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“Believe in yourself.”

That is the message that we encounter constantly, in books, television shows, superhero comics, and common myths and legends.

We are told that we can accomplish anything if we believe in ourselves. Of course, we know that to be untrue; we cannot accomplish anything the in the world simply through belief—if that were true, a lot more children would be soaring in the skies above their garage roof instead of lugging around a cast for a few weeks!

However, we know that believing in yourself and accepting yourself for who you are is an important factor in success, relationships, and happiness and that self-esteem plays an important role in living a flourishing life. It provides us with belief in our abilities and the motivation to carry them out, ultimately reaching fulfillment as we navigate life with a positive outlook.

Various studies have confirmed that self-esteem has a direct relationship with our overall well-being, and we would do well to keep this fact in mind—both for ourselves and for those around us, particularly the developing children we interact with.

The Positive Psychology Toolkit

Become a Science-Based Practitioner!

The Positive Psychology toolkit is a science-based, online platform containing 190+ exercises, activities, interventions, questionnaires, assessments and scales.

What is the Meaning of Self-Esteem? A Definition

You probably already have a good idea, but let’s start from the beginning anyway: what is self-esteem?

Self-esteem refers to a person’s overall sense of his or her value or worth. It can be considered a sort of measure of how much a person “values, approves of, appreciates, prizes, or likes him or herself” (Adler & Stewart, 2004).

According to self-esteem expert Morris Rosenberg, self-esteem is quite simply one’s attitude toward oneself (1965). He described it as a “favourable or unfavourable attitude toward the self”.

Various factors believed to influence our self-esteem include:

  • Genetics
  • Personality
  • Life experiences
  • Age
  • Health
  • Thoughts
  • Social circumstances
  • The reactions of others
  • Comparing the self to others

An important note is that self-esteem is not fixed. It is malleable and measurable, meaning we can test for and improve upon it.

  Self-Esteem and Psychology

Self-esteem has been a hot topic in psychology for decades, going about as far back as psychology itself. Even Freud, who many consider the founding father of psychology (although he’s a bit of an estranged father at this point), had theories about self-esteem at the heart of his work. What self-esteem is, how it develops (or fails to develop) and what influences it has kept psychologists busy for a long time, and there’s no sign that we’ll have it all figured out anytime soon!

While there is much we still have to learn about self-esteem, we have at least been able to narrow down what self-esteem is and how it differs from other, similar constructs. Read on to learn what sets self-esteem apart from other self-directed traits and states.

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Concept

Self-esteem is not self-concept, although self-esteem may be a part of self-concept. Self-concept is the perception that we have of ourselves, our answer when we ask ourselves the question “Who am I?” It is knowing about one’s own tendencies, thoughts, preferences and habits, hobbies, skills, and areas of weakness.

Put simply, the awareness of who we are is our concept of our self.

Purkey (1988) describes self-concept as:

“the totality of a complex, organized, and dynamic system of learned beliefs, attitudes and opinions that each person holds to be true about his or her personal existence”.

According to Carl Rogers, founder of client-centered therapy, self-concept is an overarching construct that self-esteem is one of the components of it (McLeod, 2008).

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Image

Another similar term with a different meaning is self-image; self-image is similar to self-concept in that it is all about how you see yourself (McLeod, 2008). Instead of being based on reality, however, it can be based on false and inaccurate thoughts about ourselves. Our self-image may be close to reality or far from it, but it is generally not completely in line with objective reality or with the way others perceive us.

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth

Self-esteem is a similar concept to self-worth but with a small (although important) difference: self-esteem is what we think, feel, and believe about ourselves, while self-worth is the more global recognition that we are valuable human beings worthy of love (Hibbert, 2013).

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Confidence

Self-esteem is not self-confidence; self-confidence is about your trust in yourself and your ability to deal with challenges, solve problems, and engage successfully with the world (Burton, 2015). As you probably noted from this description, self-confidence is based more on external measures of success and value than the internal measures that contribute to self-esteem. One can have high self-confidence, particularly in a certain area or field, but still lack a healthy sense of overall value or self-esteem.

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Efficacy

Similar to self-confidence, self-efficacy is also related to self-esteem but not a proxy for it. Self-efficacy refers to the belief in one’s ability to succeed at certain tasks (Neil, 2005). You could have high self-efficacy when it comes to playing basketball, but low self-efficacy when it comes to succeeding in math class. Unlike self-esteem, self-efficacy is more specific rather than global, and it is based on external success rather than internal worth.

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Compassion

Finally, self-esteem is also not self-compassion. Self-compassion centers on how we relate to ourselves rather than how we judge or perceive ourselves (Neff, n.d.). Being self-compassionate means we are kind and forgiving to ourselves, and that we avoid being harsh or overly critical of ourselves. Self-compassion can lead us to a healthy sense of self-esteem, but it is not in and of itself self-esteem.

Esteem in Maslow’s Theory – The Hierarchy of Needs

The mention of esteem may bring to mind the fourth level of Maslow’s pyramid: esteem needs. While these needs and the concept of self-esteem are certainly related, Maslow’s esteem needs are more focused on external measures of esteem, such as respect, status, recognition, accomplishment, and prestige (McLeod, 2017).

There is a component of self-esteem within this level of the hierarchy, but Maslow felt that the esteem of others was more important for development and need fulfillment than self-esteem. He explained that for one to achieve self-actualization and grow, their need for inner-respect and esteem from others must be met.

  Incorporating Self-Esteem in Positive Psychology

Dr. Martin Seligman has some concerns about openly accepting self-esteem as part of positive psychology. He worries that people live in the world where self-esteem is injected into a person’s identity, not caring in how it is done, as long as the image of “confidence” is obtained. He expressed the following in 2006:

I am not against self-esteem, but I believe that self-esteem is just a meter that reads out the state of the system. It is not an end in itself. When you are doing well in school or work, when you are doing well with the people you love, when you are doing well in play, the meter will register high. When you are doing badly, it will register low. (p. v)

Seligman makes a great point, as it is important to take his words into consideration when looking at self-esteem. Self-esteem and positive psychology may not marry quite yet, so it is important to look at what research tells us about self-esteem before we construct a rationale for it as positive psychology researcher, coach, or practitioner.

