PNDC for LCSWs, MFTs, Psychologists & Psychiatrists

Using This Information Packet: This packet includes (1) an overview of the training; (2) short biographies for Sharon Strand Ellison and her daughter, Ami Atkinson Combs, who are the primary master teachers of the Powerful Non-Defensive Communication™ process developed by Sharon; (3) a partial client list; and (4) comments from Marriage and Family Therapists, psychologists, and a psychiatrist.

The overview starts with the introduction from the landing page and then continues with more information. Each section is marked clearly, so you can start with "More . . ." if you've already read the introduction. You can use the links below to go to directly to each section. You can also return to the landing page to access additional information about workshops, conferences, and coaching.

Training Context & Overview
Biographical Information
Partial Client List
Comments by LCSWs, MFTs, Psychologists & a Psychiatrist

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Training Context & Overview

Introduction from Landing Page: Whether working on anger or depression, a situational crisis such as divorce, a relationship issue such as parenting or intimacy, or conflicts in the workplace, even highly motivated clients can move in and out of resistance and defensiveness. In addition, many currently accepted communication techniques used by LCSWs, MFTs, psychologists, and psychiatrists can actually prompt clients, however subtly, to become defensive and/or to hold on to their resistance. Regardless of setting, client population, or the focus of their practice, how quickly a therapist can defuse defensiveness and facilitate a client’s ability to move through resistance is a determining factor in her or his effectiveness.

More . . . In keynotes and training programs, participating therapists will gain a deeper understanding of how common patterns of phrasing in conversation are still rooted in a traditional “war model” for communication. Participants will have opportunity to examine the physiology and dynamics of defensiveness as related to the therapy process. In addition, they will learn to identify pitfalls in currently accepted communication practices such as active listening, and “I messages.”

Building on this background information, participants will learn Powerful Non-Defensive Communication skills that alter four aspects of communication: (a) intention, (b) voice tone, (c) body language, and (d) actual formatting for questions, statements, and predictions. These changes alter the power dynamics, giving the therapist more ability to impact a client’s progress — while not attempting to influence her or his choices — and while still holding the client accountable for those choices.

Therapists will learn four skills sets and will focus on how to:

  1. ask questions that can, in many cases, prompt clients to instantly move out of a defensive posture and become more open, self-reflective and honest;

  2. give direct feedback about patterns the therapist may see that are blocking the clients progress, using a series of steps that increase the likelihood that clients will feel respected and be open to considering the information;

  3. state opinions, when appropriate, in ways that enhance understanding and inspire insight instead of making the client feel judged or controlled;

  4. make predictions that (a) clarify boundaries needed when the client is in a defensive posture, and (b) give clients the ability to foresee the consequences of certain choices they might make.

Beyond learning certain "techniques,” participants will walk away with skills they can use immediately to facilitate a patient or client’s ability to move more quickly through blocks to their healing, to enhance their motivation to change and to expedite their success in altering destructive patterns. Sharon is dedicated to empowering both adults and youth past the point of needing to rely on defensiveness for self-protection.

Biographical Information

Sharon Strand Ellison, M.S., Executive Director of the Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (IPNDC), is an internationally recognized communication consultant, an award-winning speaker and the author of Taking the War Out of Our Words. She has her Master’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in Juvenile Corrections from the University of Oregon. Sharon with her daughter, Ami Atkinson produced the award-winning audiobook, Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting. Sharon is a pioneer in developing methods for eliminating defensiveness so people can communicate with constructive power. She was a nominee for the Leadership for a Changing World Award, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Advocacy Institute.

Sharon began her career as a detention worker at a juvenile court, where she gained skill in hands-on work with youth. As early as the 1970s she began training counselors in children’s protective services, as well as psychologists and psychiatrists in a unique form of group play therapy.

Later, Sharon became a Title I Play Therapy Program Director and a Title I Parent Training Program Director. She then expanded the developing of her pioneering programs, taking her sessions out of the office and into home, school and playground environments where she taught on-the-spot parent-, teacher-, and peer-relationship skills, and play therapy for at-risk children. Sharon has continued to provide training for licensed social workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists for over 30 years. Committed to continually strengthening her knowledge and skills with regard to her cultural competence, she brings this increasing awareness to her work. Sharon is licensed to provide CEUs in the state of California for LCSWs and MFTs. Psychologists have been given credit for various training programs with her.

Ami Atkinson Combs, Director of IPNDC, is a graduate of Mills College and co-author of the audiobook Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting. As Sharon’s daughter, she has been an active participant in the years of discussion as Sharon envisoned and refined the PNDC Communication model. Ami has done psychosocial research at Stanford Medical School, been on the Newborn and Parent Advisory Board at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, and worked with severely emotionally disturbed children.

