Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, Anaheim 2023

Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, Anaheim 2023

Last month I attended the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, in Anaheim, CA. Their website identifies this conference as “The Premier Event for Psychotherapy Education.” And this particular one, their first fully live one since the pandemic, was especially anticipated. Another headline read, “Get ready for the best psychotherapy event in six years.”

I presented much of the time, so I wasn’t able to attend many other sessions. Instead of my usual “conference highlight” blog, I’m going to share a couple of general observations and then some highlights from my own presentations.

General Observations

First, it really was wonderful to be back in person and see so many younger therapists eager to learn and share. The energy was palpable – and magnetic. Clearly lots of folks were excited to learn. People rushed to attend as many workshops and presentations as possible. Hallways, elevators, and restrooms buzzed with excitement and lively conversations. It reminded me of the first time I attended this conference and heard so many teachers whose texts I had read in my psychology courses. Then I had felt that I was in the presence of celebrities. And this time I was honored to be there as one of those teachers.

Juxtaposed against this happy, vibrant scene was the exhibit hall. At past meetings, the exhibit hall was filled with tables representing various approaches to psychotherapy, showcasing their work and providing attendees with opportunities to learn more. Then, booksellers, video demonstrations, researchers, innovators filled the room and again, conference attendees rushed from one display to another. It was a real smorgasbord of what was possible to learn.

This year’s exhibit hall was entirely different. Almost all the displays were large corporate groups recruiting therapists for their platforms. I spent as much time as I could there, speaking with recruiters like any other interested therapist might. They all wanted to talk about their company’s particular strong points: one pays more, another handles more marketing and pesky paperwork, another one gets you more clients or boasts of their speed getting clients. Not one single recruiter discussed the expertise of their therapists or the quality of treatment. And when I asked about this, I was told “Oh, we just believe any therapist is an expert in what they claim.”

Two years ago, I sounded an alarm about the corporate/private equity takeover of our field. What I saw in the exhibit hall told me that the takeover is no longer approaching. It is here. Now.

Managing the Crisis of Infidelity: How to Lead Your Clients from Raw Pain to Constructive Action

In this 3-hour workshop I addressed repair after infidelity. As an ongoing repetitive process, repair after infidelity requires a significant increase in differentiation. It is not a 1- or 2-time event. It requires strong leadership from the therapist and a willingness to hold clients in the tension they would prefer to avoid. I used this slide to illustrate the cycle of repair. I am glad to share it with you.

The Repair Cycle

Clinical Demonstration Using Couples Assessment to Plan Targeted Treatment

For my demonstration session I did a first session interview demo. Two therapists role-played an ongoing case. I was able to show the value of asking clients some very specific questions early in treatment:

  •  What was your first disillusionment?
  •  What happened?
  •  Was it resolved?
  •  If so, how?
  •  If not, what did you decide and what has been the ongoing cost to your relationship of not resolving it?

Knowing the answers to these questions can help you determine how to move forward. For many couples, the dynamic created by an unresolved disillusionment remains cemented in what is painful now – and has been for many years.

Artificial Intelligence

Of course there were a couple of presentations on the hot topic of AI. In one talk, Marty Seligman suggested AI could essentially conduct conversations with the dead. He described putting a person’s body of work into AI and then asking a question about it. For example, “What would Freud say about X (a subject never addressed by that person)?” He used his colleague Aaron Beck as an historical example, and he was impressed by the way AI organized Beck’s thinking into coherent advice for Marty.

Finally, I’ll share these highlights from Marty Seligman’s keynote, which I loved. It was full of wonderful nuggets of learning based on his many years of studying both learned helplessness and positive psychology. He stressed how efforts towards well-being create even more well-being. His model called PERMA highlights 5 elements of well-being.

  1. Build on pleasant or positive emotions.
  2. Create engagement. When do you feel in the flow?
  3. Support positive relationships.
  4. Find meaning. How much do you matter?
  5. Enjoy accomplishment or achievement, appreciating mastery for its own sake.