  22 Examples of High Self-Esteem

There are certain characteristics that distinguish how high someone’s self-esteem is. Examples of these characteristics are being open to criticism, acknowledging mistakes, being comfortable with giving and receiving compliments, and displaying a harmony between what one says, does, looks, sounds, and moves. People with high self-esteem are unafraid to show their curiosity, discuss their experiences, ideas, and opportunities. They can also enjoy the humorous aspects of their lives and are comfortable with social or personal assertiveness (Branden, 1992).

Although low self-esteem has received more attention than high self-esteem, the positive psychology movement has brought high self-esteem into the spotlight. We now know more about what high self-esteem looks like and how it can be cultivated.

We know that people with high self-esteem:

  • Appreciate themselves and other people.
  • Enjoy growing as a person and finding fulfillment and meaning in their lives.
  • Are able to dig deep within themselves and be creative.
  • Make their own decisions and conform to what others tell them to be and do only when they agree.
  • See the word in realistic terms, accepting other people the way they are while pushing them toward greater confidence and a more positive direction.
  • Can easily concentrate on solving problems in their lives.
  • Have loving and respectful relationships.
  • Know what their values are and live their lives accordingly.
  • Speak up and tell others their opinions, calmly and kindly, and share their wants and needs with others.
  • Endeavor to make a constructive difference in other people’s lives (Smith & Harte, n.d.).

We also know that there are some simple ways to tell if you have high self-esteem. For example, you likely have high self-esteem if you:

  • Act assertively without experiencing any guilt, and feel at ease communicating with others.
  • Avoid dwelling on the past and focus on the present moment.
  • Believe you are equal to everyone else, no better and no worse.
  • Reject the attempts of others to manipulate you.
  • Recognize and accept a wide range of feelings, both positive and negative, and share them within your healthy relationships.
  • Enjoy a healthy balance of work, play, and relaxation.
  • Accept challenges and take risks in order to grow, and learn from your mistakes when you fail.
  • Handle criticism without taking it personally, with the knowledge that you are learning and growing and that your worth is not dependent on the opinions of others.
  • Value yourself and communicate well with others, without fear of expressing your likes, dislikes, and feelings.
  • Value others and accept them as they are without trying to change them (Self Esteem Awareness, n.d.).

Based on these characteristics, we can come up with some good examples of what high self-esteem looks like.

Imagine a high-achieving student who takes a difficult exam and earns a failing grade. If she has high self-esteem, she will likely chalk up her failure to factors like not studying hard enough, a particularly difficult set of questions, or simply having an “off” day. What she doesn’t do is conclude that she must be stupid and that she will probably fail all future tests too. Having a healthy sense of self-esteem guides her toward accepting reality, thinking critically about why she failed, and problem-solving instead of wallowing in self-pity or giving up.

For a second example, think about a young man out on a first date. He really likes the young woman he is going out with, so he is eager to make a good impression and connect with her. Over the course of their discussion on the date, he learns that she is motivated and driven by completely different values and has very different taste in almost everything. Instead of going along with her expressed opinions on things, he offers up his own views and isn’t afraid to disagree with her. His high self-esteem makes him stay true to his values and allows him to easily communicate with others, even when they don’t agree. To him, it is more important to behave authentically than to focus on getting his date to like him.

23 Examples of Self-Esteem Issues

Here are 23 examples of issues that can manifest from low self-esteem:

  • You people please
  • You’re easily angered or irritated
  • You feel your opinion isn’t important
  • You hate you
  • What you do is never good enough
  • You’re highly sensitive to others opinions
  • The world doesn’t feel safe
  • You doubt every decision
  • You regularly experience the emotions of sadness and worthlessness
  • You find it hard keeping relationships
  • You avoid taking risks or trying new things
  • You engage in addictive avoidance behaviors
  • You struggle with confidence
  • You find it difficult creating boundaries
  • You give more attention to your weaknesses
  • You are often unsure of who you are
  • You feel negative experiences are all consuming
  • You struggle to say no
  • You find it difficult asking for your needs to be met
  • You hold a pessimistic or negative outlook on life
  • You doubt your abilities or chances of success
  • You frequently experience negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety or depression
  • You compare yourself with others and often you come in second best

  18 Surprising Statistics and Facts about Self-Esteem

It can be hard to really wrap your mind around self-esteem and why it is so important. To help you out, we’ve gathered a list of some of the most significant and relevant findings about self-esteem and low self-esteem in particular.

Although some of these facts may make sense to you, you will likely find that at least one or two surprise you—specifically those pertaining to the depth and breadth of low self-esteem in people (and particularly young people and girls).

The facts:

  • Adolescent boys with high self-esteem are almost two and a half times more likely to initiate sex than boys with low self-esteem, while girls with high self-esteem are three times more likely to delay sex than girls with low self-esteem (Spencer, Zimet, Aalsma, & Orr, 2002).
  • Low self-esteem is linked to violence, school dropout rates, teenage pregnancy, suicide, and low academic achievement (Misetich & Delis-Abrams, 2003).
  • About 44% of girls and 15% of boys in high school are attempting to lose weight (Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, n.d.).
  • Seven in 10 girls believe that they are not good enough or don’t measure up in some way (Dove Self-Esteem Fund, 2008).
  • A girl’s self-esteem is more strongly related to how she views her own body shape and body weight than how much she actually weighs (Dove Self-Esteem Fund, 2008).
  • Nearly all women (90%) want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance (Confidence Coalition, n.d.).
  • The vast majority (81%) of 10-year old girls are afraid of being fat (Confidence Coalition, n.d.).
  • About one in four college-age women have an eating disorder (Confidence Coalition, n.d.).
  • Only 2% of women think they are beautiful (Confidence Coalition, n.d.).
  • Absent fathers, poverty, and a low-quality home environment have a negative impact on self-esteem (Orth, 2018).

These facts on low self-esteem are alarming and disheartening, but thankfully they don’t represent the whole story. The whole story shows that there are many people with a healthy sense of self-esteem, and they enjoy some great benefits and advantages. For instance, people with healthy self-esteem:

  1. Are less critical of themselves and others.
  2. Are better able to handle stress and avoid the unhealthy side effects of stress.
  3. Are less likely to develop an eating disorder.
  4. Are less likely to feel worthless, guilty, and ashamed.
  5. Are more likely to be assertive about expressing and getting what they want.
  6. Are able to build strong, honest relationships and are more likely to leave unhealthy ones.
  7. Are more confident in their ability to make good decisions.
  8. Are more resilient and able to bounce back when faced with disappointment, failure, and obstacles (Allegiance Health, 2015).

