Ellyn Bader


Let's think about feeling better vs getting  better. Do you focus on helping your clients feel better or get better?

A huge problem with highly distressed partners is that we can’t give them what they want right away.

What distressed partners really want when they come to therapy is to feel better. They understandably want immediate relief from pain.

Relief comes from the partner making characterological changes – easily and effortlessly. Relief comes from the partner complying with demands and expectations – the sooner the better.

Sadly, the more “thin-skinned” or sensitive to criticism a partner is, the more desperate they will be to involve the therapist in changing the partner.

Getting better means developing and strengthening their differentiation.
Getting better means self-soothing.
Getting better means accepting that their partners are flawed.
Getting better means slowing down and recognizing the impact they have on their partners.
Getting better means understanding that when their partners let them down, there are better solutions than attacking, demanding or withdrawing.
Getting better means refusing to let disappointments turn into global negative beliefs about their partner’s horrible motives.
Getting better actually means developing a deeper awareness of who their partner is and improving their response to a problem or troublesome situation.

Each of these takes sustained effort.

Who wouldn’t rather feel better than get better? But we know that in the long run, our therapy will be more successful and our couples will be stronger if we can help them embrace the greater goal of “getting better,” even if it is at the expense of “feeling better” immediately.

To me, this is a central concept in our work. I encourage you to think about it. Explain it to couples who demand desire for immediate relief. Remember it yourself, for comfort during difficult sessions when clients pull on you to create symbiotic solutions to their problems.


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.