Penn State University, which could be considered the home and birthplace of Positive Psychology, states,
"Positive Psychology is one of the most innovative, relatively new, approaches to psychology.
It involves the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive."
Positive Psychology begins on a positive foundation, that of building on one's strengths with a positive goal in sight, rather than the negative foundation of modern psychiatry, which basically matches symptoms with a disorder.
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The Positive Psychology Center at Penn State University, promotes research, training, education, and the dissemination of Positive Psychology.
This field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.
Core Principles of Positive Psychology
Positive Psychology has three central concerns:
1. Positive emotions, which might be considered to be related to emotion-psychology
2. Positive individual traits, and
3. Positive institutions.
Understanding positive emotions
entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits consists of the study of the strengths and virtues, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom.
Understanding positive institutions entails the study of the strengths that foster better communities, such as justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurturance, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance.
Another definition of Positive Psychology states,
is a recent branch of psychology that "studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive". Positive psychologists seek "to find and nurture" genius, creativity and talent, as well as "to make normal life more fulfilling", not to cure mental illness.
Abraham Maslow was an influence for the Positive Psychology movement.
Background of the Development of Positive Psychology
Several humanistic psychologists such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Erich Fromm
developed successful theories and practices that involved human happiness. Recently the theories of human flourishing developed by these humanistic psychologists have found empirical support from studies by humanistic and positive psychologists, such as in the area of self-determination theory.
Martin Seligman, Penn State, University, founder of Positive Psychology - Photo - TED: Ideas worth sharing
in positive psychology include: Martin Seligman, Ed Diener, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, C. R. Snyder, Christopher Peterson, Barbara Fredrickson, Donald Clifton, Albert Bandura, Shelley Taylor, Charles S. Carver, Michael F. Scheier, and Jonathan Haidt.
Martin Seligam and the Birth of Positive Psychology
Influence of Abraham Maslow -
Focus on "mental illness" by psychiatry, not a healthy foundation for psychology
Martin Seligman is considered the father of the modern positive psychology movement, and chose positive psychology as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association. The term itself first originated with Abraham Maslow, who, in 1954 in his book Motivation and Personality, first coined the term.
Seligman candidly observed that for the past fifty years clinical psychology "has been consumed by a single topic only - mental illness", echoing Maslow's comments. He urged psychologists to continue the earlier missions of psychology of nurturing talent and improving normal life. This observation by Maslow and Seligman does have much relevance.
Why the Positive Psyhology Movement
The modern practice of psychology, and especially that of
has overemphasized the
and drug treatment, partly because it is fast, easy, convenient, as well as profitable for both practicioners,
and drug companies.
In doing this, much of the field of
, especially, has become one in which symptoms are determined, a label is assigned to the disorder, to the person, and the next consequential step usually involves
, possibly accompanied by additional therapy.
The opposite of positive is negative, and this negative foundation of labeling
and treatment, which is the most common approach in modern psychiatry
based on the "medical model" of mental health, sometimes leads to a guilty until proven innocent mentality in the psychiatric world.
For this reason, persons can be labeled much too hastily, and that label can put one into a mind-set of compliance and apathy with regards to improving their situation.
Positive Psychology takes the opposite approach, building on strengths, searching for the positive, not assuming that a label needs to be attached unless absolutely necessary. For this reason, it can be a much more beneficial framework or springboard from which to begin when considering the subject of psychology, a much needed breath of fresh air, coming not too long after atypical antipsychotics
were introduced into the mainstream.
The first positive psychology summit took place in 1999. The First International Conference on Positive Psychology took place in 2002.
Ideology of Positive Psychology
Positive Psychology does reflect ideas that have been expressed in world religions and philosophy. The ideals of
are somewhat reflected in this framework or theory of psychology, as well as some aspects of ancient Greek philosophy.
Positive Psychology sometimes sounds almost religious in its discussions, and might be likened to "applied" or "humanistic religion," minus scripture and reference to God. Like most university science, it uses terms reflective of mankind's evolutionary development in its defense of the movement.
