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Excerpted from Shortcut through Therapy by Richard Carlson. Copyright 1995 by Richard Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"The mentally healthy person is seldom irritated or annoyed, gets over adversity quickly, and exudes compassion for both himself or herself and others."

  Richard Carlson
Shortcut through Therapy
, Part 1

A colleague recently addressed a group of two hundred graduate students in the field of mental health, presumably a most sophisticated audience. At one point during the speech he stopped to ask, "Is there anyone here who can give me a definition of 'mental health' and 'well-being'?" Dead silence. None of these highly educated students specializing in mental health had a clue.

This stunning lack of knowledge on the part of this particular audience flows naturally out of the traditional approach to mental health. Most professional mental-health education teaches some version of a medical model, with the absence of mental illness being the sole criterion for mental health. Traditional definitions of mental illness appear in an encyclopedic book called The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), sometimes referred to as the Bible of traditional therapy. The DSM sets out a wide array of symptoms representing hundreds of disorders. The job of the therapist is to develop specific diagnoses that fit those in the manual based on a continuing analysis of the client's perceived problems and sources of unhappiness. If you were to look at the manual, you'd see that it contains hundreds and hundreds of pages of clinical diagnoses of mental illness--and absolutely no definition of mental health.

If you don't have something wrong with you, if you don't act or feel sick, you're assumed to be mentally healthy. This means that even though most mental-health practitioners--such as psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and stress consultants--are quite bright and articulate, they aren't necessarily trained in mental health at all. Instead, their training focuses exclusively on identifying, classifying, and treating mental illness.

I believe strongly that this single-minded focus contributes to the relatively limited effectiveness of traditional therapy. Instead of defining mental health as the absence of illness, I think of it in terms of the presence of more positive characteristics. The mentally healthy person is seldom irritated or annoyed, gets over adversity quickly, and exudes compassion for both himself or herself and others. That person is probably also highly creative, enjoys inner peace and contentment, and can deal effectively with the stress of day-to-day life.

But we're jumping ahead. Let's talk first about what really goes on when you begin therapy.

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