Dr. Ellyn Bader

Author Archive

May 15, 2017 – How Conflict Avoidance Inhibits Differentiation


Summary of Ellyn’s Call with Debra Douglas

In this call Debbie wants to learn more about working effectively with a couple’s dynamics around truth-telling and lie-inviting behavior. Ellyn highlights subtle interactions in the transcript and explains how to work more completely with the couple on these issues.

Both partners operate from a symbiotic position. Bob is unable to say what he wants. He has never felt safe relying on people. Kelsey has a solid background of conflict avoidance. Together they are unable to craft a vision of what they want to create in their relationship.

Using the “Ineffective Behaviors” handout, both partners describe hostile patterns in their relationship but this is not how they come across in therapy. It may be that they are so sensitive to conflict any negativity feels huge.

Bob creates useful goals for early differentiation – being patient, taking time to think, and listening more. Debbie can build on these goals and push his development by asking what the positive outcome is for him in doing these things.

Kelsey has a pattern of over-functioning. She doesn’t allow her own desires to play enough of a role and ends up in a resentful compliant position. Without strengthening her ability to self-define, the same patterns will keep emerging. She is waiting for Bob to change and her awareness is low of how her perfectionism keeps the dynamic with Bob going. Questions to increase Kelsey’s awareness include:

  • What does it mean to you to be a perfectionist?
  • How is that useful for you?
  • How does it get in your way?
  • When you are critical how do you hope your partner is going to respond?
  • How do you think it’s going to affect Bob if you keep being perfectionistic?
  • How is he going to maintain his self esteem with a lot of criticism?

Kelsey asks Bob “When we are at the cabin this weekend can we agree that you will treat the people I love with love and respect?” This is a good example of a transaction that is not straightforward. Bob cannot know what treating people with love and respect would be like to her. It would be clearer if she could spell out what she’d like him to do.

Bob responds, “Don’t I always?” This is an opportunity to find out if he’s ready for a real answer. If he is Kelsey can be more direct with him. Debbie can say, “That’s a great question. Are you ok if Kelsey tells you if she thinks you are or not?” If he says yes then Debbie can see if Kelsey will come forward and be direct with him.

Kelsey says, “I don’t think when you take extreme positions that you do [treat the people I love with love and respect].” This is subtle passive aggressiveness. She is not saying directly that she doesn’t want him getting into altercations where he takes an extreme stance. Kelsey says that an issue between Bob and her sister is not resolved for her sister. Debbie encourages Kelsey to speak from her own experiences. It would be more direct for Kelsey to say, “It’s not resolved for me yet.” Her symbiotic unspoken wish is for Bob to do something to make it nice again without having to say what she wants.

When they were house hunting if Kelsey was more solid in her ability to bring something up she would have said, “The plumber said x. You’re responding y. I’m uncomfortable. Can we deal with it?” Instead she waits to bring it up in session and then can’t say it to him so we can see how hard these tense moments are for her.

Debbie can tie in each partner’s goals as she prepares them for the Initiator-Inquirer. Bob is going to be the Inquirer. As he works on not getting defensive it will create more space for Kelsey to come out of her conflict avoidant shell. Debbie can get clarity on Kelsey’s initiation by asking, “Will you summarize what the issue is for you and why you want to bring it up?” The way Bob expresses his feelings is hard for her and she wants him to shut down. This is what keeps their dynamic going. Kelsey says when Bob expresses his feelings she is left dealing with the problem. In essence she’s saying she has to be the responsible adult while Bob gets to act like a child. This is the heart of her dilemma and is how she organises herself in the world. A part of her thinks that’s the way she is supposed to be but another part of her does not want that caretaking role.

It is so hard for Kelsey to speak up about the side that doesn’t want to be the only adult so Ellyn demonstrated how to underline and support what she just said, “Wow! You’re letting us know that you don’t want to be the only one in the responsible role. In fact, your desire to not be the only one in the role is why you’re initiating this discussion today.”

