We'd just like to draw your attention to a recent article by TPC's Andrew McDowell and John Walsh (York Street Health Practice, Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust) in which they discuss positive psychology. You can read it below or on the Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust Blog, where it originally appeared.
'Learning is the discovery that something is possible.' - Fritz Perls
'The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were' - John Keats
Dr Martin Seligman is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is famous for his work in the field of Positive Psychology. This school of psychological thought doesn't seek to replace mainstream psychology but complement it through the study of what gives life meaning and what makes it worth living. It asks how we can extend and amplify the good that is already working in our lives and shining the light on our creative assets and seeking their growth and unfolding.
One of the authors at the beginning of his academic career attended a presentation where Dr Seligman outlined his early ideas about the need for Positive Psychology. Dr Seligman received a series of challenging questions around 'why bother with all this positive stuff?', Dr Seligman replied that he had to because he was a born pessimist. He said he needed a practice that helped him see through problems to positive options and be more optimistic about outcomes. His natural temperament would lead him to be locked in the problem. He needed a key to unlock this process and move to another place to address the issue. This echoes well the comments of Einstein and Jung that we often cannot solve problems on the same level of consciousness that generated them. We need new spaces and thinking to break the code of the problem.
This positive, more optimistic approach echoes much of what we see crossing our services and on forums like Twitter. People and networks are sharing fresh, kind and affirming ways of being and doing as the future framework for change. These new movements offer such promise, potency and energy. Yet it is not always an easy walk although a much needed one, especially if we are talking about the deep, sustainable change that so many of us see as possible and work so hard to achieve. All too often we have experienced changes in services that only touch surface structures, policies and procedures rather than going to the heart of the issues. And sometimes people propose a ‘be positive approach’ as part of these initiatives, failing to really appreciate the complexity of issues, acknowledge the scale of the challenges or engage the difficulties that the people involved deal with on a day to day basis when they see the potential of what could be possible in the face of a reality that seems intractable.
The kind of positivity Seligman is promoting has nothing to do with creating false positive-ness that can only ever skim along the surface of change. Rather, a Positive Psychology approach invites us to name the problems and the pains and see how we can learn from them to work them through in constructive and compassionate ways. Positive Psychology offers much for us to learn. It is not just about being positive, its about engaging with the complexity of a challenge and bringing positive approaches to working with it. Authentic listening, mutual support, empathy, knowing we don't have all the answers, a commitment to deep and open dialogue and the creation of new ways to think and do health and care is the DNA of these new movements. At it’s heart is the belief that all of us have tremendous goodness, gifts and potential. We believe that is from the activation of these wellsprings that the solutions and new forms of service will emerge.
The authors of this met recently at an initiative of the NHS Health Trusts and Public Health in Leeds. They have brought Health Coaching into the city so we can look at and change the quality of our health conversations with patients. The old model is where the patient is the passive recipient and the clinician the expert. This is a move to a new terrain where both are experts and co-create health plans and solutions together. At the heart of this approach lies a view of people as not problems but as people with assets, gifts and potency. This more humanistic and positive model offers great promise to people and the city.)