Given the facts on the sad state of self-esteem in society and the positive outcomes associated with high self-esteem, it seems clear that looking into how self-esteem can be built is a worthwhile endeavor.

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As therapists, counselors, social workers, and other members of helping professions, how can we best help our clients help themselves?

As parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors, how can we encourage our children to grow into healthy and happy people with a positive sense of self-worth?

These are the questions that have driven countless studies and investigations into personality development, the effectiveness of therapeutic techniques, and the crafting of impactful parenting strategies. While there is undoubtedly still much to be discovered, psychologists have been able to define at least one vital technique for helping our clients and our children be the best versions of themselves: unconditional positive regard.

This attitude is a powerful one—it can have a huge impact on how our clients and children feel about themselves and others, and set them up for success. Read on to learn about what unconditional positive regard is, how it works, and what it can do for your clients and your children.

The Positive Psychology Toolkit

Become a Science-Based Practitioner!

The Positive Psychology toolkit is a science-based, online platform containing 190+ exercises, activities, interventions, questionnaires, assessments and scales.

What is Unconditional Positive Regard? A Definition

So, what is unconditional positive regard?

A general definition is the attitude of complete acceptance and love, whether for yourself or for someone else. When you have unconditional positive regard for someone, nothing they can do could give you a reason to stop seeing them as inherently human and inherently lovable. It does not mean that you accept each and every action taken by the person, but that you accept who they are at a level much deeper than surface behavior.

In therapy, the idea is much the same, although with a more specific purpose: to build a positive, trusting relationship between the therapist and the client. It is a defining feature of client-centered therapy (and an important feature in many other forms of therapy), in which the client is accepted and supported by the therapist no matter what they say or do (Cherry, 2018).

  The Psychology Behind Unconditional Positive Regard

“The kind of caring that the client-centered therapist desires to achieve is a gullible caring, in which clients are accepted as they say they are, not with a lurking suspicion in the therapist’s mind that they may, in fact, be otherwise. This attitude is not stupidity on the therapist’s part; it is the kind of attitude that is most likely to lead to trust…” – Carl R. Rogers

Unconditional positive regard is not about liking a client or accepting everything they have done; it’s about respecting the client as a human being with his or her own free will and operating under the assumption that he or she is doing the best they can.

Having this attitude toward a client can encourage them to share their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors more openly with the therapist. A client who is afraid the therapist will be shocked, offended, or judgmental will likely not be very forthcoming with any information that they feel may be perceived as negative or unacceptable. Of course, this withholding of important information can have a very negative impact on the therapeutic relationship and, in turn, on any healing or recovery that the client is looking to gain from therapy.

It has been suggested that unconditional positive regard from the therapist may be a substitute for the unconditional positive regard that the client did not receive from their parents or other important adults in their childhood. Carl Rogers believed that those who do not receive such regard from their parents at a young age are more likely to have low self-worth and less likely to reach their full potential with regards to personal development.

A therapist’s unconditional positive regard may provide the client with the acceptance and love they did not receive as a child, allowing them to feel safe, open up, and work through their issues with a sort of “proxy” parent (Good Therapy, 2015).

Carl Rogers’ Theory

“To be with another in this [empathic] way means that for the time being, you lay aside your own views and values in order to enter another’s world without prejudice. In some sense it means that you lay aside your self; this can only be done by persons who are secure enough in themselves that they know they will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and that they can comfortably return to their own world when they wish. Perhaps this description makes clear that being empathic is a complex, demanding, and strong—yet subtle and gentle—way of being.” – Carl R. Rogers

Carl Rogers described unconditional positive regard as:

“…caring for the client, but not in a possessive way or in such a way as simply to satisfy the therapist’s own needs… It means caring for the client as a separate person, with permission to have his own feelings, his own experiences” (Rogers, 1957).

We know what unconditional positive regard is, but you may be wondering how is this supposed to contribute to an effective therapeutic experience. Carl Rogers has an answer, and it’s based in what he saw as innate human needs and instincts.

Rogers believed that we all have two instinctual urges and desires that make unconditional positive regard an effective tool of therapy:

  1. The drive towards socially constructive behavior, or interacting effectively and positively with others.
  2. The need for self-determination, or the right and responsibility to choose one’s own path (Joseph, 2012).

Rogers posited that when a therapist respects the client’s need for self-determination and adopts the attitude that the client is doing the best they can with the tools and resources they have available, the client is more likely to allow their urge towards socially constructive behavior to drive their decisions and their actions.

  Examples of Unconditional Positive Regard in Counseling

One of the best representations of unconditional positive regard in therapy sessions is a scenario in which the client shares thoughts, feelings, or behaviors with the therapist that are considered morally wrong or simply unacceptable. In this case, the therapist can display unconditional acceptance by asking the client about their feelings and what they believe drove the thought or behavior rather than focusing on how the client’s actions would hurt someone else or on the illegality or immorality of the action (Good Therapy, 2015).

For another example, therapists have the opportunity to display unconditional positive regard when a client shares a habit or behavior with the therapist that is self-detrimental or self-harmful, such as abusing drugs or alcohol, cutting, or binge-eating. Instead of chiding the client for this behavior or ignoring its potential to harm, the therapist might help the client realize that the behavior is harmful while simultaneously assuring the client that she is worthy of love and self-care and that she deserves to have a healthy and happy life.

Finally, unconditional positive regard can be seen in the therapist’s modeling of acceptance to the client. The unconditionally accepting therapist will show the client that he is still accepted and valued, even when he makes mistakes. The therapist’s positive regard works as a model for the client’s acceptance of himself, giving him the message that if the therapist can accept him no matter what he does, he can also accept himself exactly as he is.

  Using Unconditional Positive Regard in Social Work

Unsurprisingly, this concept can be applied in many areas outside of therapy. For instance, it can have a positive impact on a social worker’s efforts.

