When people think about psychology or mental health, many times the things that come to mind are: mental health problems; depression; doctors; appointments; painful emotions; stigma; not coping; stress; disorders; and so on.
It’s quite understandable why so many negative associations with ‘psychology’ come to mind. After all, we’ve all heard about some past unethical scientific experiments, mental health asylums with horrific, inhumane conditions, as well as the media telling us negative, frightening stories about people who live with mental health issues. This may leave us with a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.
The Birth of Positive Psychology
Psychology has greatly evolved since its early days, and a new area of psychology started to develop in 1954 after mental health specialists started to realise that the main focus of psychology thus far had been on disorders and dysfunctions. Some of these people, such as Abraham Maslow and Martin Seligman, realised that this was not the full picture of our human existence. Where is the focus on potential? Strengths? Motivation? Meaning? Values? All those things that make us human, hand in hand with our challenges and struggles.
And so a new dawn in psychology began, with full scientific enquiry, experimentation and vigour. Many wonderful findings were published and became common practice in the field of psychology.
What is Positive Psychology?
So what is positive psychology and how is it used? Well, it is a more balanced view of our mental health and wellbeing. Positive psychology takes into account all our parts as a human being: the good, the bad and the ugly.
In therapy we want to focus on all the richness of human experience, your challenges, your stresses, your circumstances, your diagnoses, your environment, your pain … but also on your personality, preferences, wishes, motivations, goals, positive qualities, learnt skills, abilities, life experiences, values, and what makes your life meaningful.
The goal of positive psychology is not to lose track of what makes you, you. Instead, the goal is to identify and strengthen all those parts of the person that makes them resilient, capable, motivated and able to live their life with meaning, reward, excitement and fulfillment while managing their stresses and challenges.
Positive Psychology in Therapy
In my work as a therapist, using positive psychology as part of my approach, I sometimes have clients making comments such as: “This sounds too simplistic. I can’t just be positive all the time. Life is hard. I suffer. I find it hard to be positive. I don’t think this is for me”.
And my response is: “Yes, life is very challenging at times, it has suffering, intense emotional pain, sacrifices and difficulties. That is true. Therefore when a person starts therapy, the aim is to assess all the elements of their life. This will help us to understand what they are struggling with, and what can help them get better, recover, heal and gain the strength they need, by reconnecting to their existing character strengths and the positive qualities they have gained throughout their life, as well as building new skills and coping mechanisms that are needed now to address the current challenges.”
Human beings are innately strong and resilient, they have an in-built capacity to heal and recover. They also long for meaning in their life. Meaning does not need to be a complicated idea, it can be simply whatever makes a person feel most themselves, most alive, and excited when they are engaged in a certain activity or domain. Therefore, anything in life can be meaningful. What brings meaning to life can change from one life period to another, or new ones can be added.
Identifying one’s meanings, values and strengths may be challenging at times, especially if we are overwhelmed with difficult life situations, negative belief systems, negative thoughts and painful feelings. This is where a safe space with a trained mental health specialist can assist the individual to identify their meanings, and become an active agent in their own life.
We all want to be happy, valued, free of suffering and maybe even contribute to the world in meaningful ways. But sometimes there are blocks and obstacles along the way that make this goal challenging. In therapy, we identify these blocks and work towards removing them in order to live a life of meaning, whatever that may be for the individual.
If this resonates with you, you may want to start reading more about the positive psychology approach to better understand yourself, your positive character strengths, virtues and values, and then find ways to act on them in your life.
Alternatively, you may like to try a therapist using a positive psychology approach – I would be happy to be of assistance.
Author: Ilana Gorovoy, B.Arts (Psych), B. Arts (Hons.)(Psychology), MPsych (Couns.)
With a Master’s in Counselling, Brisbane Psychologist Ilana Gorovoy draws on therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Existential and Strengths-based approaches, Person-Centred and Positive Psychology, to assist her clients to become conscious of their strengths and difficulties, design and reach their goals, live a life of meaning and purpose, and reach their full potential through empowerment.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Ilana Gorovoy, try Online Booking – Wishart. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology (Wishart) on (07) 3088 5422.