Support Information for Applying for MCEP Credits for:
Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (PNDC)

Training Programs For Psychologists

With Sharon Strand Ellison

Training Overview
Supporting Data
Curriculum Vitae
Comments by Psychologists
Training Programs Authorized for MCEP Credit

Training Overview

In this workshop, Sharon Strand Ellison and/or other traininers from the PNDC Consortium will present the theory and practice for an innovative communication paradigm, which together provide methods for using language that can dramatically reduce or even eliminate defensiveness. The applicability for psychologists include learning specific techniques that can:

(1) Enhance skills in helping patients/clients to move more quickly out of the denial and projection that inhibits the process of healing,

(2) Help patients/clients to engage in a process of honest self-examination while maintaining self-esteem,

(3) Offer patients/clients skills they need to strengthen their ability to develop the trust essential for genuine intimacy,

(4) Provide tools for psychologists who work in collaborative family law, as well as in other situations, to create more cohesive communication with other professionals who often have very different training, experience, and/or perspectives.

In this workshop Sharon will demonstrate how to shift the intention, tone, and content for various types of communication, such as asking questions, giving feedback, stating opinions and feelings, and predicting consequences (creating boundaries). Using these skills, therapists can facilitate a patient’s/client’s ability to move out of a flooded state, making greater progress in her/his individual and/or relationship goals within the context of the therapeutic process. The skills can be taught to patients/clients and used in difficult interactions when professionals from different disciplines have clients in common.

The theory and skill sets presented in this workshop are based on a body of work in which Sharon outlines two paradigms for communication. She will demonstrate how traditional methods of communication have, for centuries, utilized the same rules as for physical combat, thus disabling our human capacity for effective communication and problem solving, as well emotional and psychological healing and personal growth. She refers to this paradigm for communication as the “War Model.”

In its place, she has created the theory and practice for a new paradigm for communication which she has named, Powerful Non-Defensive Communication.” Participants in this workshop will examine both theories, as well as the practical skills in the non-defensive model. This model offers therapists tools for helping patients/clients protect and assert themselves without ever having to resort to defensiveness regardless of how others respond.

Sharon will also demonstrate how many evolving communication techniques, which have been developed as a means to move away from less effective, traditional forms of communication, are still rooted in the old model. In the course of the workshop, she will demonstrate how the current use of techniques such as empathetic listening, active listening, and “I messages” can still often inadvertently prompt defensiveness. She will provide alternative techniques that, conversely, have the power to defuse defensiveness, often instantly.

Using a “field work” approach, for over 30 years, Sharon has been dedicated to observing, understanding, and delineating the dynamics of defensiveness and the impact it has on human interaction. Her research has been particularly focused how our use of language can either prompt or diffuse defensive response, and the kind of impact language has on our ability to resolve conflict. While Sharon is currently working to test the results of her theory and practice in more traditional studies and/or clinical environments, she has already accrued overwhelmingly affirming response through narrative reports of remarkable results from psychologists who have used these skills, even in volatile, adversarial situations. 

Supporting Data:

Background information relevant to the applicability of this course for Psychologists:

The following quotations from an article by Dr. Brent Atkinson provide foundational information in the interest of clarifying the impact of the non-defensive communication paradigm I have developed and its value for psychologists in their clinical practice. I have included my own comments regarding their relevance to my work.

As science is demonstrating, when any person gets defensive, the impact is physiological as well as cognitive/emotional.

“Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist at the Center for Neural Science at New York University, discovered a pathway that acts as a supersonic express route to the brain’s emotional centers. This neural back alley, which appears to be reserved for emotional emergencies, bypasses the neocortex entirely, routing information from the thalamus directly to the amygdala, a tiny, almond-shaped structure in the limbic system that has recently been identified as the brain’s emotional alarm center. . . which in turn [can] trigger a cascade of physiological responses—from a speeded-up heart rate to jacked-up blood pressure to mobilized muscles to the release of the ‘fight or fight’ hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline.

