Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Susan J. Elliott is the best selling author of Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You. Once a victim of abuse and abandonment, she turned her life around to learn how to be a happy, healthy person with a wonderful life and teaches others how to do the same through her writing, teaching, speaking and media appearances.

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Susan J. Elliott has been described as a dynamic, inspirational and type of speaker who will make you laugh and bring you to tears all within a short time.   Whether speaking for 20 minutes or several hours, her audiences tend to be riveted by her advice, her humor, her grace and her incredible story that she freely shares with others.  Asking questions of her during a talk does not throw her off, because, she says, “Most of my speaking is very impromptu.  If I try to work from anything more than an outline, I get into trouble.   I can read my audiences well and I tailor my talks to what they seem to be responding to, and that is not usually what I think it will be.   If I’m going to launch into a long story with twists and turns, I usually ask the audience if they’d like to go off the beaten track with me and, for the most part, they love it.    Many of my frequent guests have heard some stories more than once, but many say ‘no matter how many times I hear you speak, I always hear something new.”


Her book, Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Da Capo 2009) is not your typical breakup book.  Not only does it give a proven road map and program for getting past a breakup but is the first book  written in a gender neutral, sexual orientation neutral, age neutral, relationship length neutral way.  “I truly believe,” Elliott says, “That neutrality contributed to the success of the book.   My seminars and workshops are attended by about 30 percent men, my private clientele are about 50 percent men and sometimes the men exceed the women (as is the case at the moment), and my speaking engagements tend to draw people from every age group, walk of life, cultural background, sexual orientation, and relationship length.”   The book begins with her own story and her success in moving past a devastating breakup and then shares her time-tested secrets with her readers.


Her story is not an easy one and it’s amazing to hear her tell it sometimes with a tint of sadness but most times with good humor.   She left an abusive marriage in 1987 with 3 children, no job, no education and no future. To her, life had been nothing but sorrow, abandonment and mistreatment at the hands of others. She had no answers and blamed herself for the way others behaved toward her. Given up by her biological mother and placed in foster care for 8 years, she believed she was defective and that is why bad things happened to her.


Although she struggled with the thought that her kids would be better off without her, she made a last-ditch effort to save her marriage and went into counseling only to find a therapist who wanted her to let go of the marriage and save herself and her children.  At first this seemed impossible and crazy to her.  She had no idea where to start.


With the help of a skilled therapist, many seminars and workshops by renowned self-help authors and speakers, support groups and 12-step programs, she learned to heal the massive wounds within her heart and soul.  She learned to build a happy life, healthy relationships and raise happy and healthy children.  She returned to school to get a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and became a certified grief specialist through the Grief Recovery Institute. She became a psychiatric clinician, a mental health counselor, a private grief counselor and a motivational speaker for corporate events.


Nine years after leaving her first marriage she met the love of her life and best friend, Michael DiCarlo. Michael said to her, “I love you because you are who you say you are.” Michael himself had been through much and recognized a fellow survivor who overcame all the odds.   They had a wonderful and happy marriage.  Elliott, who had been called every name in the book and blamed for everything that ever went wrong in her first marriage says, “Michael never said one untoward word to me.  In 15 years I could count the number of serious arguments we had onone hand.”


Michael encouraged her to fulfill her dream of going to law school and agreed to move across the country if she was accepted to her dream school, The University of California at Berkeley, which she was and off they went.  A few months before her graduation she was in a near-fatal car accident and was told she wouldn’t complete law school and wouldn’t pass the bar (her head injuries were so severe).  But she had not come that far to let it stop her.  She finished law school and passed the Texas bar (where she was offered her first job) in 2003 and the New York bar in 2004.  Her scores were high enough to waive into the District of Columbia.


She explains her situation as, “I was not only told that law school graduation was not possible, but that passing a bar, let alone two of the hardest in the country, would not happen.  When I am told things like that, I see it as a challenge and work to meet the challenge.  I’m sure I exceeded everyone’s expectations, but the only one whose expectations mattered to me were my own. Michael would have loved me and been proud of me no matter what, but it was important for me to finish school and pass the bar.  Besides, I had nothing to lose by trying and everything to lose by not trying.”


