At last – the final solution for all mental health problems!

The solution is apparently simple and parsimonious and universally applicable.1

At first glance, the proposed new therapy has much in its favour. It seems to be a form of facilitated problem-solving. The therapist prompts a person to talk about their problem, to clarify their goals, and to expand their awareness of what might be causing it. It is suggested, very reasonably, that some kind of conflict is present at the centre of most problems. The focus is on self-determination, including a person’s freedom to choose the spacing of sessions and the duration of help.

All this can be simply laid out and it may represent an optimal way of conducting help. However, it is far from simple in practice. The method of levels is said to be a unified theoretical account and a single core psychological process. However, it is neither a theory nor a process. It is a pragmatic and principled means of persuasion. As such, it has much to recommend it.

Nor is the method theoreticallyparsimonious. It does not abandon the concepts of mental health, disorders, and symptoms. Presumably, the existence of a problem or a conflict can cause symptoms. However, how are symptoms fitted into the theory? They are not problems or conflicts as such. They are presumably elements in cognitive and behavioural processes. If so, why bother with concepts such as disorder and symptom? One reason for doing so is to compare this therapeutic approach with others. It is apparently better at reducing symptoms and distress. Shouldn’t the outcome of therapy be measured as the resolution of problems and conflicts? There are certainly better and worse ways of resolving things. These rest on pragmatic, ethical, social, and political criteria, not simply on the relief of distress.

Is this approach to ‘mental health’ universally applicable? Problem-solving and self-determination are certainly favoured concepts in our own society, and not without reason. However, not everyone in Western society endorses them. Across the world, there are likely to be an even greater variety of approaches to solving problems and conflicts. It cannot be assumed that everyone sees life as a matter of choosing a hierarchy of goals and finding an optimal way of resolving conflicts between them. In any case, many people are not free to choose their own goals. The problem may consist of all manner of constraints on self-determination, many of which lie outside the control of the person with a problem.

1. Mansell, W. (2018). Method of levels: Is it the most parsimonious psychological therapy available? Revista de Psicoterapia, 29 (110), 135-143.

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