I demonstrate how traditional methods of communication can commonly prompt the alarm system in a listener, even when the speaker is not attempting to do harm, and, if fact, may be attempting to help or support the person. Over a period of more than thirty years, I have outlined what I consider to be the primary traditional paradigm for human conversation, demonstrating how it consistently utilizes the “rules of war,”—in both overt and very subtle ways—as the foundation for our verbal interactions. I refer here to what I call the “War Model” for communication. Thus, I believe we are using language in a way that systemically creates and accelerate conflict. In other words, people are frequently plugging into each other’s emotional alarm systems even when they have no intention to do so. The result is that people’s capacity for conflict resolution is severely damaged. While psychologists and other therapists are often well versed in methods to help people move out of emotionally debilitating states, as Dr. Atkinson suggests, I think we still have a long way to go.

“This cranial takeover can occur because, neuroanatomically speaking, our thinking brain is simply outmatched by the competition . . . the shorter subterranean pathway transmits signals twice as fast as the more circuitous route involving the neocortex, the thinking brain simply can’t intervene in time. . . .To make matters worse, by this time, amygdala triggered emotional information has invaded the neocortex itself, overwhelming its centers for logic and judgment. As a result, . . . emotion-flooded thoughts about the situation are apt to feel entirely accurate and justifiable.

Frequently, when a person responds defensively, he or she either does not know why, or misidentifies the cause, projecting some kind of hurtful intention on the person with whom he or she is interacting rather than identifying it as coming from her or his own history. This means that so much conflict is what I would refer to as unnecessary, resulting entirely from misunderstanding. 

Dr. Atkinson asks, “ If an element of our humanity as unalterable as brain architecture favors blind emotion over rationality, why even bother to try to help clients master their most volatile and disabling reactions?” He answers this question by suggestion that while we can’t “reason” a person out of a flooded fight or flight defensive emotional state, we can get it to “relax” by prompting a different emotional response.

“This neural ‘relaxation response’ is possible because it turns out that our brains are wired not only for defense, but also for connection. . . .. while circuits for fear and rage have been most thoroughly mapped thus far, the neurological terrain of intimacy-arousing emotions—most notably sorrow and nurture—have recently been identified.

“Richard Davidson . . . suggested that the left prefrontal lobes . .  played a critical role in moderating emotional reactivity. While it appeared that this sector of the brain could not keep the amygdala from spazzing out in the first place, . . . it seemed able to reduce the longevity and intensity . . .”

In my work, even prior to my own complete understanding of the impact of the system of communication I was developing, people frequently said that the skills I was teaching were “disarming.” I realize now that these non-defensive tools have the power to shift people out of an alarm state, back into a state of openness and trust, without having to wait for the emotional flooding that often happens with defensiveness to dissipate more slowly, usually taking a minimum of 20 to 60 minutes(if no one else responds in a way that accelerates the defensive response). I teach a process that involves altering voice tone and body language for several parts of the communication process, as well as using different techniques and/or steps for asking questions, giving feedback, expressing thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, and setting clear boundaries.

Combining the changes in tone, body language and technique in the Powerful Non-Defensive Communication process can enable one person to respond to another in a way that can not only calm the other persons emotions, but to prompt the person to feel secure enough to revert almost instantly to a constructive thinking mode. This process enhances people's ability to access their genuine emotions as well. Many psychologists are finding that having the tools I present are valuable in a number of specific ways, including (1) helping to facilitate their clients ability to process and heal from past trauma (2) help couples shift out of emotionally reactive states so they can resolve conflict in more constructive ways, (3) teaching the skills to couples and to parents so they can generalize successful interactions that occur in the therapy session more easily to other environments, and, (4) for the increasing number of therapists working in collaborative family law, (a) to enhance the ability to work with professionals from non-therapeutic backgrounds and (b) to help parents develop skills needed to help children and teens make the difficult transitions inherent for them when their parents divorce.