Individualism, self-fulfillment and the pursuit of happiness are also some of the ideals embraced by Positive Psychology. In this respect, it differs from the theme expressed by major religions, in its stress on "self-fulfillment" as opposed to "self-sacrifice" and active interest in the welfare of others.
Positive Psychology - Character Strengths and Virtues Handbook and positive traits
The development of the Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) handbook
espouses positive traits in much the same way as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the "bible" of psychiatry
, catalogs symptoms and labels of mental illness.
Some of these virtues and strengths are as follows:
Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective
Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality
Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership
Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, self control
Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor,
Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) handbook, see:
The Ennegram Institute Discussion Board
Conclusion on Positive Psychology and Its Place in Psychology Theory
The Positive Psychology Movement provides one of several viable counter-theories to the "medical model" of mental health, which many professionals and educators believe to be an inadequate model on which to base mental health evaluation and treatment. The medical model of mental health has resulted in a tremendous increase in over-diagnosis and misdiagnosis of mental health disorders, with treatment of mental health disorders disproportionately and needlessly focused on labeling and medicating.
Positive Psychology offers a foundation on which to base both prevention and treatment of mental health difficulties, which presupposes strong individual traits on which to build, rather than searching for what is at fault and treating symptoms with, often-times, sedating (or stimulating) drugs.
By building on the positives rather than searching for the weaknesses, it helps to balance out the field of psychology
. The Positive Psychology Movement, along with the Bioecological Model
of mental health proposed by Urie Bronfenbrenner
, provide a more realistic foundation on which to address mental health disorders.
Positive psychology helps to more fully preserve the dignity of the one experiencing mental health difficulties, and empowers the individual, encouraging him to make positive changes, rather than attaching an often stigmatizing label
to an individual.
The "label and drug" method of psychiatry pre-supposes some physical, biological, or genetic deficiency or defect, which cannot be remedied, but only controlled, and only controlled with psychiatric drugs
, carefully monitored by a psychiatrist
. This (the medical model
of mental health), is based partially on fallacy, and at its best is a foundation for mental health treatment which is fraught with gaps.
Positive Psychology, then is something to be considered by mental health professionals
, in refocusing their way of interpreting and treating mental health disorders.
Positive Psychology, however, also comes very close to being on the border of religion in its own right, espousing principles which have already been encouraged by the world's major religions for milleniums.
Sometimes, the movement goes so far as to promise happiness, something that can be an elusive goal for many, especially in view of the fact that the angle that Positive Psychology takes on finding happiness falls more along the lines of self-fulfillment rather than altruism or self-sacrifice. Maslow's theory found its pinnacle in self-actualization, which is certainly a worthy goal for anyone, on the other hand, in offering a humanistic approach that borders on religion, positive psychology might not be able to deliver what it offers to, that is a path to happiness.
References for Positive Psychology Movement and History
1. Positive Psychology: An Introduction, Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000
2. Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions, Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005
3. What (and Why) Is Positive Psychology?, Gable and Haidt, 2005
4. Balanced Psychology and a Full Life, Seligman, Parks, & Steen, 2004
5. Positive Psychology in Clinical Practice, Duckworth, Steen, & Seligman, 2005
6. Positive Psychotherapy, Seligman, Rashid, & Parks, 2006
7. Positive Health, Seligman, 2008
8. Penn State University. Positive Psychology
Pages Related to Positive Psychology
- Moral Management
: Successful non-pharmaceutical holistic treatment for mental heath in the 1800's.
Mental Health Treatment
- A Closer Look at Psychopharmacology
- Let the Buyer Beware! by Louis Kirby, MA
Appeal to Mental Health Professionals
for professional non-pharmaceutical treatment options and clinical studies
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NAMI - Mental Health Disorder Recovery
The Medical Model
of mental health. Psychiatric labeling
and what can be done to prevent stigma of mental illness