Michael helped her in her rehabilitation as well as her need to study almost around the clock.  It was the foundation upon which their relationship was built. They supported each other’s need for “me” time and hobbies and interests even when they were completely polar opposites.  “Michael liked bass fishing and NASCAR.  I liked reading and bird watching, museums and city life.”  But they both loved motorcycle riding and rode their Harley Davidsons all over the country.  “We loved being together and respected our time apart as necessary to a healthy relationship, but our most fun were on our motorcycle travels…”


After she became a lawyer people continued to ask her to help those who needed support going through breakups, divorce or in abusive relationships.  At first she couldn’t figure out how to find the time for it, but Michael supported and encouraged her to do it, especially after she moved back to New York.  She started teaching seminars and a blog to stay in touch with her readers but the blog grew to hundreds and then thousands of readers from all over the world.  Her readership clamored for “a book” as did other organizations.


Although it was hard to find time, she wrote the book.  On September 4, 2008 she handed in the final manuscript to her publisher and she and Michael set about how to make up for all the lost time she had spent writing the book.


They planned to retire early, renew their vows, travel to Italy (where they had spent their honeymoon) and other parts of Europe, come home and buy new Harleys, spend the winter customizing them,  and-in the spring-set off for the adventure of their lives…traveling from New York to California on their bikes. They planned it and mapped it out and researched it for years.  As soon as their daughter went off to college in 2011, their year would begin to take shape.  Elliott had been a mother since she was 19 and the thought of the freedom of taking off with the man who loved her, made her laugh, and was a joy to be with without worries about children or a house or a job was incredible to look forward to and they set about planning it in earnest the day after she handed in her book manuscript.  They figured it would take two years to get every last detail down and to allow for changes in weather, routes and ideas.


But now they just looked forward to her returning to her job as a lawyer (she had taken vacation the last month to finish the book) and then enjoying nights and weekends together while planning the future.  However, on September 16, 2008, less than 2 weeks after she handed in the manuscript, Michael took a seizure.  As someone who had always been healthy and never had so much as a cold, this was a shock no one was prepared for.  After being put in a medical coma as they ran tests, took spinal fluid and finally did a brain biopsy, he was diagnosed with brain cancer.  In October 2008, Elliott was told that her love, her best friend, the only person who had ever loved her unconditionally and accepted her fully, had 3-6 months to live.


“No one can know what I felt at that moment.  I wish I had been able to go into shock and did to some degree, but every fiber of my being was screaming. I felt as if I would start screaming at any moment and maybe never stop.”


Despite his illness, Michael remained the upbeat, happy person he always was.  Always on the go and active prior to his diagnosis, Elliott knew the debilitating effects of the disease had to have bothered him immensely.  But, she says, “He was always in great spirits and never felt sorry for himself.  He felt sorry for the kids battling cancer when we went for radiation treatments.  He felt sorry for the young mothers.  He even felt sorry for the prisoners who were brought into the treatment center from the local prison.  Michael was the only one who said hello to them and asked them how they were doing.  Only once I remember asking him if he was okay because he looked kind of down and he said to me, ‘I just want to get well.’   I had to turn away so he would not see my tears.  There would be no getting well.”  Despite the predication that he would not last more than 6 months, he survived 11 months.  During his illness, Elliott cared for him as she says, “a mama bear cares for a sick cub.”  But her priorities shifted.  She had kept her blog going for those going through breakups and blogged about her experience with Michael on a separate blog called Rope Burns, which she hopes to turn into a book about her personal experience but with information for those who want to know about grief.  “I’m not yet ready to review those early entries, but I want to put in a Rope Burns entry and then describe the general phase of grief I was in.  I want to talk about the trauma of the caregiver, which is rarely recognized.  I want to talk about anticipatory grief and also the response of those around you…some of whom surprise you with their ability to step up and help out and some who run away.  I want it to be more than about me.  I want it to  help everyone but use my story as a basis.”


While she was caring for Michael, the success of her book was almost lost on her.  “I was in shock and lost…and I had to turn down so many speaking engagements and in-person interviews esepcially after Michael passed the six month mark.”  The book was released in April 2009 and Michael was proud and happy.  She read him what she wrote about him in the acknowledgement and he said,  “Oh wow.” in his humble way.  “He was just at the six month mark and we had a few “this could be it’ scares, so I was  happy that he lived to see it published.  I don’t think anything else-short of a cure for brain cancer-could have made him happier.”


