Skip to content

Ross Ellenhorn

Dr. Ellenhorn is a pioneer and leader in the development and promotion of community integration services, types of care that serve and empower individuals diagnosed with psychiatric and/or addiction issues while they remain in their own communities and outside institutional settings.

Trained as a sociologist, psychotherapist and social worker, Ross Ellenhorn, Ph.D., created the first fully operational intensive hospital-diversion and wraparound program in Massachusetts, and went on to establish and lead one of the first public Programs for Assertive Community Treatment
teams in the state. He is the owner and CEO of Ellenhorn, the most robust community-integration program in the United States, which offers services outside of a hospital or residential setting for individuals experiencing addictive behaviors and/or extreme and complex states of mind and mood. Ellenhorn has offices in Boston, New York and Los Angeles.

Dr. Ellenhorn has authored three books on human behavior: “Parasuicidality and Paradox: Breaking Through the Medical Model” (Springer Publishing, 2007) addresses psychiatric hospital recidivism and techniques for diverting hospital use; “How We Change (and Ten Reasons Why We Don’t)” (HarperCollins Publishers, 2020) takes a deep dive into the dynamics that influence all human change; and “Purple Crayons: The Art of Drawing a Life,” (HarperCollins Publishers, 2022) addresses play as a central and vital human activity in our modern times. He has authored numerous articles, gives talks and seminars throughout the country, and provides consultation to mental health agencies, psychiatric hospitals and addiction programs.

Dr. Ellenhorn is the founder of the Shifting The Paradigm conferences, a bi‑annual series that addresses humanistic and empowering changes in behavioral healthcare. He is the executive producer of the film, Recovering Addiction: A Public Health Rescue Mission, a documentary on new, less‑oppressive means for understanding problematic substance use and other distressing habits.

Dr. Ellenhorn is the first person to receive a joint Ph.D. from Brandeis University’s prestigious Florence Heller School for Social Welfare Policy and Management and the Department of Sociology.

Purple Crayons

The Art of Drawing a Life

In this joyous and inventive rereading of the beloved children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon, the author of How We Change (And Ten Reasons Why We Don’t) celebrates our inherent “sacred originality” and establishes a new framework for self-reliance.

In 1955 Crockett Johnson introduced one of the world’s most beloved and enduring young adventurers, Harold and his purple crayon. Today, we need Harold and his penchant for creative solutions more than ever. In Purple Crayons, Ross Ellenhorn looks to Johnson’s classic for insights and answers that can help us understand our current condition and point the way towards solutions for healing. Purple Crayons tells a story about America then and now, about living one’s life as art; about the powers that block us from doing so, about the pull and perils of conformity; about serious play and too much seriousness, about what it means to feel alive inside and what deadens our existence. It’s also about 1955 in America, all that lay before and—presciently—all that lay ahead, as each of us struggles to draw meaningful and resilient existences on the blank pages—the future yet unlived—of our lives.

This delightful, provocative adventure is a gift of kindness and love that encourages us and gives us hope. As he traces Harold’s journey, Ellenhorn offers insights into our “sacred originality”—the idea that each of our unique inner lives are worth nurturing and protecting, and the perseverance, courage, connection, and community necessary to sustain them. Engaging, thoughtful, wise—and illustrated throughout with drawings from the original Harold—Purple Crayons transcends the current divides separating us, reminding us that our fulfillment rests on tapping into what is original about ourselves, finding ways to express our originality, and understanding that doing so is rooted in who we are as Americans.

How We Change

(And Ten Reasons Why We Don't)​

Gabor Maté on How We Change:

How We Change is written with gentle wisdom, leavened with wit and illuminated by deftly sketched case histories. Ross Ellenhorn points a unique path to personal transformation, challenging us to forego what he aptly calls “the seductive reasonableness of staying the same.”

A paradigm-shifting, instant classic in the making that challenges our assumptions about change by encouraging us to understand and embrace our resistance to it.

We all have something we want to change about ourselves. But whether it’s quitting smoking, losing weight, or breaking some common bad habit or negative behavior pattern, we feel a sense of failure when we don’t succeed. This often sets off a cascade of negative feelings and discouragement, making it even harder to change. The voice in our head tells us: Why bother?

Successful change depends far more on understanding why we don’t change, psychotherapist and sociologist Ross Ellenhorn insists. His decades-long career as a pioneer in helping people overcome extreme psychiatric experiences and problematic substance use issues—especially those whom the behavioral healthcare system has failed—especially those whom the mental healthcare system has failed—has lead him to develop an effective, long-term method to achieve transformation, from the simplest shifts to the most profound. In How We Change, Ellenhorn looks to the evolutionary imperatives driving us. We are wired to double down on the familiar because of what he calls the Fear of Hope—the act of protecting ourselves from further disappointment. He identifies the “10 Reasons Not to Change” to help us see why we behave the way we do, making it clear that there is nothing broken inside us—it’s how we’re built. By addressing this little known reality, he gives us hope and helps us work toward the change we seek. 

Ellenhorn speaks to the core of our insecurities and fears about ourselves, with a humor and kindness. By turning our judgements about self-destructive behaviors into curious questions about them, he teaches us to think about our actions to discover what we truly want—even if we’re going about getting it in the wrong way. How We Change is a brilliant approach that will forever alter our perspective—and help us achieve the transformation we truly seek.

Parasuicidality and Paradox

Breaking Through the Medical Model

“This book describes parasuicidality from a different perspective, yet still within the framework of DBT. These concepts will be helpful to clinicians, who often spend much of their time dealing with these troubling behaviors. This book is well worth the price and the reader will not be disappointed.” Score: 94, 4 stars


Ross Ellenhorn brings a fresh, new look at what has been called parasuicidality. Rather seeing it solely as a medicalized symptom of mental disorder, he incisively shows how threats of suicide emerge from the social context and can be better understood and treated within a framework of social relationships. This well documented and clearly written book is must reading for anyone interested in better understanding and dealing with parasuicidality.

“This book deals with the issue of parasuicidality using a dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) approach, but posits that clinical interactions aid and abet that specific behavior. It presents both theoretical and pragmatic ideas of how to deal with patients who often pose the greatest challenge to clinicians.” Gary B Kaniuk, Psy.D. (Cermak Health Services)

—Peter Conrad, Harry Coplan Professor of Social Sciences, Brandeis University, and author of The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Medical Disorders

In this unique and groundbreaking book, Dr. Ellenhorn offers a very different approach to assisting parasuicidal patients with their problems, an approach that avoids medicalized interactions while enhancing authentic encounters with patients. He makes extensive use of vignettes to demonstrate various types of scenarios between clinicians and patients. A number of other effective techniques are discussed, including:

  • Ways to enhance team treatment planning through a brainstorming process called “The Hourglass
  • Alternative methods of documenting treatment that serves to protect clinicians from concerns about liability
  • Helping patients focus on life goals and changing themselves through clinician-patient interactions