It works in much the same way as it does in therapy, as social work shares many characteristics with therapy and counseling. However, social workers often interact with more people and in contexts with broader, more relational-based issues, such as families, couples who are struggling, and other relationship problems.

Social workers will often work with clients who are at a low point in their lives. Often, clients will have a strikingly negative view of themselves (and/or others). Even more frequently, clients will hail from remarkably different cultures, childhoods, and experiences than the social worker. This diverse mix of clients makes unconditional positive regard an essential feature of social work.

Social workers will improve their ability to relate with their clients and enhance their ability to help them when they embrace unconditional positive regard and acceptance. Instead of imposing their own views, values, and beliefs on their clients using unconditional positive regard will guide them towards “meeting the client where they are” and encouraging them to follow a path that is consistent with their own views, values, and beliefs.

Just like the therapist, the social worker does not need to accept and approve of every behavior the client displays; instead, he or she should focus on accepting that the client is a self-directed individual with free will and their own unique wants and needs. A social worker who accepts this about their clients will find that their clients are more open to discussion and more apt to accept themselves as they are, believe that positive change is possible, and commit to making such changes.

  Parenting with Unconditional Positive Regard (+ Techniques)

“What we’ve always said is that every child here is going to be treated with unconditional positive regard because they deserve it as every child does. It’s all about making healthy, caring attachments for these boys… It’s about learning to develop a relationship, something many of them have never done before.” – Dan Gallagher

“The best way to raise positive children in a negative world is to have positive parents who love them unconditionally and serve as excellent role models.” – Zig Ziglar

Similar to the unconditional positive regard used in therapy and social work, parenting with unconditional positive regard does not mean that you accept and approve of everything your child does. It is not an attitude intended to give the child free reign to behave in whatever dangerous or unhealthy ways they would like; rather, it is an attitude that allows the child to feel loved and accepted and facilitates the development of self-worth and self-confidence (Cherry, 2018).

According to Carl Rogers, showing unconditional positive regard for your children helps them meet two essential needs: experiencing positive regard from others and a positive sense of self-worth (McLeod, 2014). Accepting and loving your child for who she is, means not withdrawing or limiting your love and acceptance when she does something you do not approve of; this is conditional positive regard, in which you give your child the message that she is only loved and accepted when she does the “right” things. Given this conditional acceptance, she may grow up to make all the “right” choices, but her self-worth and self-esteem may never develop to their fullest potential.

When you adopt an unconditional positive attitude toward your child, you allow him to be free to try new things, make mistakes, and be spontaneous. He will undoubtedly make some decisions that lead to negative consequences, but only those who are free to craft their own path and learn from honestly-made mistakes will be likely to develop a healthy sense of self-worth and reach self-actualization (the highest level of development according to humanist psychologists like Rogers).

Now that you know why you should consider applying unconditional positive regard to the raising of your child, you might want to know how you can apply it. The four techniques listed below can help get you started.

Modify Your Words

Unsurprisingly, one of the best ways to show your child unconditional positive regard is with your words. It can be difficult to be unconditionally positive and accepting when your child has displeased or disappointed you, but this is when it is most important!

You might be tempted to scold your child for the behavior. While this is not necessarily harmful, you should make sure that you temper any criticism with assurances that their behavior has not changed your feelings about them.

For example, instead of saying, “Your behavior was embarrassing and unacceptable,” you might say “I love you and always will, but I am disappointed by your actions.”

It’s a simple change in theory—although it can be more difficult to actually implement—but it can have a huge impact on how your child sees herself and the development of her self-worth.

Focus on Feelings

When your child comes to you with an admission (or is caught in bad behavior), this is an excellent opportunity to practice unconditional positive regard.

The default response might be to get upset, to chastise him for what he has done wrong, and discipline or correct him.

While discipline and correction are not necessarily harmful, getting upset and chastising him will likely not get you the result you want: a child who weighs their options makes thoughtful decisions and maintains a positive sense of self-worth.

Instead of giving in to the urge to scold or focus on what they did wrong, try focusing on their feelings instead. This is especially impactful if your child came to you with an admission of guilt or a request for advice. Ask him how he feels about his actions and try to guide him towards making better decisions for his own reasons instead of for your reasons.

Cultivate Your Own Attitude of Unconditional Positive Regard

To cultivate an attitude of unconditional positive regard for your child, try reminding yourself of some simple truths. You can repeat these sayings as a twist on the usual self-focus of mantras or affirmations:

  • “My child’s worth is non-negotiable and does not need to be earned.”
  • “I approve of my child without condition, although I may not approve of all the choices my child makes.”
  • “I give my child permission to make mistakes and I believe in his/her ability to learn from them.”
  • “I believe in my child’s ability to become who they are meant to be.”
  • “I am here to help, understand, and provide guidelines—not to criticize.” (McMahon, 2013)
Unconditional Positive Regard for Teachers

On this page, the Public Broadcast System offers some guidance for teachers (although it applies to parents as well) on how to implement unconditional positive regard and encourage the development of a child’s self-worth and self-esteem. According to PBS, the main factors include:

  • Giving the child honest recognition for their success and achievement.
  • Offering specific (as opposed to overly general) praise for their good decisions and actions.
  • Respecting the child by offering them choices, abiding by their decisions, and explaining the reasoning behind our own decisions.
  • Help them achieve competence by encouraging them to be independent and offer diverse opportunities to be challenged and to be successful.

  Books by Carl Rogers on Using Unconditional Positive Regard

Luckily, Carl Rogers was not only a groundbreaking thinker and psychologist, but also a prolific author! If you want to learn more about unconditional positive regard directly from the source, you don’t have to dig too deep into academic journals. The books below were written by Rogers and describe his views on therapy, personal development, and the powerful use of unconditional positive regard.

These books include:

If you’re such a voracious reader that these simply won’t cut it in your quest to learn about unconditional positive regard, here are a few bonus books on the subject by other authors:

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Child therapy is generally not an easy topic for parents to discuss. Nobody wants their child to need therapy, but unfortunately, there are many difficult and even traumatic issues that children may encounter that a qualified professional can help them deal with.

Although child therapy is usually discussed with a focus on the problems that make therapy a necessity, like abuse, neglect, and trauma, it can have an equally weighted or even more salient focus on the positive.

