“Happiness and well-being are the desired outcomes of positive psychology.” - Martin Seligman
Dr. Martin Seligman is considered the father of modern positive psychology. He previously served as the president of the American Psychological Association, and is currently the Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Seligman feels that psychology should contribute to individuals achieving their full potential in life rather than focusing exclusively on the pathology of illness.
Positive psychology is the scientific study of what enhances life, what makes us happy, and how to increase satisfaction in life. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests being positive promotes success and increases happiness.
Many elements of positive psychology have been around for a long time. For example Abraham Maslow introduced us to his theory of self-actualization. According to him, reaching our full potential in life is the highest pursuit of human experience.
Carl Rogers pioneered the concepts of the client-centered approach and optimal development. The client-centered approach is the foundation of modern substance abuse counseling, including treatment approaches such as motivational interviewing.
Victor Frankl is the author of Man’s Search for Meaning and the founder of logo therapy, which emphasizes the importance of finding meaning in life and living consistent with our purpose. The concepts of meaning and purpose are both important aspects of positive psychology.
Today we have a much better understanding of depression, addiction, and other negative elements of human behavior and we are making progress toward a better understanding of health and optimal living.
Positive psychology isn’t about unrealistic wishful thinking or full of “don’t worry, be happy” types of suggestions. It is real psychology with first-rate research and evidence-based data.
In his book Flourish, Dr. Seligman introduced us to Wellbeing Theory. The five elements which constitute Wellbeing Theory are positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishments.
So, can we use the principles of positive psychology to help clients develop and maintain long-term recovery?
First, a quick note:
Positive psychology is not intended to be a primary treatment modality for acute addiction or serious mental illness. It is complementary to other treatment approaches and helps clients imagine their lives in recovery; happy, joyous and free. Positive psychology is more about moving beyond addiction rather than treating the primary disorder. It’s about setting goals and living a happy, fulfilling life after addiction.
Ok, let’s take a brief look at the elements of Wellbeing Theory and why they are important for people in recovery.
People are at their best when they are experiencing positive emotions. This is especially important for people in recovery. With positive emotions our clients will feel happier and be more motivated to do the work of recovery. Positive emotions can help clients experience more happiness and satisfaction in life.
Engagement is another important aspect of recovery. People choose to engage in different ways such as treatment, 12-step programs, spiritual activities, family, and new friends. Others engage in volunteer work, a new career, or hobbies that they enjoy. Being wholly engaged helps people feel more fulfilled and less likely to relapse.
Your clients will often have to rebuild their relationships with family, friends, coworkers, sponsors, bosses, and significant others. Relationships define how we interact with the important people in our lives. In order to support long-term recovery, we need to develop and nurture positive relationships that can carry us through the good times as well as the challenges of recovery.
Often, the lifestyle that comes with addiction can prevent people from living a fulfilling and meaningful life. Many people enter recovery only to discover that they don’t know how to have fun, or that they lack the skills to plan for the future and be a productive and positive member of society. In long-term recovery, discovering how to best engage with life and lead a meaningful existence will help your clients stay on the right path.
It feels good to set goals and accomplish things in life. It is very satisfying to know that you worked hard for something and now you're reaping the rewards. This is true with long-term recovery as well as other areas of life. Most people who overcome addiction go on to have great success in life, including in areas such as relationships, career, school, etc.
Positive Psychology has the goal of exploring what makes life worth living.
What implication does this have for long-term recovery?
Think about and reflect on the following questions:
Sit down in a quiet area and spend about 20 minutes answering the following questions. Write your answers in a notebook or type them into a computer file for future reference. Be specific with your answers so that you can integrate the new ideas into your practice right away.
- How can you help your clients discover their strengths?
- How can you empower your clients to envision a happy and productive life?
- How can you help move the client to experiences of hope and gratitude?
In the next email we are going to learn more about the connection between positive psychology and recovery from addiction. Keep an eye out for that email to arrive in three days.
Remember, helping someone move past addiction includes teaching them to use their strengths and dreams, and inspiring them to change their lives in ways they never dreamed possible.
By the way, if you're interested in facilitating addiction recovery groups using the principles of positive psychology, check out Motivation for Recovery.