Debbie’s aim is to push them farther in the room than they can go at home. Kelsey’s goal is to express something she wants without doing it in a perfectionist way so she’s going to need repeated moments of taking a risk to be direct and define herself actively in the world without being critical. When they get off track Debbie can say, “Can you summarize what the issue is you want to bring up and why it’s important to you?”

Bob asks a self-referencing question. He is not keyed into what Kelsey is initiating on and is feeling blamed. This lets Kelsey off the hook of self defining.

Ellyn reframed the struggle Debbie is experiencing by explaining that she is up against Kelsey’s developmental edge. Debbie’s job is to help Kelsey know that it’s ok to define her hopes, wishes, thoughts and desires and to say them out loud.

Kelsey doesn’t know how to speak to Bob directly without being critical. Debbie can say, “One of the reasons he feels criticised and boxed in is you are a little critical with him because you don’t give yourself permission to say what you’d like. It’s hard for you to be direct with him and he picks it up.” This is a deeply embedded pattern with her and she will need Debbie’s coaching. It is important to get a good initiation right from the start. Ellyn demonstrates:

E: So Kelsey, it sounds like you want to talk about the incident with the plumber. Is that right?

K: Yes.

E: As you bring up the incident with the plumber will you tell Bob what the problem is from your perspective?

K: Well you just kept going on as if we were going to buy the house when he had just identified a huge problem.

E: Ok Kelsey, stick with me. Right now you’re describing what Bob did but what Bob did was difficult for you. Can you say to him what made his behavior difficult for you?

K: What made it hard for me was when you were going along with the negotiations when I was not wanting to buy it because there was a big problem with the plumbing potentially.

E: So what I hear is you were not wanting to buy the house and it was hard for you to say to Bob “Hey, how come you’re going on when I don’t even want to buy this house?”

K: Yes, exactly.

E: So could you say to Bob right now, “Hey Bob, when I’m in a different spot than you it’s really hard for me to tell you that directly.”

K: It’s hard for me because I didn’t want to go on with that purchase and it bothered me that you kept going on as if it was ok with me when it wasn’t.

E: So Kelsey, I’m going to seem like I’m the grammar police for a minute but it’s so easy for you to talk about Bob and what I see is it’s so hard for you to say to Bob and to really let yourself feel it, “I don’t know how to be direct with you when I want something different than what you want.”

Debbie can prepare Kelsey to make a good initiation. “We’ve been through it enough times that one of the things I’ve learned about you is how hard it is for you to make a direct statement about what you’re thinking, feeling and desiring. So when you’re initiating I’m going to be really sure that we don’t go past that until you’ve actually said it.”

Ellyn explains, “The art of the Initiator-Inquirer and the reason it’s more complicated than it looks on the surface is there are always choice points. When you can use the partner to reinforce or develop what’s missing in the other one then you’re able to work with both people at the same time. However you can’t always do that. There can be sessions where I have to make that choice ten times. You might be able to feed the Inquirer non-personal questions to ask the Initiator but they might get bogged down and you have to choose which one of them to focus on. If you focus on both of them then you don’t make your work as solid as it can be. In a good relationship when people can stay out of each other’s issues they push each other’s growth all the time. When they get caught in each other’s defences and projections they get bogged down in the same negative patterns over and over again. Long-term, we are offering people who can do it a way that is going to be with them for a lifetime.”

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Motivation Conference Call

Petes Thank You Purchase Recording and Transcript

Thank you for your order. The downloadable audio and transcript are available for you below.

Before listening to the recording or reading the transcript, please visit this page to see two short video clips. There you will also find 3 handouts that I mention on the call.

Here is your audio:



Thank you for your interest in couples therapy training.


Pete Pearson

Thank You Petes Call

Get Out of the Middle:
Make Your Toughest Couples
Work Harder Than You Do –
and Get Faster, Better Results


Please watch these two short video clips before listening to the call:


The first one shows Al Pacino as a pro football coach talking to his severely dysfunctional team before taking the field for the Super Bowl. This clip forms the foundation for many future interventions with your couples.

Here’s the link in case the embedded version doesn’t show on your screen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9CD7uj2TL0


The second video clip demonstrates teamwork in a more natural setting.