As you will see, child therapy is perfectly suited to emphasizing positive development while addressing negative issues and symptoms. Therapy sessions can focus on working toward an optimistic future, positive coping methods, and boosting the self-esteem, self-confidence, and other positive states and traits in children.

Whether the child is participating in play therapy, behavioral therapy, or an expressive therapy, it can provide them with opportunities to not only survive after trauma but thrive.

The Positive Psychology Toolkit

Become a Science-Based Practitioner!

The Positive Psychology toolkit is a science-based, online platform containing 190+ exercises, activities, interventions, questionnaires, assessments and scales.

What is Child Therapy/Child Counseling?

Child therapy (also called child counseling) is much the same as therapy and counseling for adults: it offers them a safe space and an empathetic ear while providing tools to bring about change in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Just like adult clients, child clients receive emotional and goal support in their sessions. They may focus on resolving conflict, understanding their own thoughts and feelings, or on coming up with new solutions to problems.

The only big difference between adult therapy and child therapy is the emphasis on breaking down mental illness, trauma, or any other difficult issue the child is dealing with, to ensure children understand what is happening and can make sense of what they are experiencing.

Child therapy can be practiced with one child, a child, and a parent or parents, or even with more than one family. It is often administered by a counselor or therapist who specializes in working with children, and who can offer the parents and/or guardians insights that may not be immediately apparent.

The therapist and client(s) can cover a wide variety of issues and problems in counseling, including:

  • Divorce or separation
  • Death of a loved one
  • Witnessing or experiencing a trauma
  • Bullying
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Family or child relocation
  • Substance abuse or addiction in the family
  • Mental illness, like depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (TherapyTribe, 2018)

Whatever the treatment is sought to alleviate or address, it will likely be very forward-oriented (meaning there will be little looking back or digging up the past) and will probably be conducted in a non-verbal manner for a large portion of the time (including play, games, art, etc.).

In addition, the therapy sessions may focus on five important goals on top of any situation-specific goals:

  1. Building the child’s self-esteem
  2. Helping to improve the child’s communication skills
  3. Stimulating healthy, normal development
  4. Building an appropriate emotional repertoire
  5. Improving the child’s emotional vocabulary (Walker, 2014).

To summarize, child therapy is quite similar to therapy for adults in terms of the purpose, goals, and problems it can address, but it narrows the focus to issues that young children struggle with and emphasizes a future-oriented perspective, along with including techniques and exercises that are appropriate for the child’s age.

  When is Child Therapy Effective?

As noted above, child therapy can be effective for a wide range of issues. If a parent is not sure whether the child needs counseling or not, the list of symptoms below can be a good indicator. If the child is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, coupled with the parent’s concern, it’s probably a good idea to take him or her in for an evaluation.

The following are symptoms that may indicate a problem that child counseling can correct or help with:

  • Unwarranted aggression
  • Incontinence
  • Difficulty adjusting to social situations
  • Frequent nightmare and sleep difficulties
  • A sudden drop in grades at school
  • Persistent worry and anxiety
  • Withdrawing from activities they normally enjoy
  • Loss of appetite and dramatic weight loss
  • Performing obsessive routines like hand washing
  • Expressing thoughts of suicide
  • Talking about voices they hear in their head
  • Social isolation and wanting to be alone
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Increased physical complaints despite a normal, healthy physician’s report
  • Self-harm such as cutting (TherapyTribe, 2018)

In addition to these issues, the child may be dealing with:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Constant anger and a tendency to overreact to situations
  • Preoccupation with physical illness or their own appearance
  • An inability to concentrate, think clearly or make decisions
  • An inability to sit still
  • Dieting excessively or binging followed by vomiting or taking laxatives
  • Taking part in violent acts such as setting fires or killing animals (Thompson Jr., 2010)

If parents decide to bring their child to therapy, they should be sure to stay engaged throughout the therapy process. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry suggests asking the therapist or counselor the following questions:

  • Why is psychotherapy being recommended?
  • What results can I expect?
  • How long will my child be involved in therapy?
  • How frequently will the doctor see my child?
  • Will the doctor be meeting with just my child or with the entire family?
  • How much do psychotherapy sessions cost?
  • How will we (the parents) be informed about our child’s progress and how can we help?
  • How soon can we expect to see some changes?

Similarly, there are some suggestions on how to talk to a child about going to counseling. It can be awkward or uncomfortable for both the parent(s) and the child to talk about mental health treatment, but following these tips can help them get through it:

  • Find a good time to talk and assure them that they are not in trouble. Listen actively.
  • Take your child’s concerns, experiences, and emotions seriously.
  • Try to be open, authentic, and relaxed.
  • Talk about how common the issues they are experiencing may be.
  • Explain that the role of a therapist is to provide help and support.
  • Explain that a confidentiality agreement can be negotiated so children—especially adolescents—have a safe space to share details privately while acknowledging that you will be alerted if there are any threats to their safety (Wells, Sueskind, & Alcamo, 2017).

There are many effective forms of child therapy with evidence to back them up, including Applied Behavior Analysis, Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Family Therapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy, and Organization Training (Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 2017). Younger children may also benefit from Play Therapy, and older adolescents may benefit from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Group Therapy, or Psychodynamic Psychotherapy (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2017).

These therapies may be administered on their own, in combination with other therapies, or as a hodge-podge of techniques and exercises from several different types of therapies. In addition, it may or may not be accompanied by medication, depending on the situation.

One of these therapies may work for a child far better than the others, and the type chosen will depend on the issue(s) the child and family are dealing with. However, like with any form of therapy, it is most effective when everyone involved is on board, supportive, and actively contributing to success.

  How an Emotional Child Can Benefit from Kids Therapy

An overly emotional child (or one that struggles with inappropriate emotional expression or emotional dysregulation) may suffer from one or more of a variety of issues, including ADHD, mental illness, anxiety, or even an autism spectrum disorder. Whatever the issue they are facing, child therapy can help them deal with it.

Cognitive therapy is a good choice for emotional children, as it involves reducing anxiety and learning new ideas and new ways to channel the child’s feelings and energy. It will also help him or her to identify their inner thoughts, and try to replace the bad ones with more positive, helpful ones. Applied behavior analysis can help the child learn how to respond to situations in better, more effective ways, and will teach them about rewards and punishments for their behavior. Play therapy is a good choice for younger children with emotional issues since they can act them out through toys or dolls (KidsMentalHealth, 2009).

