#282: Mike Christensen on Deliberate Practice: Was David Right All Along?

Podcast #282: Mike Christensen on Deliberate Practice: Was David Right All Along?

Rhonda and I are thrilled to welcome Mike Christiansen, head of the Feeling Great Institute in Canada. Mike is a fantastic clinician and teacher, and an old beloved friend. Today he talks about the impact of David’s work that is finally being felt and appreciated by innovators in the field of psychiatry and psychology.

Rhonda begins the broadcast by reading a really touching endorsement from a young man in Turkey whose life was changed by David’s work after he came close to suicide.

One of the key’s was David’s statement that we are disturbed, not by events, but by our thoughts about them.” Of course, that incredible idea goes back all the way to the Greek philosopher, Epictetus, nearly 2,000 years ago. It is so basic that most people don’t “get it,” but once you do, it can be mind-blowing. The young man ended his note to David by saying that, “Life is beautiful now. Thank you!”

Mike described a similar enlightenment experience when he was doing counseling, and first attended one of David’s intensive workshops in Canada. He knew that his training did not provide him with the tools to make much of an impact on his patients. He was excited by what he learned, and subsequently attended many of David’s workshops, and became certified in TEAM-CBT.

Mike now teaches from around the world at the Feeling Good institute in Mt. View, California. He teaches a highly acclaimed 12 week introductory course in TEAM. If you are looking for some in depth training, Rhonda and I would STRONGLY recommend this class.

Mike described a vitally important new direction in psychotherapy called “Deliberate Practice,” and is co-authoring a book on this topic with Maor Katz, MD, head of the Feeling Good Institute, and two pioneers in deliberate practice, Tony Rousmaniere & Alex Vaz.

Essentially, Deliberate Practice refers to two things. First, therapists must use rating scales, like the ones David has created, to assess patients progress in multiple dimensions, as well as their perceptions of therapist empathy and helpfulness, at every single session. This keep therapists on their toes, and gives them a crystal clear picture of their effectiveness or lack of effectiveness with every patient at every session. Although this can often be painful for the therapist, it can transform the therapist’s clinical skills and turn every patient into the finest teacher the clinician has ever had!

Second, deliberate practice refers to refined training tools for therapists to practice on an ongoing basis, not only when learning therapy for the first time, but throughout your entire career. The key is doing short, role plan exercises that focus on specific tools, like the Five Secrets of Effective Communication during the E = Empathy step of TEAAM, or the “Invitation Step” at the start of A = Assessment of Resistance, or the Externalization of Voices during M = Methods.

And here’s the most important part. After the role play, the student is given a letter grade plus specific feedback on what she or he did right and what needs improvement. Then you do repeat role reversals until the student gets an A.

David compares this to the type of training a professional athlete might receive to improve his or her skills at basketball or any sport. However, this also requires great motivation and courage on the part of those who are learning and teaching, because every error is highlighted—there’s no hiding! That’s why the philosophy of learning in the spirit of “joyous failure” is crucial to survival and success!

Rhonda, Mike, and David demonstrated this strategy several times, focusing on the Invitation Step of the Assessment of Resistance with an “easy” as well as a more “challenging patient. Sure enough, grades below an A WERE received, and errors WERE pointed out.

And, in addition, grades of A were fairly readily achieved, showing that this type of “deliberate practice” definitely DOES work.

During the podcast I took the opportunity to vent some of my frustrations with the field, and Mike and Rhonda kindly didn’t point out that I probably sounded like a half-demented loony. But I do feel strongly about this topic, and extremely proud of the amazing work that Mike is doing on so many levels.

Most therapists resist rating scales. One of my students did a survey for his PhD research, and it seemed like only a small percent (less than 5%) of the psychologists he polled who advertise in the Psychology Today website are using ratings scales to track patient progress. To me, this is both unethical, anti-scientific, and totally unacceptable.

Therapists have endless excuses for resisting, and all of the excuses are spurious. For example, they think patients won’t be honest, but the big problem is that the overwhelming majority of patients ARE honest, and therapists don’t want to hear the truth bout their errors and ineptitude.

I do not support, but rather condemn, therapists who refuse to use rating instruments. To me, this is the “unforgivable sin” in our profession. I also believe that the use of valid and highly reliable rating instruments will eventually be required for licensure, and the “science resisters” will soon be a thing of the past.

The field of psychotherapy definitely needs to move into the data-driven scientific era, and leave the current “schools of therapy,” which compete like religions, or even cults, behind, just as physics and astronomy broke away from the Catholic Church during the Copernican Revolution hundreds of years ago.

So, Mike is definitely working on the cutting edge, and he’s just awesome! If you get the chance to take one of his TEAM-CBT classes, jump on it! He will connect with you intellectually, emotionally, and, if I can use a politically incorrect word, spiritually!

Warmly, David, Rhonda & Mike

For more information, you can reach Mike Christensen at You can also find Mike at

Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California, but due to Covid-19 restrictions is working mostly via Zoom, and can be reached at She is a Level 4 Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and trainer and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Check out her new website:

You can reach Dr. Burns at

This is the cover of my new book, Feeling Great.
It’s on sale right now on Amazon, and it’s ridiculously cheap!
The kindle and audio versions are available now too! Check it out!


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