships in an enmeshed way, their own desires are usually obscured and are often presented in terms of: “We are alike in so many ways.” There’s very little self-definition or ability to articulate individual desires. Everything is framed in terms of “we” or “us.” When they arrive for therapy, they may have one partner still trying very hard to maintain symbiosis, and the other partner making tentative forays out of it.… Read more...

Working with Partners Who Aren’t Equally Committed to Their Relationship

In a recent blog post I outlined some of the ways I work with couples who are caught in patterns of externalization and blame in their relationships. If you missed it, you can check it out here. In that blog post I presented some ideas for pushing the growth edge in these partners. I ended with the question, “But what if you’re beginning to sense that one of the partners isn’t as invested in this process as the other?” If you’ve been working with couples for any length of time, you’ve likely seen instances where one partner doesn’t seem as invested in the relationship as the other. For example, let’s say that you’ve been working with a couple and given them an assignment to come up with a plan for spending more time together.… Read more...

Intimacy Avoidance Comes with Externalization and Blame

  In spring of 2018 I wrote a blog post about the cycle of externalization and blame. This dynamic is a familiar one for couples therapists because so many of the couples who come to see us organize their relationship issues around external symptoms or problems. How many times have you heard complaints like these? “He drinks too much.” “She spends too much money.” “He never makes time for me and the kids.” “She treats her parents like royalty and me like dirt.” For people in discomfort about their relationship, it’s much easier to deflect responsibility and attention from themselves and blame their partner than it is to self-reflect.… Read more...

A Powerful Exercise to Promote the Work of Differentiation in Couples

The differentiation stage is, by far, the most difficult for many couples. Helping each partner set self-focused autonomous goals is crucial to their growth as individuals and to push the development of the couple. In my last blog post, I gave you a glimpse into how I work with couples to tease apart individual goals when their issues are highly entangled and enmeshed. If you missed it, you can find it here. But sometimes, you as the therapist will assess that a couple’s level of differentiation is so low that you’re going to have to start with them at a very basic, fundamental level. When a couple operates with each other almost totally out of reactivity, it takes a fair amount of psychoeducation to help them recognize emotions and pay attention to what’s going on in their body.… Read more...

A Dialogue for Individual Goal-Setting with Conflict-Avoidant Couples

When working with couples within The Developmental Model, it’s crucial to help partners set self-focused, individual goals to support the process of differentiation. This presents more of a challenge with some couples than with others. I’m thinking in particular about conflict-avoidant couples. These are couples who likely have developed well-established patterns of shying away from conflict. They may have little or no recognition of their differences. A couple like this can merge and enmesh their issues very quickly and easily. It can be a challenge to tease out what might make a difference if each of them were to get focused on themselves.… Read more...

A Glossary of Terms that are sometimes Confusing

Couples Therapy is a counseling procedure that seeks to improve the adjustment of two people who have created an interdependent relationship. There are no standard procedures to help two people improve their adjustments to each other. Generally, a more experienced therapist will offer more perspectives and tools to a couple. Length of treatment will depend on severity of problems, motivation and skills of the therapist. A couple can be dating, living together, married or separating and may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Marriage Therapy is a term often used interchangeably with marriage counseling. The term marriage implies two people have created a union sanctioned by a government or religious institution. The methods used in marriage counseling, marriage therapy and couples therapy are interchangeable and depend more on the specific challenges of each unique couple.

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.

Clinical Social Worker. This profession usually requires two years of study after obtaining an undergraduate degree. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, most require clinical social workers to obtain 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience, after obtaining a Masters degree. Social workers can also specialize in diverse fields such as human services management, social welfare analysis, community organizing, social and community development, and social and political research.

Marriage and Family Therapist. Obtaining this license requires a Masters degree which takes approximately two years of post graduate study. The license also requires 3000 hours of supervised work and passing written exams.

The Couples Institute. We have assembled a group of top notch therapists at The Couples Institute. Whatever marriage help or marriage advice you are looking for, we are here to serve you. While most other therapists see only a few couples a week, we specialize in marriage and couples relationships, working to develop and bring you the most current and effective approaches to couples therapy. For more information about couples therapy or marriage counseling, see our couples therapy section.