What is positive psychology and why should I become familiar with it?
In a nutshell, positive psychology places an emphasis on the positive aspects of humans rather than on their deficits (1.). It is a relatively new science that falls as a subgroup of psychology and aims to “discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive” (2.). Within this field, practitioners focus on helping people to flourish rather than languish.
Flourishing vs languishing: imagine a 10-point scale, with 10 being your best possible life or outcome and 1 being your worst. Positive psychology aims to help people to climb that scale until they reach 10 (i.e. they're flourishing) and create as much distance as possible from 1 (i.e. languishing).
So, how do we do that?
We essentially address your strengths and help you to recognise how those strengths have already helped you and how they can further assist you in striving for a 10. Within the areas with which you are struggling, we explore how you can develop these areas or choose alternative methods to help you to achieve your goals.
Positive psychology encompasses hedonic and eudemonic well-being, similar to humanistic psychology, however, the main difference between it and other such fields is that positive psychology employs the scientific method in it’s practice. It is important to note that positive psychology does not dismiss other psychologies, it compliments them.
What place does positive psychology have in coaching?
Within coaching, the direction in which a client is encouraged is one towards the future. As a positive psychology coach (or practitioner) we focus on the client creating their optimal future (via optimal functioning) without ruminating on the past. That is not to say we ignore a client’s past, we acknowledge it as an extremely influential factor in the client’s current life but rather than dissecting it and trying to understand it’s occurrence (which therapy or counselling could offer) we address it and use it as an indicator for your current position on the 10-point scale. Once that has been established, we turn all attention to the future. Positive psychology coaching is a solutions-focused practice. The client comes to coaching with a problem (e.g. fear of applying for a promotion) which we then explore to see what solutions we can create to overcome this problem.
Applied positive psychology is simply the application of positive psychology in our lives, through PPIs (Positive Psychology Interventions). These are interventions or strategies that have been designed through empirical and theoretical research, to “enhance wellbeing” (3.). Applied Positive Psychology Coaching is coaching from a positive psychology perspective that encourages clients to try out PPIs deemed suitable at helping their wellbeing and flourishing. There will be future articles which explain some of the most common and effective PPIs.
- Van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2017) An Introduction to Coaching Skills – A Practical Guide. (2nd ed.)SAGE.
- Sheldon, K.M., Frederickson, B., Rathunde, K. et al. (1999) Positive Psychology Manifesto. Akumal, Mexico, January 1999.
- Lomas, T., Hefferon, K. & Ivtzan, I. (2014) Applied Positive Psychology – Integrated Positive Practice. SAGE.