Mental Disorder Lesson Plan

A lesson plan geared toward the instruction of a mental disorder can increase a student’s understanding of the disorder through the relevant vocabulary, the history, the criteria of the disorder in the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision), case studies, possible treatments and current research. The use of a good textbook concerning mental disorders (such as an abnormal psychology textbook) can significantly aid lesson plans.


At the beginning of the mental disorder lesson, equip the students with the definitions of the relevant vocabulary involved with the particular mental disorder (or group of disorders) to be taught. For example, a mental disorder lesson concerning schizophrenia should at least include the vocabulary terms “schizophrenia,” “abnormal,” “DSM-IV-TR,” “delusion,” “illusion,” “facial affect” and “positive and negative symptoms.” Either assign the students to read, define and understand the mental disorder vocabulary before the date of the lesson, or provide the vocabulary terms during the mental disorder lesson by way of handouts, chalkboard, whiteboard or PowerPoint. Knowledge of the vocabulary terms helps students listen to and read literature concerning the mental disorder.

After this, the lesson can transition into the history of the disorder. The content of the history should include any past terminology or other names used to refer to the disorder (e.g., “hysteria” for “conversion disorder”), primitive methods used to treat the disorder (e.g., trephination: holes drilled through the skull), and historical figures presumed to possess the disorder (e.g., composer Robert Schumann may have had bipolar disorder).

Diagnostic Criteria

A lesson plan concerning a mental disorder is not complete without information regarding the diagnostic criteria used by mental health professionals in the DSM-IV-TR. Upon completion of the lesson, the student should understand how clients with the disorder can be diagnosed. A discussion of the diagnostic criteria should always begin with a warning: Do not use thse criteria to diagnose people if (1) you are not a licensed mental health professional or (2) the individual is not your client. Improper use of diagnostic criteria can cause emotional damage to the person assumed to have a disorder.

After the diagnostic criteria of the mental disorder are explained, the class may then transition into a discussion of the classification of the disorder into the DSM-IV-TR Axes. Axis I lists the clinical condition, Axis II lists personality disorders, Axis III lists any general medical conditions, Axis IV lists any psychosocial or environmental problems, and Axis V indicates one’s global assessment of functioning (how well the individual is functioning at a given time). Practice in proper categorization of mental disorders through worksheets and homework can help students retain the diagnostic criteria.

Current Issues

Give the students supplemental information of the mental disorder via recent research articles, treatment plans and case studies. Such information can allow a student to relate data about the environment that he or she already knows to the research data on the mental disorder. For example, the basic differences between men and women and the variable climates in different parts of the world can be related to the findings that women are about twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with unipolar depression, and that seasonal affective disorder tends to occur more often in the northern hemisphere. Case studies can also provide insight into the behavior and thought patterns of one who struggles with the disorder. Treatment plans for the mental disorder can help the students understand how individuals with mental illness can receive the help that they need to recover optimal functioning and achieve a higher state of well-being.

A lesson plan geared toward the instruction of a mental disorder can increase a student's understanding of the disorder through the relevant vocabulary