The type of therapy and techniques that will work best for the child may also depend on which stage of development they are in; Erik Erikson’s groundbreaking theory on the eight stages of psychosocial development is a commonly recognized and accepted theory and can help differentiate between normal, age-appropriate issues and more troublesome symptoms.

The eight stages are:

  • Infancy: Trust vs Mistrust. In this stage, infants require a great deal of attention and comfort from their parents, leading them to develop their first sense of trust (or, in some cases, mistrust).
  • Early Childhood: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. Toddlers and very young children are beginning to assert their independence and develop their unique personality, making tantrums and defiance common.
  • Preschool Years: Initiative vs. Guilt. Children at this stage begin learning about social roles and norms; their imagination will take off at this point, and the defiance and tantrums of the previous stage will likely continue. The way trusted adults interact with the child will encourage him or her to act independently or to develop a sense of guilt about any inappropriate actions.
  • School Age: Industry (Competence) vs. Inferiority. At this stage, the child is building important relationships with peers and is likely beginning to feel the pressure of academic performance; mental health issues may begin at this stage, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other problems.
  • Adolescence: Identity vs. Role Confusion. The adolescent is reaching new heights of independence and is beginning to experiment and put together his or her identity. Problems with communication and sudden emotional and physical changes are common at this stage (Wells, Sueskind, & Alcamo, 2017).

The final three stages are not relevant for the purposes of discussing child therapy, but they are listed here if you’re curious:

  • Young Adulthood: Love – Intimacy vs. Isolation
  • Middle Adulthood: Care – Generativity vs. Stagnation
  • Late Adulthood: Ego Integrity vs. Despair

Based on these life stages, we know that it is common for children in early childhood to throw tantrums when they don’t get their way; tantrums alone aren’t reason enough to seek a therapist! However, if someone of school age is still throwing tantrums, it may be time to explore therapy and counseling options.

  Child Therapy Techniques: Behavioral Therapy and More

The exact techniques that a round of child therapy may apply will depend on the type of therapy that is administered. A few of the most common and evidence-backed techniques, as well as the type of therapy they can commonly be found in, are described below.

The Feeling Word Game

There are many play therapy techniques that have proven to be effective, fun, and engaging for children. The Feeling Word Game is one such technique.

It begins with the therapist asking the child to list the feelings that boy or girl of their age experiences. The therapist will write each word down on a card or piece of paper, or draw a face representative of the emotion if the child is too young to read. Once the child runs out of feeling words to suggest, the therapist will line up the feeling cards in front of the child.

Next, the therapist will bring out a container of small tokens, like poker chips, and explain that these are “feelings.” He or she will tell a personal story (real or fictional) that demonstrates both positive and negative emotions that a person may feel. The therapist will then put the tokens on the feeling cards that correspond to the emotions mentioned in the story.

In the next step, the therapist will tell the child a similar story about a child their own age. The story will be non-threatening but will include the potential for several positive and negative emotions. The therapist will hand the container to the child and instruct him or her to put the tokens down on the feeling cards that represent how they would feel if they were the child in the story.

Finally, the therapist will encourage the child to tell a story of their own, preferably about their own life. For each story the child tells, he or she will continue identifying the feelings that each occasion brought up. The therapist will keep the stories going until the child has brought up the major issues that he or she is dealing with.

This is a great way to encourage a child to open up in therapy and get the ball rolling, as well as identifying the presenting problem(s). You can read more about this technique in Hall, Kaduson, and Schaefer’s 2002 paper “Fifteen Effective Play Therapy Techniques.

The Mad Game

The Mad Game, developed by Patricia Davidson and described by Hall, Kaduson, and Schaefer (2002), can be used to show children that it’s okay to feel anger and to encourage them to express it in a healthy way. It can also be adjusted to work for other emotions as well, like sadness or anxiety.

First, the therapist will take a set of blocks (for play, can be cardboard, wooden, or plastic) and divide them evenly between herself and the child. Next, she will explain the rules: each person will place a block on top of the other person’s block during their turn. They will alternate turns, and at each turn, they will share something that is unfair or something that makes them angry.

The therapist can begin with silly or lighthearted things, like “It makes me mad when I want to play outside but it’s raining” or “It’s not fair that I can’t eat candy for every meal!” Eventually, she will progress on to things that are more specific to the child’s issues.

Once all the blocks are stacked, she will instruct the child to think of one thing that makes them the angriest, make a face that reflects how they feel (a “mad face”), and knock down all the blocks.

This technique allows the child to discuss his or her anger, an exercise that may be unfamiliar if the child is not used to feeling like it is acceptable to express such emotions. It will also give the child an opportunity to act out that anger in a safe and healthy way.

The Slow Motion Game

This technique can be applied to help the child learn about self-control.

It begins with the therapist explaining what self-control is and describing how it is sometimes difficult to maintain our self-control if we are moving very fast.

He will ask the child to illustrate what this fast-moving looks like. This is an excellent opportunity for the child to get moving and burn off some excess energy!

Next, he will introduce a pile of cards that have an action for the child to act out, like playing soccer, climbing a rock wall, or writing a letter.

The child will pick one card at a time and act out whatever is on it, but with a twist—he or she must do it in slow motion! He or she will engage in this slow-motion activity for one full minute, and a stopwatch can be used to time it. If there are multiple children, they can take turns acting out and timing each other.

This game is a fun way for children to learn about the concept of self-control and an opportunity for them to build it through play (Hall, Kaduson, & Schaefer, 2002).

Bubble Breaths

In this games therapy technique, the therapist will use bubbles to explain an important concept to the child.

She will begin by blowing bubbles with the child. While they are having fun, she will explain to the child that he or she can make the bubbles bigger by taking deep breaths and blowing slowly into the hoop. These are “Bubble Breaths,” and they have the power to chase away worries and anxiety too.

The child can then practice Bubble Breaths and make the bubbles as big as possible by taking deep, slow breaths.

This technique is a great way to introduce mindful breathing as well as a good mechanism for dealing with intense emotions like anger or anxiety (Kilpatrick, n.d.).

Second Story Technique

This narrative therapy technique can help the child to open up and share details of their trauma with the therapist (as well as parents and/or other trusted adults, if needed).

