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Alex Lickerman on The Undefeated Mind

on the future of mental health

Eric Maisel
Source: Eric Maisel

The following interview is part of a “future of mental health” interview series that will be running for 100+ days. This series presents different points of view about what helps a person in distress. I’ve aimed to be ecumenical and included many points of view different from my own. I hope you enjoy it. As with every service and resource in the mental health field, please do your due diligence. If you’d like to learn more about these philosophies, services, and organizations mentioned, follow the links provided.


Interview with Alex Lickerman

Even helping professionals who basically agree with the utility and correctness of the current, dominant paradigm of “diagnosing and treating mental disorders, primarily with pills” nevertheless decry how few resources are devoted to other helping methods—for example, adequately staffed counseling services for highly stressed college students. Here is Alex Lickerman on that subject.

EM: You’ve written a book called The Undefeated Mind. Can you share some of its headlines?

AL: My thesis in The Undefeated Mind is that resilience isn’t something you’re either lucky enough to be born with or unlucky enough to be born without but something everyone can take specific steps to develop. There are particular facts about human psychology that can be leveraged to create what I call “cognitive interventions,” or, simply, specific ways of thinking about oneself and what happens in one’s life that lead toward strength and confidence and limit stress, anxiety, and depression. At the University of Chicago, we studied these cognitive interventions and found that not only do they increase resilience but also decrease depression and anxiety long-term, by 45% and 60% respectively.

EM: You’re involved with student health and counseling. What are some of the major emotional and mental health challenges of college students?

AL: Students today feel themselves to be under enormous pressure. They feel stressed, anxious, and depressed and most importantly ill-equipped to cope. Failure of any kind feels to many of them like the end of their lives and can drive them to near-suicidal distress. As a group, many haven’t had the chance to experience their own strength, to learn to endure bad feelings, or overcome adversity on their own.

EM: What particularly or especially helps with these challenges?

AL: Students must be supported but not supplanted. That is, they must learn to believe in their ability to overcome adversity and also in doing so be held accountable. There’s a fine line between supporting students without over-protecting them.

EM: What are your thoughts on the current, dominant paradigm of “diagnosing and treating mental disorders” and the use of so-called “psychiatric medication” to “treat mental disorders” in children, teens and adults?

AL: I think, in general, not nearly enough resources are devoted to counseling. I don’t know of any campus in America today that feels itself to be adequately staffed to manage the demand that students present for mental health services. I think with the rise of effective medication treatments for mental illness we’ve turned too far away from therapy.

EM: If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you suggest that he or she do or try?

AL: It depends entirely on the problem. If it was a full-blown mental illness, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, I’d want them to get psychiatric care and medications. If it was the more common stress, anxiety, or depression, I’d encourage them to start with a mental health professional who could explore in therapy the source of the problem and use nuanced judgment to design a treatment plan that had the best chance of success.


Alex Lickerman is a physician, former assistant professor of medicine, director of primary care, and assistant vice president for Student Health and Counseling Services at the University of Chicago. He currently leads a direct primary care private practice called ImagineMD in Chicago.

Twitter: @AlexLickerman



Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at, visit him at, and learn more about the future of mental health movement at

To learn more about and/or to purchase The Future of Mental Health visit here

To see the complete roster of 100 interview guests, please visit here:

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