Networker, July/August 1999, "The Emotional Imperative Psychotherapists Cannot Afford to Ignore, by Brent Atkinson, Ph.D., p. 26 Director of the Family Therapy Program at Northern Illinois University

ibid, 26

ibid, 29

Curriculum Vitae:


M.S., Interdisciplinary Studies in Juvenile Corrections, University of Oregon (1973)

—My graduate program included independent study with Dr. Martin Acker, Clinical Psychologist, covering Freud, Jung, and others who made major contributions to the field of psychology.

B.A., (Sociology), Willamette University, 1965

—My undergraduate studies included emphasis on psychology and public speaking
Junior Year Abroad Program, University of Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden (1963-64)


Current Positions:

Consultant, workshop facilitator, and speaker, including training programs for psychologists, 1975-present

Licensed provider, authorized by the American Association of Psychologists periodically for periods of up to a year to provide continuing education credits for psychologists in California, 2006-2009. Authorization also granted to provide CEUs in other states, 2006-present

Executive Director, The Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, (2005-present )

Licensed provider, authorized by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, to provide training for MFTs, LSWs, and school psychologists in Californi, 2003-present

Co-author with Ami Atkinson, & Producer of the audio book, Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting, recipient of a Benjamin Franklin award, 2008

Author of Taking the War Out of Our Words, 1st edition published, 1998

Past Positions:

Counselor in private practice and consultant to social work agencies, providing training for psychologistsand social workers , Eugene, OR, 1975-96

Scholar-in-Residence, St. John's University, Collegeville, MN, 1986-87

Consultant, play therapist, and staff trainer for social workers and psychologists,The Child Center,( offering a continuum of psychiatric treatment programs to children and families), Lane County, OR, 1973-75

Benton County Children’s Protective Services Division, Corvallis, OR, play therapy training and workshops on intervention with abusers and other severely resistant adult clients 1972-76
Co-Director, Title I Social Skill Building Program, (play therapy and on-sie interventions), Fern Ridge School District, Veneta, OR, 1974-1975

Title I, Parent Training Instructor and Title VI, Play Therapist, Fern Ridge School District, Veneta, OR, 1973-74

Intake Counselor, Lane County Juvenile Court, Eugene, OR, l969-70

Field Counselor, Marion County Juvenile Court, Salem, OR (1966-1969)

Group Worker, Marion County Juvenile Court, Salem, OR (1965-1966)

Professional Background:         

During the period from 1960 until 1975, I was employed by various agencies in a number of capacities, including counselor, program development coordinator, and government project director.  Between 1975 and 1992 I maintained a private counseling practice and served as a consultant, workshop facilitator, and keynote speaker for social service agencies, educators, and professional groups.

Over a period of decades, I developed Powerful, Non-Defensive Communication, a system for communication that can reduce or even eliminate defensiveness and power struggle in verbal interactions.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists find that the body of theory and complementary skill sets I have created can contribute significantly to their own work. When therapists use these methods of communication, they often find that their clients are more likely to drop their defenses, move out of denial (at an appropriate rate), become more accountable, and take initiative for constructive change. The skills are also invaluable for collaborating across disciplines with other professionals. I have provided training for psychologists since 1975.

The  Addendum and Training Programs Authorized for MCEP Credit provide more information about Sharon Strand Ellison’s qualifications for providing training for psychologists.

Comments by Psychologists and a Psychiatrist:

The sophistication and depth of the Powerful Non-Defensive Communication paradigm Sharon Strand Ellison has developed can be of immense value to psychologists. The theory transforms our concepts of power in human interactions. Both Sharon’s theory and practice challenge psychologists to expand their own awareness and knowledge and enhance their capacity to pass skills learned on to the patients.

—Dr. Gisela Bergman, Licensed Psychologist, Eugene, OR

Thanks for developing such a transformative human theory. It’s truly a gift. And thank you for your superb coaching, teaching, and commitment to this work.

