Psy.D. Program Electives


Students select at least two elective courses from a range of offerings in their third year. They may pick courses focusing on a particular population, or augment learning in a specific theoretical approach as indicated in the Intervention Series electives. Elective course offerings have included the following:

Elective Concentrations in Assessment

Advanced Neuropsychological Assessment I, II & III

In this three-trimester sequence, students deepen their knowledge from the Assessment series. They learn more about behavioral neuro-anatomy and neuropathology, developmental neuropsychology, and terminology. They also study approaches to rehabilitation, and descriptions of common clinical syndromes, such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and seizure disorders. In the latter part of the sequence, students use case examples to learn how to administer, score, and interpret prominent neuropsychological assessment instruments such as the Halstead-Reitan and Luria-Nebraska. They also become familiar with the assessment of clinical syndromes, such as dementia and Broca's aphasia, domains of behavior pertinent to neuropsychology, and how to prepare neuropsychological test reports. Emphasis is on approaches used in neuropsychological settings such as hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and private practice.

Advanced Pediatric, Child & Adolescent Assessment I, II & III

In this three-trimester sequence, students survey the psychodiagnostic assessment of latency-age children and adolescents, with an emphasis on exploring social, emotional, and cognitive functioning within a developmental framework. Students also learn about working with families and schools in the assessment process. Studies include administering, scoring, and interpreting several instruments typically used in test batteries with children and teenagers, and diagnostic interviewing. Students learn how to select tests that can answer specific questions, and how and when to refer clients.

Elective Concentration in Intervention

Empirically Supported Treatments I, II & III

Students learn treatments for anxiety (simple phobias, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder), depression, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder. The course focuses on diagnostic and assessment issues, and includes practical strategies for each phase of treatment. Students learn techniques for increasing emotion regulation for multi-affect and comorbid disorders. The course also examines schema-focused therapy, integrating psychodynamic with cognitive behavioral work. Schema-focused therapy offers techniques to treat negative relationship patterns, and crippling defenses. The class also covers the protocol for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a new integrative approach with impressive outcome research that shows strong potential to bridge psychodynamic, behavioral, and mindfulness therapies.

Elective Concentrations in Psychodynamic Intervention

Comparative Analytic Theories

The class exposes students to contemporary thinking about psychoanalytic theory. Of particular importance is the development of analytic thinking from the perspective of theory and its effect upon the practice of analytic therapy, in addition to how one develops and what it means to develop an analytic mind and sensibility. Readings highlight current issues and topics regarding different views of psychopathology, trauma, and the role of the therapeutic relationship through transference and countertransference. Case material is used to illustrate the application of theory to practice, and to help embody and generate an analytic voice.

Object Relations I, II & III

Using clinical case material, students explore the basic concepts in object relations theory, examining the work of Klein, Fairbairn, Bion, and Winnicott. They also study American derivations of object relations theory that reflect the influence of ego psychology, including the work of Mahler, Leowald, and Kernberg. Clinical discussions emphasize the role of therapeutic processes central to object relations theory, namely: projective and introjective processes, including projective identification; interactional phenomena in the therapeutic setup with an emphasis on the pervasive role played by transference and countertransference; and the holding and containing functions of the therapeutic setting.


This course explores the conceptual foundations and clinical practice of intersubjectivity theory. Readings, discussions, and case presentations enable students to examine issues such as the intersubjective understanding of psychopathology, trauma, transference, and working with 'difficult' patients.

Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) addresses issues of distress through the lens of attachment. Combining intrapsychic and interpersonal parameters, EFT focuses on reprocessing and expanding emotional responses, creating new interactions, and fostering secure bonding between partners. Students examine the theory, interventions and empirical work of EFT, as well as EFT couple therapy. Students learn to assess couples for EFT work, identify negative interactive cycles, delineate EFT stages and steps, and explore how EFT treats issues of addiction, trauma, infidelity, and attachment.

Child Treatment

This course focuses on practical issues in child and adolescent therapy, from the first meeting with the child and family, through the course of treatment. Students learn how to assess and intervene in the home, school, clinic, and other settings. The course covers individual, family, and group therapy with normal and difficult children/adolescents.