Ami is gifted in the art of identifying relationship systems. She is also highly skilled in modeling the interruption of any process that involves defensiveness and power struggle and offers coaching and workshops for parents. Her husband, Jesse Combs also does training with parents, couples and groups of men. The mother of 16-year-old twin boys. Ami uses a hands-on approach when providing workshops and coaching for parents. She also speaks at conferences and provides training for early childhood education programs.

Ami’s innate understanding of systemic patterns in communication is alsp a cornerstone of her work with organizations, helping individual teams as well as the organization as a whole to strengthen their communication internally and with their client base. She offers coaching and trainings for educational institutions, nonprofits, corporations, and community organizations. Her clients include: General Dynamics, CA; Lockheed-Martin, CA; Habitat for Humanity, CA; the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, Toronto, Canada; The Association for Early Childhood Education, National Conference, and CCG Systems, VA.

Partial Client List

  • The University of California, San Francisco Medical School, Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute
  • Carondelet Behavior Health Center, Psychiatric Care Center & Drug and Alcohol Program, WA
  • Sonoma County Mental Health Services, Psychiatric Emergency Services
  • Family Matrix Network
  • Mental Health Resources and Education Network
  • Children’s Protective Services
  • Center for the Vulnerable Child
  • Juvenile Services Commission
  • Youth Empowerment Now
  • Rape Crisis Centers
  • Battered Women’s Safe Houses
  • Family Centered Services of Alaska
  • Family Support Services of the Bay Area
  • Family Dispute Resolution Educational Institute
  • Association of Family and Conciliation Courts

See More Complete Client List

Comments by LCSWs, MFTs, Psychologists & a Psychiatrist

I believe this is the most powerful structure I've learned in my training as a Marriage and Family therapist. It has tremendous implications for most human interactions.

—Bette Acuff, Ph.D., M.A., MFT,  San Francisco, CA

Sharon 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

Ms. Ellison provided ongoing 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. Besides being a highly competent therapist, she is also an excellent trainer and teacher.

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

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 their 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

I found Sharon's presentation fascinating and extremely relevant to my work not only as a divorce mediator but also as a coach in collaborative divorce. I was able to apply her non-defensive communication techniques immediately in the next four-way meeting between coaches and clients and the clients responded very positively—it was very exciting!! I look forward to taking more of Sharon's workshops.

—Debbie Katz MFT, Collaborative Practice Group of Contra Costa County

I just finished your book, Taking the War Out of Our Words. It is chock-full of smarts. I just want to congratulate you on producing a tour de force, which I pray I could influence all my clients to read. It is a reference book that keeps on giving.  It picks up where the Murray Bowen (family systems) thinkers leave off.

You provide tools to understand what it means to create boundaries, to differentiate and grow up, becoming one's own agent of authority, able to express self in an manner that is honest, appreciative, respectful, and dignifying.

—Shel J. Miller, Ph.D.

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

I signed up for Sharon Ellison’s PNDC Level One Training … What I came away with is the foundation for a new way of communication, which I believe, has the potential to be transformational in any relational context, professional or personal.

Sharon’s style is warm, engaging, humorous, and inclusive.  She has a wonderful way of tailoring the workshop to address the needs of those present.  She is a gifted storyteller, and uses stories to demonstrate the incredible difference that can occur when a person uses PNDC.  She was patient and kind in guiding us through our first bumbling attempts at using PNDC skills.  I would love for all of my collaborative divorce colleagues to be trained by Sharon in PNDC, as I believe it would be enormously useful in our work with families.  PNDC provides a structure to have difficult conversations without engaging in posturing and increased hostility.  Couples can learn to reach peaceful resolutions and relax their vigilance about winning and losing.

—Emily Weaver, MFT, Oakland, 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 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 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

Many clients come to see me dealing with life situations and transitions that are extremely stressful. Helping clients deal both with their stress and the concomitant anxiety that results from these life situations is critically important. Since one major antidote to anxiety is information, I find that in informing clients about non-defensive vs. defensive communication adds an effective communication skill set that helps to reduce their anxiety. For clients to feel more effective and empowered to confront their challenges leads to them feeling more competent and confident.

Being able to offer both the information as well as the practice skills of non-defensive communication has increased my success in couple and family therapy. Learning this skill has also improved my therapy practice. I am noticing that, in some cases, behaviors I may have interpreted as client resistance, I am now seeing as defensive reactions resulting from how I have communicated to the client.  With non-defensive communication I find my clients better able to respond to my interventions and interpretations. I highly recommend Sharon’s training for psychologists as well as other mental health professionals.

—Marc Berke, Ph.D., Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist; Collaborative Divorce Mental Health Professional; Director, Diablo Counseling Associates, Danville, CA.

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Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2017 Sharon Strand Ellison

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"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 their patients."

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





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