A Proposition for a Counter-Curriculum in Healthcare Education and Practice

This is a copy of the blog post that I published in the member’s blog of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine 8/11/16.

By AIHM Member Dave Kopacz

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What is a counter-curriculum and why do we need it?

A counter-curriculum is a course of self-study (which includes the study of the self) alongside the technical curriculum for training healthcare professionals.

We need it because something important is missing from the contemporary curriculum of healthcare providers.

I first developed this concept of a counter-curriculum when I was in medical school, actually even before that, back in high school when I realized that there were important areas I needed to be educated in that were outside of what I could learn through schools. My counter-curriculum included the works of Carl Jung, and writings in Zen Buddhism, poetry, literature and mysticism. It included looking at the best of being fully human, as well as the worst, so I had to study the “forgotten histories” of genocides of Native Americans and other marginalized peoples and cultures. I had to study the assumptions of the current facts that were being taught, which led to the philosophy of science and history of medicine as well as of different cultural and historical models of health and illness.

The counter-curriculum is more than reading books, however.  In order to be fully human, to counteract the dehumanizing aspects of professional training, in order to be the best doctor and the best human being I could be, I practiced various forms of meditation, yoga, tai chi, martial arts, fencing, going to various gym classes, working out, running, free and easy wandering in the woods with Thoreau and Chuang Tzu in my pack. The counter-curriculum led me to study various forms of healing, of energy, life force, breath and consciousness. It led me to seek out different forms of education and experience. It recently led me to start working with Native American visionary Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), who taught me that we only truly exist in moments when we are raising our consciousness, the rest of the time we are just busy trying to keep everything the same, which is persistence―not existence.

And, finally, the counter-curriculum led me to write my book, Re-humanizing Medicine. And it led me to write this blog post and to encourage you to find your own counter-curriculum, so you can be a whole person, so you can be fully human, so you can truly exist.

Dave Kopacz is a psychiatrist, a founding diplomate of the ABIHM, and is recently certified through the ABoIM. He works in primary care mental health integration at the Puget Sound VA and is on faculty at the University of Washington. He has worked in a number of practice settings in the US and New Zealand. His first book, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine develops the concept of a counter-curriculum and presents a guide for being a whole person to treat a whole person. His latest book, with co-author Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), is called Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD and is due out October 15th, 2016.

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