Narrative Therapy

This course addresses Narrative Therapy developed from, and an expression of, the postmodern critique. The guiding metaphors for this work are narrative and social construction; that is, people's lives are organized by narrative and social construction through life narratives that are socially constructed within particular sociocultural contexts. The therapist's work is to understand how the meaning of one's narrative has been constructed, and to help clients by coauthoring life stories in more preferred directions.

Group Therapy

This course examines group theory, intervention, therapy, and research, as well as social psychology, leadership, social defenses, and inter-personal relations. Students also learn to engage a group in dialogue, and develop an awareness of their clinical style in groups. Students become more aware of how group process is ubiquitous, as they learn to be more informed members of groups to which they belong. Students are encouraged to reflect on their personal and professional experiences of groups as related to the course material.

Health Psychology

This class supports the development of clinical skills to integrate biopsychosocial treatment in health, community and private practice settings. Students learn the fundamentals of health psychology, treatment team development, behavioral health interventions, the impact of culture on care, and the biopsychosocial treatment model. Students learn to effectively navigate multiple healthcare settings.

Through interactive discussions and course materials, students understand the metaskills of how to integrate evidenced-based practices into their own theoretical perspective. The class focuses on recognizing and treating the intrapsychic, developmental neurobiology, social, cultural and biological impacts on client health. Students recognize the effects of their own health beliefs and cultural backgrounds.

Comparative Psychoanalytic Concepts

This class reviews the major analytic theories, tracing their evolution into contemporary thinking. Of particular importance is the development of analytic thinking from the perspective of theory, and its effect on the practice of analytic therapy, in addition to how one develops and what it means to develop an analytic mind. Readings highlight current controversies regarding different views of psychopathology, trauma and the role of the therapeutic relationship through transference and countertransference. Case material is used to illustrate the application of theory to practice, and help embody and generate an analytic voice.

Elective Concentrations in Sociocultural Issues

Clinicians to Society

This course provides a fundamental understanding of social and community psychology. Students examine major topics, questions, and approaches related to the influence of society and groups on individual thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The relevance of psychology to mental health in the community, and the function and mission of public mental health are also explored.

Other Electives

Advocacy and Public Policy in Clinical Psychology

This class includes readings and discussions, exercises and activities, guest speakers, and completion of an advocacy or public policy project. Instruction is provided throughout the academic year in 12 sessions offered once or twice per month on Wednesday evenings, and one Tuesday eight-hour program in Sacramento (in February or March). Classes are two or three hours in length. Speakers include local, state, and federal legislators and their staff members, as well as local psychologists involved in advocacy and public policy.

Forensic and Correctional Psychology

This class introduces students to contemporary issues in forensic and correctional psychology. Forensic psychologists provide opinions in civil and criminal matters, and are involved with the correctional system. Every psychologist interfaces with the legal system in their career, whether completing an internship in a correctional setting, being subpoenaed to testify about a patient, or having to discuss a patient's competency. In addition, every psychologist must have a basic understanding of forensic and correctional practice. For example, many patients suffering from serious mental illness have spent time behind bars. This class provides an overview of forensic mental health topics, including competency, not-guilty-by-reason-of insanity, diminished capacity, class action litigation, civil commitment, and related issues. An overview of the criminal justice system and corrections, as well as basic topics in correctional mental health are also explored.


This seminar format course explores the burgeoning field of neuropsychoanalysis which links psychoanalytic theory with neuroscience models of the brain, mind, and emotions. Students discuss clinical cases, theory, and the writings of Solms, Schore, Turnbull, Pally, Siegel, and others. The goal is to foster an understanding of a unifying theory of the mind that is clinically useful, and avoids the pitfalls of neurosciences' reductionism of mental life and psychoanalysis' preference for theory over scientific study. The course is clinically oriented, with neuroscience and psychoanalytic theory accessible to all participants.