During the therapy session, the therapist will gently encourage the child to walk through the traumatic event, providing details about what happened to them. When the event has been fully detailed and is well understood by the therapist, she will encourage the child to tell the “second story.”

The second story is the same story about the traumatic event but focuses on the child’s reaction to the event instead of the details of what happened. It might be difficult for the child to describe the effects of the trauma, but focusing on himself and his role in the story can give him a sense of agency and independence that he may not have had before.

The therapist will encourage him to think about the event and his response in terms of his strengths—how brave he was to talk about it, how tough he is to survive the event, and the ways that he has grown since the event.

This technique is a great way to get the child to focus on his strengths rather than dwell on the details of the trauma he has suffered (Kilpatrick, n.d.).

Positive Postings

This talk therapy technique from Jacqueline Melissa Swank will help the therapist assess and improve the child’s sense of self-esteem and encourage positive self-talk.

The therapist will need some..

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“Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life. It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself.” – Robin S. Sharma

You might picture a tween girl, laying on her bed with her feet waving lazily through the air and writing about her crush in a pink diary when you think of “journaling.”

The word often has that connotation for adults: the sense that it’s for young people who are trying to figure out who they are and deal with intense emotions and hormones.

While it can certainly be helpful for those purposes, journaling is not exclusively for teens and tweens—it’s for anyone who can write!

Simply putting words on a page will probably not get you all the benefits of journaling, but effective journaling can result in many positive outcomes and improvements to your quality of life.

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What is Effective Journaling?

Effective journaling is a journaling practice that helps you meet your goals or improves your quality of life. This can look different for each and every person, and the outcomes can vary widely, but they are almost always very positive.

Journaling can be effective for many different reasons and help you reach a wide range of goals. It can help you clear your head, make important connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and even buffer or reduce the effects of mental illness!

How Can We Use Writing to Increase Mental Health?

“Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind.” – Natalie Goldberg

You might be wondering how writing in a journal can have a significant impact on your mental health. After all, it’s just putting some words on a page—how much can that really do for you?

It turns out that this simple practice can do quite a bit, especially for those struggling with mental illness or striving towards more positive mental health.

Journaling requires the application of the analytical, rational left side of the brain; while your left hemisphere is occupied, your right hemisphere (the creative, touchy-feely side) is given the freedom to wander and play (Grothaus, 2015)! Allowing your creativity to flourish and expand can be cathartic and make a big difference in your daily well-being.

Overall, journaling/expressive writing has been found to:

  • Boost your mood/affect
  • Enhance your sense of well-being
  • Reduce symptoms of depression before an important event (like an exam)
  • Reduce intrusion and avoidance symptoms post-trauma
  • Improve your working memory (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005)

In particular, journaling can be especially helpful for those with PTSD or a history of trauma. It’s hypothesized that writing works to enhance our mental health through guiding us towards confronting previously inhibited emotions (reducing the stress from inhibition), helping us process difficult events and compose a coherent narrative about our experiences, and possibly even through repeated exposure to the negative emotions associated with traumatic memories (i.e., “extinction” of these negative emotions; Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005).

Even for those without a traumatic experience to work through, we have a good idea of how writing can enhance our mental health. For instance, we know it can make us more aware (and self-aware!) and help us detect sneaky, unhealthy patterns in our thoughts and behaviors. It allows us to take more control over our lives and puts things in perspective. Further, it can help us shift from a negative mindset to a more positive one, especially about ourselves (Robinson, 2017).

However, to have a positive impact on mental health, we need to be sure that we have an appropriate method. Simply doing a “brain dump” of words on the page may feel good in the moment, but there’s little evidence that it will increase your well-being or decrease your symptoms of depression.

Baikie and Wilhelm (2005) offer the following tips to ensure your journaling is constructive, gleaned from their comprehensive overview of the literature:

  1. Write in a private and personalized space that is free from distractions.
  2. Write at least three or four times, and aim for writing consecutively (i.e., at least once each day).
  3. Give yourself some time to reflect and balance yourself after writing.
  4. If you’re writing to overcome trauma, don’t feel obligated to write about a specific traumatic event—journal about what feels right in the moment.
  5. Structure the writing, however, feels right to you.
  6. Keep your journal private; it’s for your eyes only—not your spouse, not your family, not your friends, not even your therapist (although you can discuss your experience with your therapist, of course!).

Another good set of guidelines on effective journaling can be found on the Center for Journal Therapy website. When you journal, remember the simple acronym: WRITE!

  • W – What do you want to write about? Think about what is going on in your life, your current thoughts and feelings, what you’re striving towards or trying to avoid right now. Give it a name and put it all on paper.
  • R – Review or reflect on it. Take a few moments to be still, calm your breath, and focus. A little mindfulness or meditation could help in this step. Try to start sentences with “I” statements like “I feel…”, “I want…”, and “I think…” Also, try to keep them in the present tense, with sentence stems like “Today…”, “Right now…”, or “In this moment…”
  • I – Investigate your thoughts and feelings through your writing. Just keep going! If you feel you have run out of things to write or your mind starts to wander, take a moment to re-focus (another opportunity for mindfulness meditation!), read over what you have just written, and continue on.
  • T – Time yourself to ensure that you write for at least 5 minutes (or whatever your current goal is). Write down your start time and the projected end time based on your goal at the top of your page. Set a timer or alarm to go off when the time period you have set it up.
  • E – Exit strategically and with introspection. Read what you have written and take a moment to reflect on it. Sum up your takeaway in one or two sentences, starting with statements like “As I read this, I notice…”, “I’m aware of…”, or “I feel…” If you have any action items or steps you would like to take next, write them down now (Adams, n.d.).

Now you have an idea of how to get started with your journal, but you might need a little more convincing on the benefits. If so, read on to learn about the science behind journaling and journal therapy!

  The Scientific Research on Journal/Writing Therapy

There is a ton of evidence out there on the outcomes of journal writing therapy, and overall this evidence points to its effectiveness in helping people identify and accept their emotions, manage their stress, and ease the symptoms of mental illness.

It has even been shown to impact physical well-being; avid journal writer and journalist Michael Grothaus notes that there are studies suggesting journaling can strengthen the immune system, drop blood pressure, help you sleep better, and generally keep you healthier (2015).

