Image courtesy Arvind Balaraman /

Image courtesy Arvind Balaraman /

If and when we move away from our current model of “diagnosing and treating mental disorders” and rethink what we are really offering clients to relieve their distress, it makes sense to begin to think about what a new curriculum for future mental health providers might look like.

What might a core curriculum for psychologists, psychiatrists, family therapists, mental health counselors, and anyone who is licensed or certified to provide mental health services include? Here is the one that I would like to propose.

The rationale for this curriculum is as follows:

+ It puts to rest the DSM model of diagnosing and treating so-called mental disorders

+ It incorporates coaching methods and practices, methods and practices that work and that help

+ It takes a problem-solving, solution-based perspective rather than a theoretical perspective, a pseudo-scientific perspective, or a normal/abnormal perspective

+ It sees the work between therapist and client as collaborative and humanistic

+ It includes meta-classes that do not teach “how to prescribe drugs” or “how to deal with client resistance” but rather that explore the logic of using chemicals for life problems, the logic of calling clients “resistant,” and so on.

Here, then, is a 20-course, 60-unit curriculum that I believe would amount to a huge improvement over what is currently taught.

1. Listening

A practical class that focuses on listening skills: how to listen, how to ask strategic questions, how to interrupt strategically, how to gain clarity, how to summarize, and so on.

2. How the Mind Works

A meta-class on our current understanding of what makes people tick, what motivates people, how distress arises, etc.

3. What is Personality?

A meta-class that surveys extant theories of personality to arrive at a vision of what we seem to know and what we currently do not know about the thing called “personality.”

4. Conceptualizing Human Distress

A meta-discussion of ideas such as “normal” and “abnormal” that teases out the sources of human distress, that identifies which distress is “unfortunate but unavoidable” and which is “unfortunate and unnecessary,” and that deconstructs current mental health labels.

5. Conceptualizing the Work of Psychotherapy

What is “psychotherapy” supposed to be about? A class that attempts to make sense of the different premises, models, and possibilities, including a meta-discussion of how chemicals (“medications”) are supposed to “treat” emotional distress and the ordinary painful experiences of living.

6. Collaborating and Problem-Solving

A discussion of a model of psychotherapy that focuses on “solving problems” rather than “treating disorders” and that sees the relationship between the parties involved as not “doctor-patient” but “person-person.”

7. Tactics of Change

What tactics and strategies help human beings change? Which tactics and strategies work best in which situations, with which clients, and for which issues?

8. Context, Circumstances and Life Problems

Making sense of how a client’s circumstances affect his or her presenting issues. Putting a client’s issues in the context of a life being lived.

9. Meaning

Learning how to take into account a client’s meaning issues and life purposes. Treating “meaning” as a core human concern.

10. The Big Five: Sadness, Anxiety, Obsessions, Compulsions and Addictions

Learning how to help clients who present one or more of these “big five” issues and learning how to understand the natural relationships among them.

11. Human Defensiveness

Understanding the naturalness of defensiveness and our human safety needs and conceptualizing ways of working with clients supportively and openly in light of these natural safety needs.

12. Relationships

A meta-class on what “psychotherapy with couples and families” is supposed to mean. Where is the “disorder”? Whose distress “counts”? What are the goals and objectives of such work? What tactics and strategies serve to accomplish the work?

13. Short-Term Work and Long-Term Work

How might limited session psychotherapy be managed? What does the work look like as it plays itself out over months and years? The class might include training videos of “single-session therapy” versus characteristic sessions of long-term psychotherapy.

14. Children’s Issues

A meta-discussion of the stressors on children, the way distress plays itself out in the lives of children, and what helps in working with children. Included would be a deconstruction of the current “disorders of childhood” labeling and how to think about the use of chemicals in the “treatment” of children.

15. Lifespan Issues

An examination of characteristic issues that are particular to different ages and stages and that produce distress at different points in the lifespan. The focus would be both on differences and similarities: i.e., on how certain issues tend not to reappear and how others tend to reappear.

The remaining 5 classes might include:

16. Ethical and Legal Responsibilities

17. Practice-Building

18. Elective (Special Populations, e.g., LGBT, Elders, etc.)

19. Elective (Special Issues, e.g. Sexual Dysfunctions, Impulse Control, Chronic Stress, etc.)

20. Elective (Special Helping Strategies, e.g. Mindfulness Training, Cognitive Training, Psychodrama, Stress Reduction, Goal-Setting, etc.)

Does this curriculum include everything that a psychotherapist in training ought to learn? Of course not! I’ve left out many traditional subjects that deserve consideration and that perhaps might well find their way into these courses. I make no claim that that is a perfect curriculum.

But it does do some new things. It also avoids the minefields of “abnormal psychology” and “the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders.” And it would much better prepare a young therapist to actually work with and help the clients he or she sees. I offer it for your consideration.

Eric Maisel

About Eric Maisel

Eric Maisel is the author of 40+ books. His latest are Secrets of a Creativity Coach, Why Smart People Hurt, and Making Your Creative Mark. His latest offerings are Life Purpose Boot Camp classes and instructor trainings. To learn more about Dr. Maisel’s books, services, workshops, and classes please visit You can contact Dr. Maisel at