Increasingly, clinicians are collaborating with psychiatrists and clients expect them to be knowledgeable about psychiatric medications. They must learn to integrate medication treatment with psychotherapy treatment. Psychopharmacology examines the major classes of psychiatric drugs and topics related to ethical concerns, determining when to refer clients for medication evaluation and how to follow clients, as well as how to work most effectively with psychiatrists and other medical professionals. Also reviewed are clinical considerations regarding ways medical disorders and drugs of abuse can mimic psychiatric symptoms.

Psychotherapy Integration

Although one-quarter to one-third of surveyed U.S. psychologists describe themselves as "eclectic" or "integrationist," this orientation remains suspect by many in our field. This course begins by reviewing the comparative-theoretical, empirical, philosophical, sociocultural, and ethical context for the emergence of eclectic and integrative approaches. Contrasting forms of eclectic/integrationist practice are then studied, evaluating the advantages and challenges of an intentional approach to integrative psychotherapy. Because this area of clinical practice and training is a relatively recent development that can be variously formulated and implemented, the course encourages students to begin to identify their assumptions and approaches to psychotherapy integration, and to practice applying eclectic and/or integrative strategies in day-to-day clinical work. A seminar-discussion format and individual case presentations comprise most class sessions, with occasional lectures.

The Philosophy of Psychology

Wilhelm Wundt, the founder of modern psychology, asserted that psychology rested on philosophical foundations and the failure to recognize this fact meant that psychologists were unaware of the basic meaning of their own theories. Consider the situation regarding freedom and responsibility. Since all therapy intends to introduce transformation in the patient, the family, or the larger society, it must hold to some notion of agency located in the patient, the therapist, or the society at large. But is "agency" freely chosen, or determined by conditions that require the outcome the therapist is trying to alter? In other words, focusing on the patient for the moment, is the patient free (as existential therapists tend to maintain), or could he or she choose to act differently and thus bear the responsibility for their act, or was their activity determined to be as it was (as Freud believed)? Are human beings free or determined, and if one or the other, what do we mean by these notions?

Psychotherapy and Spirituality

This course explores questions such as: How do we, in an age of socio/political/environmental crisis, define the role of the spiritual in the work of psychology? What do we intend by "spiritual," and how do we differentiate it from "psychological"? How can we use spiritual understandings, practices, and concepts in clinical work? This class includes readings of Jung and psychological perspectives from other theoretical orientations, including object relations, ecopsychology, and developmental psychology. Students also explore texts from a wide range of spiritual and mystical traditions. The class is conducted as a seminar, with presentations by students (and possibly special guests) and discussions as the primary modes of working together.

Chemical Dependency Seminar

This course satisfies the state requirement for licensure and introduces students to the field of addiction treatment. Students gain an understanding of the process of addiction, relapse, and recovery, as well as the impact of racism on substance abuse in communities of color. Students learn to identify points of intervention in the treatment process, and explore the effect of addiction on mental and physical illness. Students also analyze the impact of substance abuse on family functioning, approaches to treating the family, and discuss how to utilize community resources in treatment. Other topics include understanding the role of public policy in promoting substance abuse treatment, becoming familiar with recent research on addiction and its implications, the role of public policy in promoting substance abuse treatment, genetic components of addiction, and becoming familiar with the recent research on addiction and its implications for treatment.

Treatment of Survivors of Torture and Trauma

The goal of this course is to understand the clinical, societal and ethical issues involved in treating survivors of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Treating genocide survivors from Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, or Armenia, Holocaust survivors, and crimes against humanity survivors (such as African Americans and Native Americans), this course enables the therapist to understand and treat individuals on multiple levels. Various technical and countertransferential aspects confronting the therapist are studied. Students examine the history of ideas about transference and countertransference, from classical psychoanalytic theory to current usage. Topics include transferences, concordant and complementary countertransference, communications in primitive mental states, intersubjectivity, and issues of technique.