—Judy Levey, Psychologist, Berkeley, CA

Being aware of one’s feelings and reactions to clients is one of the cornerstones of a therapist’s training. Newer paradigms of countertransference also distinguish between feelings that arise from the therapist’s own history versus those that may be evoked by the client. Through metabolizing or working through their own feelings, therapists can use this understanding to help the clients. Sharon Ellison’s analysis of defensive communications can be a key to helping therapists understand the feelings the client invokes in both ourselves and others. Her methods of non-defensive communications allow the therapist to quickly work through countertransference feelings and more importantly, provide the tools for communicating to the patient in ways that are most likely to be heard. Ms. Ellison’s workshop provides techniques and experience in changing countertransference feelings into helpful interventions for the client. While techniques are frequently discussed in theoretical terms, this workshop provides not only a theoretical paradigm but also a valuable experience and practice—something that is all too frequently missing in post-graduate workshops.

—Mary Krentz, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist in Private Practice in Oakland, CA; Assistant Professor at the Wright Institute, Berkeley, CA, 1989-2001

Sharon has continued to advance and perfect her concepts of the nature of emotional maladaptation and has developed her method of working with disturbed persons toward an ever-increasing level of refinement. She has shown a special aptitude in coping with people showing problems of extreme dependency and self-destructiveness and has succeeded where many psychotherapists would have given up. She has conducted many workshops that are of her own unique style based on ideas and theory coming out of her inventiveness and creativity.

—Dr. Reid Kimball, Psychiatrist, Eugene, OR

Thanks so much for your clarity, commitment, compassion, and sensitivity. I appreciate the way you walk your talk and your warmth—a great coach and role model.

—Sandra Lewis, Psychologist, Berkeley, CA

Ms. Ellison provided on-going training in play therapy for the psychologists and other staff at the Child Center. She is a skilled therapist who is able to combine interpretive feedback with skill training, role-playing, and limit setting. She is intuitive, insightful, and supportive and is well liked by children and staff alike. Besides being a highly competent therapist, she is also an excellent trainer and teacher.

—Dr. Susan Richter, Psychologist, The Child Center, Eugene, OR

Training Programs Authorized for MCEP Credit:

Below is a partial list of organizations that have invited Sharon to speak to psychologists and/or students in psychiatry. Organizations that have a star also were authorized to give MCEP credits for the training.

The list is indicates the states where licensing boards have authorized credit, such as California, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

*Continuing education provider for psychologists, authorized by the American Psychological Association (For single events and for up to a year as a licensed trainer), California

Sonoma County Mental Health Services, Psychiatric Emergency Services, Santa Rosa, CA

San Francisco Medical School, Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute (students and faculty)

* Annual Collaborative Family Law Forum, MD

* The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, 2005 Statewide Conference, Sonoma, CA

* Center for Families, Children and the Courts, 2005 Family Dispute Resolution Statewide Educational Institute: The Changing Concept of Family, San Jose, CA

Carondelet Behavior Health Center, Richmond, WA
—(1) Psychiatric Care Center, and (2) Drug and Alcohol Program

* International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, 2006 CAStatewide Conference, Sonoma CA

* International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, 2006 Nationwide Conferences, San Diego, CA; Toronto, Canada; New Orleans, LA

* International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, 2008 Nationwide Conferences, New Orleans, LA

* Therapists in Educational Settings, Statewide Conference, Eugene, OR (Credit for School Psychologists)

* Center for Families, Children & the Courts, Central Valley Regional Training

* Center for Families, Children & the Courts, Santa Barbara Regional Training

The Child Center, Eugene, OR
—Play therapy training and consultations for psychologists and social workers

Collaborative Family Law Professional Groups:

Marin County, CA
Sonoma County, CA
Contra Costa County, CA
Alameda County, CA
Fresno, CA
Baltimore, MD
Minneapolis, MN
Chicago, IL
Harrisburg, PA
Dallas, TX

The Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication • Contact Us
Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2017 Sharon Strand Ellison

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