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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Positive Psychology by Martin Seligman    Follow this link to the complete document

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Positive Psychology, Positive Prevention, and Positive Therapy

Martin E. P. Seligman
University of Pennsylvania
Positive Psychology

 .... The aim of Positive Psychology is to catalyze a change in psychology from a preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities in life. To redress the previous imbalance, we must bring the building of strength to the forefront in the treatment and prevention of mental illness.

The field of Positive Psychology at the subjective level is about positive subjective experience: well being and satisfaction (past), and flow, joy, the sensual pleasures, and happiness (present), and constructive cognitions about the future-optimism, hope, and faith.

At the individual level it is about positive individual traits -- the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future-mindedness, high talent, and wisdom.

At the group level it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals toward better citizenship: responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Gillham and Seligman, 1999).

 Psychology is not just the study of disease, weakness, and damage; it also is the study of strength and virtue.

Treatment is not just fixing what is wrong; it also is building what is right. Psychology is not just about illness or health; it is about work, education, insight, love, growth, and play. And in this quest for what is best, Positive Psychology does not rely on wishful thinking, self-deception or hand-waving; instead it tries to adapt what is best in the scientific method to the unique problems that human behavior presents in all its complexity.

Positive Prevention 
... Indeed the major strides in prevention have largely come from a perspective focused on systematically building competency, not correcting weakness.

Positive Therapy
I'm going to venture a radical proposition about why psychotherapy works as well as it does. I am going to suggest that Positive Psychology, albeit intuitive and inchoate, is a major effective ingredient in therapy as it is now done, and if recognized and honed, will become an even ore effective approach to psychotherapy. But before doing so, it is necessary to say what I believe about "specific" ingredients in therapy. I believe there are some clear specifics in psychotherapy. Among them are:
Applied Tension for Blood and Injury Phobia
Penile Squeeze for Premature Ejaculation
Cognitive Therapy for Panic
Relaxation for Phobia
Exposure for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Behavior Therapy for Enuresis 
(My book, What You Can Change and What You Can't [1994] documents the specifics and reviews the relevant literature). But specificity of technique to disorder is far from the whole story.
Another is the "Building of Buffering Strengths," the Nikki principle. I believe that it is a common strategy among almost all competent psychotherapists to first identify and then help their patients build a large variety of strengths, rather than just to deliver specific damage healing techniques. Among the strengths built in psychotherapy are:
Interpersonal skill
Capacity for pleasure
Putting troubles into perspective
Future mindedness
Finding purpose
Assume for a moment that the buffering effects of strength-building strategies have a larger effect size than the specific "healing" ingredients that have been discovered.

... that embraces both healing what is weak as well as nurturing what is strong.

I predict that Positive Psychology in this new century will come to understand and build those factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish. Such a science will not need to start afresh. It requires for the most part just a refocusing of scientific energy.

... These same methods, and in many cases the same laboratories and the next two generations of scientists, with a slight shift of emphasis and funding, will be used to measure, understand, and build those characteristics that make life most worth living.

As a side effect of studying positive human traits, science will learn how to better treat and prevent mental, as well as some physical, illnesses. As a main effect, we will learn how to build the qualities that help individuals and communities not just endure and survive, but also flourish.