Who was Freud, and what was he trying to do? Everyone seems to know of Freud, though few have actually read him, and fewer have studied the wealth of intimate correspondence and other available primary source materials. How did his early life shape his theory of the mind and the treatment of its aberrations, and how did his work come to shape his later life and adult personality? Using primary source data, we chart the evolution of the young Freud's love relationships, professional dream, relationships with mentors, and efforts to create a comprehensive theory of the mind and an effective way of working with patients. We then study the dramatic changes in Freud's personality following his mid-life transition as his theory became transformed into a cause. Through patient accounts of his work with them, we take a close-up view of the treatment method he ultimately created. We see that current notions of the neutral, blank screen analyst are a post-Freudian invention. Students who want to understand the origins of their own psychodynamic work and discover a way of integrating authentic relating with professional discipline will find a closer look at Freud's way of doing so instructive.

Seminar in Contemplative (Meditation) Practices: Experience, Theory, Science, and Clinical Applications

Contemplative practices have burst into the world of clinical psychology, and are being used in the treatment of multiple disorders. They are also growing exponentially in terms of recommended "self-care" for clinicians and others. Furthermore, there is a growing body of sophisticated contemplative science (including neuroscience) demonstrating the mechanisms by which these practices work, and supporting their effectiveness in a wide range of situations. This seminar is personal, academic, and clinical. It includes experiential and academic components. Seminar discussions are based on readings and personal experiences with contemplative practices, in and out of class. Discussions cover current clinical applications of practices shown to be effective for use in psychotherapy for particular disorders. We review major practices, including traditional (or religiously-based) practices and contemporary adaptations that tend to be more secular in nature. Readings include reviews of contemplative practices and the cultural contexts from which they derived, short primary texts connected to various practices, and summaries of findings from contemporary contemplative science. Students summarize literature and lead seminar discussions about practices of particular interest. Historical and cultural contexts will be considered.

Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP)

AEDP is a transformation-based, healing-oriented therapy developed by Dr. Diana Fosha, author of The Transforming Power of Affect (2000) and co-author of The Healing Power of Emotion: Affective Neuroscience, Development & Clinical Practice (2009) with Daniel J. Siegel and Marion Solomon. This course is presented in collaboration with the AEDP Institute. It will feature Dr. Fosha, other senior AEDP faculty, and several members of our faculty who will present videos of their work. Rooted in the short-term psychodynamic tradition and informed by affective neuroscience and contemporary attachment theory, AEDP fosters the emergence of healing experiences through an in-depth processing of difficult emotional and relational experiences. AEDP taps into the body's wired-in, self-righting tendencies through fundamental affective and relational change mechanisms to help clients regain access to their innate resources and resilience. Facilitated through a relationship with an actively engaged, emotionally attuned therapist, the patient is guided to process emotions that previously felt too overwhelming to face. In this survey course, we review the theoretical basis and fundamental concepts of AEDP and help students understand what is involved in AEDP skills such as: fostering healing by facilitating the person's innate predisposition for growth and transformation; working with defenses, anxiety and shame; explicitly and implicitly working with attachment; working to process emotions to completion; and meta-processing the experience of transformation to engender resilience and self-transcendence.

Independent Study

Students may enroll in independent study under the sponsorship of a Wright Institute faculty member or approved qualified instructor. Independent study is a course of study agreed upon by the student and instructor. It usually includes readings, papers, projects and other activities, as well as student/instructor evaluation. The Dean must approve all independent study projects in advance.


Lee Vance spent three years in seminary before discovering the Wright Institute:

"Having spent the majority of my past working within communities that aimed to help, I was excited to find that the Wright Institute was a community unlike any I had been a part of, uniquely concerned about social justice, diversity, and relationships. The classroom was where brilliant minds helped me to think broadly and deeply about society and clients. My practica and internships advanced my clinical skills and increased my competence. Frankly, I am deeply thankful for the development I've experienced over the past four years. I showed up at the Wright Institute in a t-shirt and shorts eager to learn, though scared and uncertain. Now, I am a professional. I'm passionate about the work, feel confident in my knowledge, and comfortable with the continued uncertainties.

It's been an absolute joy and privilege to learn and grow at the Wright Institute."

Lee Vance, Current Student