Here’s the link in case you’re unable to connect to the embedded version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmjqHWYg5_Q


Here are 3 handouts that I mention in the call:

pdf_smallThe 555 Approach

pdf_smallThe Big Picture Questionnaire

pdf_smallHow To Get The Most From Your Couples Therapy


Thank you for you interest and your commitment to doing better work with your couples.

Warm regards from a fellow professional dedicated to helping couples create better relationships,


Petes Call

Listen to Dr. Peter Pearson as he reveals a new approach with couples to…


  •  Change their attitude toward change
  •  Utilize a four step process, Safe and Sane Communication
  •  Make confrontations more collaborative
  •  Skyrocket homework compliance




If you work with difficult couples, you can now…

Get Out of the Middle:
Make Your Toughest Couples
Work Harder Than You Do –
AND Get Faster, Better Results



What if you could get your most challenging couples communicating like seasoned pros – in your next session?


Sound impossible? Actually it isn’t.


In fact I have done this with hostile couples on the verge of divorce – in the first session.

And you can learn how by listening to a recording of my conference call.


Imagine getting couples to communicate in one or two sessions what would normally take months of difficult, straining, stressful work.


I developed this approach out of sheer survival. For the last twenty years I have seen an average of 20-25 couples per week. So you know there were a lot of severely distressed couples showing up.


Feeling helpless and powerless in the face of high conflict couples who would not listen to each other or to me was painful. I was starting to burn out.


Taking care of myself outside the office was no solution to the anguish in the office.


Sending them to individual therapy was no solution. They would be too skillful in presenting themselves as the victim of their partner’s torment – not because they were evil but because they were in so much pain.


I really had only two choices. Stop seeing so many couples and admit failure as an expert couple’s therapist. Or develop a new approach that made them work harder – and get better faster results.


Upon choosing the second door, I discarded or modified conventional models of working with couples and did a lot of experimenting with different ways of approaching them. I kept trying and testing different models.


Eureka! I found it.


I now have more energy and enthusiasm for being “The Court of Last Resort” for severely distressed couples.


They work harder, get better results, and I am more peaceful and content when working with them.


I have shared the results on a conference call, and you can hear it now.

 You can purchase a recording, complete with handouts, for only $37.00.

Just click Get Out of the Middle.


First you will enter your name and credit card information. Next you will be taken to a page with links to two short videos to prepare you for the call. Showing these two compelling videos to your couples will save you hours of frustrating work with your couples.


You will also receive three downloadable handouts.


Specifically you will learn how to:

  •  Change couples’ attitude toward change
  •  Utilize a four step process, Safe and Sane Communication
  •  Make confrontations more collaborative, easier and simpler 
  •  Skyrocket homework compliance


You can learn how and actually begin applying this approach in your next session – with your most distressed couples. And when they leave your office, you’ll exhale with confidence and relief, knowing they had a transformative session with you.

Get Out of the Middle, for just $37!

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BONUS CALL with Peter Pearson, Chief Parenting Officer


Course Objectives for Advanced Training

Advanced Training
The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy:
Achieving Clinical Excellence with Difficult Couples


  1. Integrate Developmental Theory into Stage-Specific Interventions in Couples Therapy
  2. Identify Developmental Arrests that Impede Couples’/Partners Growth
  3. Manage emotional volatility after infidelity is revealed
  4. Utilize the Initiator-Inquirer Process to Build Empathy
  5. Recognize 4 Ways of Managing Anxiety that Impede Marital Growth and Contribute to Depression and Anxiety in Married Partners
  6. Interrupt Rapid Escalation of Hostility
  7. Distinguish When to Make Directive Interventions and When to be Non-Directive
  8. Identify Intrapsychic Conflicts and Structure Sessions to Promote Resolution of These Conflicts

Course Objectives for Level 1


The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy:
Integrating Attachment, Differentiation and Neuroscience

After completing this course you will be able to:

  1. Integrate core concepts from Attachment, Differentiation and Neuroscience into work with couples.
  2. Diagnose the developmental stage of a couple’s relationship.
  3. Select stage-appropriate treatment interventions in your work with couples.
  4. Describe how to actively control and contain conflict in your office with hostile, angry partners.
  5. Decide when couples therapy is the treatment of choice and know how to get couples work off to a strong start, while avoiding common pitfalls.
  6. Identify and assess early attachment patterns and explain to couples why understanding this is crucial to how they interact with one another.
  7. Recognize four common ways couples manage anxiety that inhibit their growth and result in chronic problems of depression, withdrawal or addictions.
  8. Describe entrenched blame and withdrawal patterns.
  9. Apply effective empathy between partners who have become disengaged.
  10. Describe to couples the role of the limbic system in increasing the intensity of their fighting.
  11. Differentiate between differentiation and individuation.
  12. Locate vulnerability to shift entrenched hostility.
  13. Discuss the role of the “limbic brain” in couples conflict.
  14. Establish effective treatment plans with passive aggressive partners.
  15. Explain the origin of passive aggressive dynamics.
  16. Develop effective limit setting with the spouse of the passive aggressive partner.
  17. Utilize effective repair strategies for couples recovering from an affair.
  18. Utilize Gestalt methods to resolve internal conflicts.
  19. Examine individual conflicts that impede relationship growth.

Accreditation and Disclosure Information for Level 2 online course

The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy:
Achieving Clinical Excellence with Difficult Couples

Accreditation Information

18 CE hours

The Institute for the Advancement of Human Behavior (IAHB) has been approved as a provider of continuing education by the organizations listed below. IAHB as the approved sponsor maintains responsibility for the distance learning educational activity offered and for following the standards and regulations for the organizations listed below (except where otherwise noted) for 18 CE hours.

IAHB is approved by the State of Illinois Department of Professional Regulation (License #168-000119). IAHB has been approved by the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists to provide CE offerings for MFTs. Provider Number 154. Institute for the Advancement of Human Behavior, Inc. (IAHB) is recognized by the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed mental health counselors. #MHC-0063. This course has been approved by the NY State Board for approval for 18 contact hours.


Provider approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing, (BRN Provider CEP#2672) for 18 CE hours. The Institute for Advancement of Human Behavior accredited as a provider of continuing nursing education by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation.


IAHB is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists.  IAHB maintains responsibility for this program and its content.


IAHB SW CPE is recognized by the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Social Work as an approved provider of CE for licensed Social Workers. This course has been approved by the NY State Board for approval for 18 contact hours. Provider #0091. As an approved continuing education provider for the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners, IAHB offers continuing education for Texas licensed social workers in compliance with the rules of the board. License No. 3876; MC 1982, PO Box 149347, Austin, TX 78714, (512) 719-3521. Institute for the Advancement of Human Behavior, #1426, is approved as a provider for social work continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) www.aswb.org, through the Approved Continuing Education (ACE) program. Institute for the Advancement of Human Behavior maintains responsibility for the program. ASWB Approval Period: 3/16/2017 – 3/16/2020. Social workers should contact their regulatory board to determine course approval for continuing education credits. Social workers participating in this course will receive 18 clinical continuing education clock hours.

NOTE: Many state boards accept offerings accredited by national or other state organizations. If your state is not listed, please check with your professional licensing board to determine whether the accreditations listed are accepted.



Disclosure of Relevant Financial Relationships

The Institute for the Advancement of Human Behavior, Inc. is responsible for the content, quality and scientific integrity of all CE/CME activities certified for credit. When an educational activity is offered for medical (CME),  Nursing (UNA-ANCC) and/or Psychology (APA) continuing education credit, participants must be informed  as to the source, amount, nature, and disposition of any funding used to support the activity, whether  in the form of educational grants, cash contributions, or in-kind contributions.

Individuals in a position to influence course content must also disclose whether they have one or more relevant financial relationships with individuals and companies who have a financial interest in activity content.

All those in a position to control the content of an education activity are asked to disclose any relevant financial relationships they have with any commercial interest.

Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson have no relevant financial relationships.


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