Ellyn Bader


For this month's newsletter, I thought I'd do something different, and share highlights from a few of the sessions of a recent couples' conference in Los Angeles. Each year The Couples Institute co-sponsors a couples' conference with the Milton Erickson Foundation. This meeting is designed to bring together specialists who focus on different aspects of couples therapy. Since I presented several sessions myself, I was unable to attend all of the other sessions, so I'm giving you just a few sprinklings from a very rich program.

One of our new presenters was Esther Perel, a therapist from New York. She presented a dynamic program on “Mating in Captivity.” She discussed the dialectic between the emotional and the erotic stressing that what is safe and easily available is not usually erotic and what is erotic is usually not safe. Safety, familiarity and predictability may be emotionally attractive, yet sexually undesirable.

She encouraged couples therapists to recognize the inverse relationship between greater emotional intimacy and the loss of sexual desire. She even shocked the audience by suggesting that cuddling may undermine the sexuality in a couple's life. Such intimacy, or comfort love, often creates a fear of entrapment that leads to erotic withdrawal and difficulty sexualizing the partner.

She suggested three elements as part of the therapy process:
1. Encouraging couples to introduce small transgressions, illicit strivings, and passionate idealization into the midst of their safe and predictable life
2. Granting permission for an active fantasy life that is shared and unshared.
3. Accepting the dichotomy of men's need for power, control and dominance and women's need for connection and affiliation. (Both clients and therapists)

Above all, she reminded us that secrecy, surprise and unpredictability are all preconditions for sexual interest!

Another presenter was Dr. Daniel Amen, a specialist in attention deficit disorder. A side-benefit of his discussions about clutter and disorganization were his tips on how to nourish a healthy brain and prevent Alzheimers. After all, what therapist wouldn't want a healthy brain?

Strategies for Preventing Alzheimers and Nourishing your Brain
1. Regularly eat the best brain foods: blueberries, oranges, beans, broccoli, spinach, pumpkin, oats, soy beans, salmon, lean turkey, yogurt, brazil nuts and walnuts.
2. Take Multi-Vitamins, extra vitamin C and E, and folic acid.
3. Exercise your brain by getting 15 minutes of new learning each day.
4. Get enough sleep. Less than 7 hours per night can decrease the blood flow to the brain.
5. Exercise your body including doing hand-eye coordination exercises.
6. Protect your head from injury. Wear helmets and be sure your kids wear helmets when doing sports.
7. Listen to music and have sex.
8. Avoid toxic substances.

Many of these just take developing new habits–habits that may extend your life and help you keep thinking clearly along the way!

Janis Spring, one of our well respected previous presenters, returned this year and presented material from her new book on forgiveness, “The Challenge to Forgive, The Choice not to.” She described two unhealthy approaches to forgiveness:
1. Cheap forgiveness. A quick and easy pardon with no processing of the emotion and no coming to terms with the injury. This is often unilateral, unconditional and a compulsive attempt at peace keeping.
2. Refusing to forgive. She described this as a reactive, rigid, often compulsive response to a violation that leaves the person stuck stewing in their own hostile juices. This is a decision to continue to punish the offender and reject reconciliation, even if the self is punished in the process.

Cloe Madanes, in her engaging way, summarized the “8 Master Steps of Couples Therapy.”
1. Define a problem so it can be solved.
2. Expand the unit so you have leverage.
3. Use direct and indirect influence.
4. Change the social context.
5. Change small patterns of interaction (where/when discussions take place).
6. Re-arrange the hierarchy.
7. Revisit the past-change early decisions.
8. Clarify values.

And a last thought for reflection…
Helen Fisher brought to our attention the fact that SSRIs often jeopardize the ability to fall in love -or feel the intensity of love. This may be particularly relevant for single depressed clients on medication, who are hoping to find a new partner.

Helen also has a wonderful new book. “Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love.” It is always stimulating to keep up with Helen's latest research.

Pete and I presented workshops and panels, including new material from our latest professional resource, “High Impact Couples Therapy.” This 5-CD set reveals the secrets of starting and sustaining effective therapy, even with the most difficult couples. We illustrate how to create a context for change that includes: illuminating the partners' vision, changing the process for discussing highly charged issues, managing emotional reactivity, and resolving intrapsychic conflicts. For more information or to order, visit High Impact Couples Therapy

And good luck with your “Challenging Couples.”


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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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.