What is Positive Psychology?

While conventional psychology typically takes psychological deficits, conflict and psychological disorder as its starting point, positive psychology theory looks at a person’s inner strengths and aims to build on them. Contentment and feeling good about one self can be learned, according to this relatively new branch of psychology. So how can patients reap the benefits of positive psychology with the help of art?

The history of positive psychology began at the end of the 1990s when psychologist Martin Seligmann and his colleague Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced the concept of positive psychology as a new approach to treatment at a congress. Instead of focussing on weakness they looked at what makes people happy, content and strong and they used it as a starting point for a new type of treatment.

Since a variety of research has shown human beings like building up on their strengths – it makes people far happier than having to endlessly trying to correct their faults – the positive psychology theory has been experimenting with ever new aspects of life and is nowadays as much at home within continued personal development courses as it is within the four walls of a therapist’s practice.

Positive psychology exercises complement treatment but do not ignore psychological disorders or problems – nor does positive psychology treatment aim to replace proven treatments used in traditional psychology. Positive psychology, so Martin Seligmann, uses a scientific method to determine a person’s positive development and looks at topics such as a person’s different states of pleasure, their virtues and strengths, their talents and how positive social systems surrounding them can promote all of these factors.

The main focus is, however, on four important areas that influence everybody’s psychological wellbeing:

  1. a person’s positive experiences
  2. a person’s enduring psychological traits
  3. positive institutions in a person’s life
  4. positive relationships in a person’s life

Positive psychology research has not been without controversy. Some experts claim it has limited health benefits, while others see a psychological technique that promotes positive thinking within a patient’s overall therapy as a great asset.

Even when a person is not suffering from a psychological disorder, trauma or depression, positive thinking helps human beings to achieve their goals, stick to their medical regime, encourages them to succeed in their chosen career and helps them to build up and sustain important relationships and support systems.

The affirmation “Nothing stays the same” somehow encapsulates what positive psychology is all about. For some patients the concept of change is frightening; they rather stay in their sad cocoon, dwelling on the issues that make life difficult. For others change is a positive thing, a welcome challenge that tests a person’s mettle and makes them even stronger.

Art can act as a useful tool within the context of positive psychology exercises. Find out how to use Cards for Life within positive psychology here.

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