The Couples Conference 2019

This year’s Couples Conference explored 5 major models of couples therapy. These included PACT, Gottman, EFT, Relational Life and the Developmental Model.

I had the honor of opening the conference, and I would like to share with you the poem I wrote to highlight five different approaches to couples therapy that have advanced our field. I was inspired by the poem, “The Blind Man and The Elephant,” by John Godfrey Saxe, which begins like this:

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

Ode to Couples Therapists

Welcome, dear participants to learning much inclined.
You’ve come to learn 5 theories and challenging answers hoping to find.
You’ve come to Los Angeles so with your clients you won’t be so blind.
We trust you’ve come with a very, very open mind.

Maybe it’s Gottman, EFT, Bader-Pearson, PACT or Real.
Each has their own approach to helping couples with what they feel.

Each theory is unique, focusing closely on its own parts,
Yet all care about their contribution to mending broken hearts.

You might go to Terry Real to hear how his approach is relational,
And come away with new skills in being more confrontational.

He teaches men how to speak from the heart
And encourages women not to collapse or fall apart.

Then there is Stan Tatkin, his approach known as PACT.
You’ll learn about nonverbal cues and the body to closely track.

He’ll show you how to focus on your client’s micro-expressions
And insist you see your fighting couples for much longer sessions.

Gottman’s work is known widely for what’s learned in the lab and from science.
The Coles will help you implement what’s gained from so much data reliance.

They use a comprehensive assessment screening
And help couples work to build shared meaning.

Sue Johnson focuses on attachment and emotion,
Applying her craft with unending devotion.

She’ll help you with attachment injury detection
And how to help couples rebuild secure connection,

The Developmental Model provides a clear roadmap for growth through differentiation
With targeted interventions to put an end to couples such hardened alienation.

We’ve focused on developmental change with couples whose fighting is intense,
Opening partners to love and connection, breaking through their defense.

We specialize with infidelity and lies, and how to know what is false and true,
But also focus on the therapist and the enormous growth available to you.

And so, dear participants, you could dispute our approaches vigorously and long,
And all of you would be partly right. And all would be somewhat wrong!

The Erickson Foundation and Couples Institute invite you to enjoy these next 3 days,
Participating actively with your thoughts, questions, hands often raised,

We’ve assembled the pros who’ve each played a part in the Couples Therapy field progressing.
Having them all under our roof at the same time is indeed a blessing.

So we hope you go home Sunday, taking the best of each,
With your own blindness so much, much more decreased.

At this point, conference participants began their exploration of the five different approaches that were featured at the conference.

If you attended the conference, I welcome your comments or statements about something you took away. And, I’d also love to hear what models, methods or presenters you’d like to learn more from in the future.

And by all means keep exploring, learning, finding ways to “decrease your own blindness,” “satisfy your mind,” and help more couples at the same time!

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Janis Abrahms Spring
Janis Abrahms Spring

What a lovely poem! And what a wonderful conference!
Sending warm wishes.

deb hecker
deb hecker


Who knew you are multi-talented? In our culture of narcissism, it is very refreshing to receive your poem about respect and inclusion of differences.

And, speaking of elephants, if you haven’t yet read “Modoc: The Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived, I insist that you do. Bring it along on one of your overseas flights. An amazing story.

Nancy St John
Nancy St John

Brava Ellyn!!!
Huge appreciation for consistently striving to advance the field of couples therapy and long may you continue.
We all benefit from your hard work, skills and dedication. It was a wonderful conference!!!

Jyotika Vazirani
Jyotika Vazirani

Dr. Ellyn! This poem captures so much and makes me just want to fly out of the Dominican Rep and meet all of you there to experience the different pathways to couples healing themselves. Your writing is exact and provocative! Thank you for sending this and encouraging us to experience this community of healers and thought leaders.

Kate Casey
Kate Casey

What a creative and clever way to acknowledge the presenters, their approach, and to remind us, as therapists, that there are many different ways to ‘see’ what is in front of you.
Thank you for sharing your insights and your creativity. I continue to learn from you (going on 30+ years since In Quest of the Mythical Mate).
Kate Casey, LMHC
Bellevue, Washington

Nathan Hardy
Nathan Hardy


How beautiful! You are a guiding light for the field. I wish more model developers carried the great humility and integrity that you do. You are an inspiration to me and a great example of how to approach this field. Thank you for all that you do!

Jeff Hay
Jeff Hay

I was there and loved every second of the conference. I also liked the apparent respect each presenter had for the others approaches and ideas. I flew in from Canada and left with incredible gems — “When you shut down, you shut your partner out!” from Terry Real was one of the gems! Your poem was respectful and clever!

Nic Beets
Nic Beets

Wonderful poem Ellyn – will be using that with trainees in the future to answer questions about the differences between models.

Marcia Naomi Berger
Marcia Naomi Berger

Lovely poem, Ellen. What a nice way to identify different approaches. 🙂 And yes, we therapist grow in using all of them.

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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