Ellyn Bader

In years past, I have shared valuable ideas I’ve heard while attending major conferences, either as a speaker or guest. With so many virtual meetings taking place over the past several months, I’ve had the chance to gather many useful thoughts from a wide range of presenters. I hope these short summaries capture your interest and even stimulate your thinking as they did for me.

From attorney and social justice advocate Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

Stevenson’s talk to therapists was designed to stimulate action. He stressed how in the United States, we continue to accept the unacceptable. We must push back against the narratives of fear and anger that surround race relations in the U.S.

The opposite of poverty is justice. We’ve made the mistake of criminalizing addiction, leading us to offer punishment instead of healing. This reality is intertwined with issues of racial injustice.

We can fight for justice by: 

  • Getting proximate. Don’t hide in an Ivory Tower. Go to Montgomery and tour the sites of the civil rights movement. Visit the Legacy Museum. Go to Washington, D.C. and tour the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Learn directly about the experiences and issues of Black people. 
  • Telling the truth. Don’t gloss over the trauma of racism. (Germany is still struggling to deal with the truth of the Holocaust. It’s a long game, but it begins with honesty.) 
  • Staying hopeful. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Embrace the spirit of hope and reconciliation. 
  • Being uncomfortable and doing difficult, inconvenient, yet essential things.
  • Continuing to beat the drum for justice and change. Let’s not keep executing broken people. Let’s offer them treatment and support. 


Taraji P. Henson, award-winning actress and mental health advocate

Henson is working hard to de-stigmatize mental health problems. She encourages clients, lay people, and therapists to encourage people to come out of the shadows of stigma and fear.

We need to recognize the mental health impact of collective trauma and intergenerational trauma. She said, “This is something I understand as a mother and the daughter of a man who struggled with his own mental health – the namesake of my mental health organization, the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation.”

Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness – yet for some, therapy poses a threat. This is especially true for many men, who feel it diminishes their masculinity. We need to reshape these beliefs so that everyone can get the care they need. 

One in five Americans lives with mental illness, so it’s time to break the cycle of shame. Our country needs more culturally competent therapists who can treat people of color with sensitivity and compassion. 


From Deb Dana, trauma expert and author of The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy

Trauma sidetracks the development of autonomic regulation. It replaces patterns of connection with patterns of protection. When survival is the individual’s only goal, growth stalls. It is not a cognitive choice; it is a biological choice.

For someone who has experienced trauma, reaching out can feel dangerous. Healing can only take place in a very safe environment. 

In therapy, we therapists act as a container when possible. We titrate our interventions to keep the client’s emotions in a manageable range.  The client is neurologically receptive to our own state. It’s crucial to pay attention to the messages we may be sending out. 


Michael Pollan, professor, nutrition expert, and interested student of psychedelic drugs 

Author of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence 

Omnivores – that’s us! – have a lot of anxiety about food. This makes sense, because food profoundly influences the way we function and feel. 

Pollan was a gardener who wondered where our food comes from. He traced a great deal of it back to the corn fields in Iowa, the source of so much of what we consume – from corn itself to high-fructose sweeteners to animals raised on feed corn. 

The human microbiome is crucial to mental health. We need to care for it by: 

  • Eating real food, including lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Drinking tea and coffee in moderation
  • Reducing the amount of beef we eat, because cattle production is bad for the planet and climate

Psychedelic drugs are still illegal, but data from studies is growing and underground training of guides is increasing. 

Indigenous people used peyote more than 6,000 years ago. 

A study of MDMA 3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine, commonly known as ecstasy or molly, given to PTSD sufferers, showed that it was effective at relieving symptoms for nearly ⅔ of study participants. In another study at Johns Hopkins, many participants facing terminal cancer lost their fear of death. 

Psychedelics are showing some promise with eating disorders, which is amazing news – since EDs are among the most lethal of all mental health issues. 

Within the next three to five years, there will be a need for 100,000 trained guides for psychedelic-assisted therapy. 


Contemplating New Ideas

All of these speakers stimulated my thinking. Some added to my existing knowledge, others startled me to attention or presented unconventional perspectives. I always encourage open minded consideration of new ideas. And as always, I welcome your comments in the commenting section below.


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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5 months ago

Thanks Ellen

David Feinstein
David Feinstein
5 months ago

Very useful, Ellyn. Thank you!

Lynne Joachim, MFT
Lynne Joachim, MFT
5 months ago

Interesting summaries. Thank you!

Barbara Harris
Barbara Harris
5 months ago

Thank you for the summaries as it is difficult to keep up with all the excellent workshops.

Andrea Tang
Andrea Tang
4 months ago

Thanks, Ellyn. Great summary- so interesting about the psychedelics. I’ve read about the use of ketamine for clients with anxiety and depressed mood related to trauma.

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.