Welcome & Overall Approach

Thank-you for visiting my website. You will find information here about who I am, my services, events, writings, and media. As a human developmentalist (my Ph.D. is in Human Development and Family Studies), I seek to help people move through normal life transitions in a way that maximizes their opportunities for personal growth.  I believe my approach is compassionate, yet direct, educational, and action-oriented. I assume a basic respect for people's intuitive abilities and strengths, emphasizing empowerment.  I focus on helping people gain knowledge and skills for long-term personal growth, as an investment beyond an immediate need.  A developmental approach is about thriving instead of surviving.  My training in social ecology also gives me an awareness to help people consider the social, economic, and cultural context of the issues we discuss, and not just personal dynamics.

My profession in Human Development

The work that I do is educational consulting and coaching for personal development and relationship enhancement. 

I have a doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State, which is one of the two premier programs in the United States.  Human Development is the multidisciplinary study of human growth and change across the life span, from birth to death.  This means studying development biologically, socially, cognitively, and emotionally.  It is the study of “normal” human experience, rather than focusing on pathology.  It also focuses on change and uses complex, longitudinal research methods rather than static, cross-sectional designs. 

“Human Development Intervention” goes further and studies methods of enhancing human development.  This can be at any stage of the lifespan and in any setting or unit of study.  That is, it can be about enhancing child, adolescent, or adult development.  It can be directed to individuals, families, communities, or institutions such as schools, hospitals, or retirement homes.  Measures of optimal functioning are of interest rather than diagnosis of disease or mental illness.  Interventions are thus educational and systemic in nature with focused objectives and outcome measures.  While psychological factors are involved, they are only a part of a broader context. 

An advanced degree program in Human Development involves both specializing in a part of the human lifespan and choosing between basic research and Human Development Intervention.  My lifespan area was Adult Development and my emphasis was Intervention. 

The Relationship Enhancement Programs at Penn State were developed by Bernard and Louise Guerney with many years of applied research and evaluation studies.  They involve an educational approach to teaching communication and other relationship skills to couples and families.   There is a specific teaching format which includes presentation of concepts, demonstration, practice, and homework.  There are steps to the program which build and lead to achieving a concrete set of new skills. 

I work with couples using Relationship Enhancement and I am on the Directory Listing of RE program providers which is provided by the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement.   The ten parts of the program are described on their website.  We use reading materials, a set of exercises in a notebook and a method of recording progress.  The process is much like joining a “relationship gym” with accountability, increasing challenge, and the help of a “trainer.”  I have a chart for couples to use that looks like the workout chart from an athletic club. 

Human Development Intervention is basically “coaching” in that it is present-tense rather than historical like other approaches to helping.  Like coaching, we discuss problem areas and goal-setting at the beginning.  Values clarification is another similarity, but a human developmentalist also provides some education about optimal functioning and information from the research on “CR’s” or “close relationships.”  Where other helping professionals tend to avoid a didactic role and are trained to simply facilitate clients’ healing and growth, in human development intervention there is teaching of real content, structure, and skills-training. 

In human development, we study health and well-being, and we develop programs that are targeted to achieve results.  In a traditional setting, many “patients” seek to survive, whereas we want “clients” to thrive. 

In fact, this approach is not within the medical model at all.  We do not consider clients to be sick.   The progression of a normal human life includes many challenges, and we view these usually as “developmental tasks.”  Nor do we “treat” individuals or view individuals as personally responsibility for all the issues they might be facing.  A traditional view is individualistic in placing the locus of almost every problem within a person.  From the human development point of view, this is a mistake because the factors which create problems or lack of thriving, are systemic and need to be understood that way.  Otherwise, “blaming the victim” can easily occur and make things worse instead of better.  A person’s life context can be overlooked, a label of “depression” applied, for example, which can lead to the negative consequence of labeling. 