And to her amazement, the book was well-received and in 2009 was chosen as Yahoo! Shine and’s Breakup Book of the Year.  In 2010, she began making radio and television appearances and speaking at conferences and seminars as well as for private groups.  The book received excellent reviews from both the mainstream media, book clubs and recommendation sites and jumped to the top of the best selling divorce books on Amazon based on the number of five-star reviews.  (2013 update: there are currently 150 5-star reviews on Amazon).  The book has been featured and she has been quoted in publications such as Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Marie Claire, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Daily News, Women’s Heath, Men’s Health, and many others.


While thrilled with the exposure and interest in the book, she continued to practice law until a fall down the stairs fractured her back making it impossible for her to return to an office setting.  Not really believing in “signs,” she still took it as a clue that she needed to return to helping others and began taking on clients.  Because GPYB has a true road map and program that she developed over 20 years working with clients as well as based on her own personal therapy and academic research, she moved toward taking personal clients, doing seminars, retreats, workshops and conferences.  As her back healed, it became apparent to her that she would not be in a place to work 60 hour weeks as a lawyer ever again, nor did she want to.


“People believe me because I’ve lived what I teach.  I have researched and written, academically, on grief and loss and both my undergraduate and law thesis received high honors and both were on grief.  “As an English major, I analyzed three major works of fiction through the lens of mourning and in law I wrote my thesis on “Family Victim Statements” and how the legal system is not set up to heal a family’s grief over a murdered loved on. Each thesis was very unusual in its treatment of the subject.”


Today Elliott is working on her second book, working as a breakup coach (she prefers the term “coach” because she says, “I’m very interactive and we work as a team and use a team approach.  Although we use the GPYB program as the framework, each person’s work is individualized.”)


Additionally she runs a women’s retreat once a year, and does seminars and workshops a few times a year.  “I don’t practice law any longer but my background allows me to calm down clients going through divorce or help them formulate a question for their divorce lawyer or mediator.  I worked as an intern in the Family Law Facilitator’s office while in law school and we were advised how to give legal information versus legal advice.  I cannot give my clients legal advice as I am not their lawyer, but I can give them legal information as well as help them either understand the process or formulate questions or define terms that sound legal and scary.”


Her years working as  Psychiatric Emergency Services Clinician also comes into play.  “I cannot diagnose anyone not in front of me, but often times I can help guide a client in the direction of understanding why their ex acted as they did.  Whether it’s a true personality disorder or just a mental health issue, I can help educate them and recommend books for them to read.  I want the focus on my client, but sometimes you need to understand that the person who is now gone, had severe issues that loving them more or being a better person wasn’t going to solve.”


Her own years in therapy come into play.  “I was in therapy for almost 10 years with 2 or 3 different therapists and they were very interactive with me, gave me instructions, shared their own live with me and what they overcame and their stories helped me, so I share myself with my readers and my clients.  And I say, “If I can do it, you can do it.”


Despite her devastation from losing Michael she finds her work important.  “Without doing the work I have my clients and readers do, I would have never met Michael.  Without being healed and whole, I could not take care of him as I did…and without his love and care I would not have the book or the success it’s become.”


She was injured again during Hurricane Sandy and spent more months in recuperation and injured her knee as well (she jokes, “I hurt my knee during a muscle spasm in my back.  I was going up the stairs and slammed my knee so hard on the step to avoid another fall and twisted the rest of my body to grab onto the banister that I sustained an injury that is normally reserved for rugby and soccer players. When I go for the unusual, I really go for it.”  So the injuries to her hand and knee aggravated her back so the writing is going slower than expected.  “My publisher has been great to me, and I’m trying to write a quality book and they understand that as well as my limitations.  Some days I can’t write at all.”


But she is a dynamic, thrilling, interesting and humorous speaker who will have you laughing and crying within a very short time span.   But you will learn much from her and find her inspiration to be amazing.  If you are looking for a speaker that will never disappoint, Susan J. Elliott is the woman to call.  You can contact her directly or through her publicist Lissa Warren at Perseus/Da Capo Publishing.




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