Combined, these all lead to a state of well-being. You can learn more about Marty and his work at www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu

Overall, I came away from the meeting enjoying the stimulation of being back in person. It reinforced my commitment to building a strong community of quality professionals who do excellent work, support each other’s growth and cross refer and collaborate on cases when appropriate.

You can remain committed to quality, stand for meaningful progress for your clients and help t build alternatives to corporate domination!

Comments Welcome

I’ll end with an invitation to comment below. If you read something here that strikes a chord, write about it. Or if you attended the conference and have some other observations, those would be great, too.


1. Mini-Intensives: High Impact Couples Therapy is a 4-hour course on January 19 that will redefine how you perceive couples therapy, and how your couples experience it. This revolutionary format works with all approaches, and we’re conducting a live Q&A session about it on Friday, January 12 from 9-10am Pacific. Click here to get the Zoom link to join.

2. Or click here to get on the waiting list for the Developmental Model of Couples Therapy Training, which opens briefly on January 20, with a special bonus for people on the waitlist.

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One thing that worries me about the corporatization is the privacy and security of the sessions. We’ve already seen AI gobble up texts (literature, etc), we have Fitbit gobbling up our health, and now we will have corporations gobbling up our mental health. Add that to a dumbing down of our work to be seen as quick fixes in as few sessions as possible for as little $ as possible. I know this sounds all gloomy! We need to believe in our value and communicate that value to existing and future clients.

Evelyn Goodman
Evelyn Goodman

That corporate groups, and tech companies are infiltrating the mental health field is concerning. And reputable organizations such as NPR support them because they are sponsors. (I have emailed NPR about this but no response). I remember how in the 1980s we were worried about managed care taking over. Ultimately as long as therapists get on board with them they will be here to stay. On the flip side, it may help more people find care.

Stephanie Prince-Ling
Stephanie Prince-Ling

I could not agree with you more about the Exhibit Hall. Thank you for the validation! I was hoping for more connection and less “SWAG”.” One can only handle so many complimentary post-its and pens which unfortunately doesn’t make up for the opportunity for quality conversation about our clinical work and place in the world.
Also, I wanted you to know that you are one of my “celebrities” as I am a couple’s therapist and appreciate your model; examples and how you teach. Thank you for that!!
One last quick question (perhaps its more of a request) – but will the Couples Conference reconvene in person again in the future? Thanks!


Dear Ellyn,
I took your developmental model course about 10 years ago. I am writing to THANK YOU for your GENEROSITY. You give so much in your newsletters. I especially appreciated your overall observations about the Evolution conference, and the corporate/private equity takeover. I think you are the only prominent trainer/therapist speaking out about this. Kudos! Also thank you for sharing The Repair Cycle.

Ilene S. Gallner Toller
Ilene S. Gallner Toller

Thank you very much for your update and your sharing your slide. I appreciate the sharing that you always create and continue to help educate and support therapists! You are a wonderful role model and how wonderful to have “graduated” to be one of the “celebrities”! Thank you again!

Ari Tuckman, PsyD
Ari Tuckman, PsyD

There’s nothing like an in-person conference to create the energy Ellyn describes and opportunities for random encounters and rewarding connections. You can chat up the amazing presenters and also whoever is sitting next to you. Cobble together a group to go out to dinner so you can explore the city or wander down to the hotel bar and see who’s there. Webinars are really easy and that’s helpful, but nothing beats being in-person and open to who you might meet and the conversations you might have. This is especially important because, as therapists, we all tend to operate in our own little bubble. I’m an extroverted introvert, so I love this stuff, but also need to push myself when I don’t already have some small “in” with someone to start a conversation. As Ellyn says, tolerating anxiety in the service of growth.

Esther I. Wei
Esther I. Wei

Hello Ellyn: It was indeed delightful to attend the conference and to connect with you in person and to even participate in your demo. I have learned so much from your developmental approach. Thank you for your incredible investment of training couple therapists!

Dr. Ellyn Bader

Dr. Ellyn Bader 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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