With an individualistic focus in a traditional approach, medication is often used as a matter of course, which is not a part of the human development approach.  The patient is also expected to continue in “therapy” for an indeterminate amount of time  – years or even decades.  This is typically in partnership with the consulting psychiatrist who keeps the patient on psychometric drugs.  Everyone stays in business for some time. 

In contrast, I work short-term and have a rapid turn-over, not because clients quit but because they finish.  That is, they complete their goals, and graduate.   A great satisfaction for me is to know that my students or clients have learned things that will last a lifetime and will not depend on me when life is stressful again. 

I am also an ordained minister in the Church of Spiritual Humanism, which is grounded in humanistic philosophy as well as the empirically-based "learned optimism" of Martin Seligman. From this perspective, I am able to serve as an official celebrant for nonreligious ceremonies.

Finally, I have done extensive research in the area of recovery from religious trauma and authored a book on the subject. I have an online support group for help with this and can provide individual information and coaching. More about his work is at my other website,

In general, any work with me is short-term, empowering, and results-oriented. 

Fees and appointments

Coaching or consultation or class sessions are by appointment in person or by skype/telephone, with day and evening times available. My office address is 638 Webster St., Suite 210B, Oakland, CA.  

Fees are on a sliding scale:

In-person couple sessions: $130-$170 per hour

Telephone or Skype sessions: $100-$150 per hour

Class or group sessions:  $30-$50

Payment plans can also be arranged.

Sliding Scale

Income under $35K/YR: $130/hour, $190/1.5 hour

Income $35 - $80K/YR: $150/hour, $220/1.5 hour 

Income above $80K/YR: $170/hour, $250/1.5 hour

If you are considering working with me, you are invited to call for a complimentary 20-minute discussion of concerns. (510) 292-0509.


Cyndi C., Vallejo, CA

Marlene is WONDERFUL! She has helped me gain confidence and make tremendous emotional growth in a relatively short time. 

I remember the first time I realized that she was speaking from experience: the same kind of experiences she was helping me work through. I just thought it was so cool that she had "been there" and offered so much hope by example. 

Marlene has a wonderful sense of humor and a way of putting people at ease. I love the way she makes me look at things differently. She is warm, compassionate and funny (and really smart). 

In our private sessions I find her visualization work very helpful. Group sessions are fun. I like that we can be silly and that it isn't all serious. I feel safe and comfortable in group, like I am free to say whatever I need to say.

Jeff S., Berkeley, CA

My partner and I were going through a very rough spot in our relationship and had already been through a couple couples counselors and we were right about to call it quits when we ran across a recommendation for Marlene on another website. We decided to try her out, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of, well, my life anyway. She helped us learn empathic communication techniques and work on really "hearing" each other. Week by week she helped us navigate the way back to a healthy, rewarding relationship. I particularly liked the "homework" and assigned reading that my partner and I did together. I don't have enough good words for her. Thanks Marlene!

Isabelle, Hayward, CA

Marlene Winell deserves 5 stars because of her 1) dedication to break our negative patterns of behavior, and 2) use of extreme creativity when it comes to solving complex communication problems. My husband and I began going to her when my son was 7 months old and we needed to do everything we could to save our rocky marriage for the baby's sake. The last 5 months have been extremely helpful in terms of lowering the number of fights we have in general and in front of our child, and also has helped us feel stronger as a family and as happier individuals. She is skilled at overcoming communication problems because she gave us the tools to overcome communication blocks ourselves, so that in the future, we now know how to solve these issues on our own. I cannot give enough praise for Marlene Winell for all the hats that she wears and all the knowledge and experience she utilized to help us save our marriage.

Robert T., Arizona

I found the (Release and Reclaim) retreats enormously helpful, with a wonderful group of warm people who had been through much of what I had been through. Marlene is a uniquely gifted leader who understands like so few do what it's like to be in the middle of the all-encompassing religious life many of us former 'born agains' lived in. I HIGHLY recommend will not regret it.