There are also other, more specific benefits for people struggling with a wide range of issues.

Can Journaling Help Manage Depression?

Yes! Journaling has been shown to be effective in helping people manage their depressive symptoms. Journaling is no substitute for professional guidance when the depression is particularly severe, but it can complement other forms of treatment or act as a stand-alone symptom management tool for those with mild depression.

Here’s just a sampling of the evidence for journaling’s effectiveness in managing depression:

  • Expressive writing can reduce symptoms of depression in women who are struggling with the aftermath of intimate partner violence (Koopman, Ismailji, Holmes, Classen, Palesh, & Wales, 2005).
  • Writing in a journal may also be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for reducing symptoms of depression in high-risk adolescents (Stice, Burton, Bearman, & Rohde, 2006).
  • Expressive journaling may not reduce the frequency of intrusive thoughts in depressed individuals, but it moderates their impact on depressive symptoms, leading to a reduction in symptoms (Lepore, 1997).
  • Journaling can help college students who are vulnerable to depression reduce their brooding and rumination, two contributing factors of depressive symptoms (Gortner, Rude, & Pennebacker, 2006).
  • In general, people diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder reported significantly lower depression scores after three days of expressive writing, 20 minutes per day (Krpan, Kross, Berman, Deldin, Askren, & Jonides, 2013).

Overall, the benefits of journaling and expressive writing for those suffering from depression are pretty clear: it gives them the opportunity to release pent-up negative emotions, keeps them in a more positive frame of mind, and helps them build a buffer between their negative thoughts and their sense of well-being.

11 Benefits of Journaling for Anxiety

“For me, writing is a way of thinking. I write in a journal a lot. I’m a very impatient person, so writing and meditation allow me to slow down and watch my mind; they are containers that keep me in place, hold me still.” – Ruth Ozeki

Journaling can also help people suffering from anxiety disorders. Like depression, the positive outcomes are well-documented for this purpose. In fact, compared to many other aims when journaling, it is extremely well-suited to helping you deal with anxiety.

Why is it so beneficial for anxiety?

According to psychologist Barbara Markway,

“There’s simply no better way to learn about your thought processes than to write them down.”

She notes that to address our problematic thought patterns, we first have to actually know what they are! Journaling is instrumental in helping us identify our negative automatic self-talk and get to the root of our anxiety.

Writing in a journal can positively impact your anxiety through:

  • Calming and clearing your mind.
  • Releasing pent-up feelings and everyday stress.
  • Letting go of negative thoughts.
  • Exploring your experiences with anxiety.
  • Writing about your struggles and your successes.
  • Enhancing your self-awareness and teaching you about your triggers.
  • Track your progress as you undergo treatment (Star, 2018).

Through mechanisms like those listed above, journaling has been shown to:

  • Reduce anxiety in patients with multiple sclerosis (Hasanzadeh, Khoshknab, & Norozi, 2012).
  • Reduce physical symptoms, health problems, and anxiety in women (LaClaire, 2008).
  • Help students manage their stress and anxiety and improve their engagement and enhance meaning found in the classroom (Flinchbaugh, Moore, Chang, & May, 2012).

As you may have guessed, the benefits of journaling naturally extend to more general stress management as well as anxiety.

11 Benefits of Journaling for Stress Management

Journaling is also an excellent method for anyone who simply wants to manage their stress, perhaps to keep it from pushing them well into the realm of anxiety and depression.

Keeping a journal can help you fully explore your emotions, release tension, and fully integrate your experiences into your mind (Scott, 2018). Further, it can help you work on reducing specific sources of stress or aid you in reaching an important goal (perhaps reducing your overall stress?).

Besides the outcomes listed above, journaling can also help you manage your stress through:

  • Decreasing symptoms of various health conditions
  • Improving your cognitive functioning.
  • Strengthening your immune system.
  • Examining your thoughts and shifting your perspective.
  • Reducing rumination and promoting action.
  • Planning out your options and considering multiple outcomes of a situation (Scott, 2018).

Journaling can help with general sources of stress, but it is also a valuable tool for addressing issues and reducing stress from more specific problems.

The Importance of Journaling in Recovery

Whatever event, habit, or disorder you are struggling to overcome, journaling can help you find healing.

If you are suffering in the aftermath of a traumatic event, journaling can help you find the good in life. It can even help you see the positive side of experiencing the trauma, which helps reduce the severe symptoms that can accompany trauma (Ullrich & Lutgendorf, 2002).

If you are grappling with an eating disorder, journal writing can be a huge source of relief and healing. Keeping a journal can help you stop distancing yourself from your issues, encourage you to confront your problems head-on, and reduce the obsessive component of your disorder (Rabinor, 1991).

If you are struggling with a debilitating psychiatric condition, journaling can help you get your thoughts down on paper and stop ruminating and worrying over them. This can free up your mind to manage your emotions and cope with stress that could trigger a relapse (Provencher, Gregg, Mead, & Mueser, 2002).

If the recovery you seek is for the death of a loved one, one of the most traumatic and heartbreaking events of all, journaling can help with that as well. Writing can give you a chance to process your enormous loss and reduce the most severe symptoms of grief. This has been proven to be especially effective for children dealing with bereavement (Kalantari, Yule, Dyregrov, Neshatdoost, & Ahmadi, 2012).

However, the recovery that journaling can have the biggest impact on is recovery from addiction. If you’re struggling to overcome an addiction, journaling can help you record your struggles and your accomplishments, hold yourself accountable and allow you an opportunity to work through difficult thoughts and emotions in a healthy manner (Milios, 2015).

Why does journaling help so much with recovery?

Writing our thoughts, feelings, and actions down in a journal allows us to craft and maintain our sense of self and solidifies our identity. It helps us reflect on our experiences and discover our authentic self. Keeping a journal can give you a chance to create and consider the narrative of your life, with all of the choices you have made and the memories that make you who you are today. In a word, the benefits of journaling on recovery is “cathartic” (New Roads Treatment, 2017).

If you want to really up the impact of journaling on your recovery, consider writing with gratitude.

What Are the Benefits of Writing with Gratitude?

You might get a quicker answer if you asked, “What AREN’T the benefits of writing with gratitude?”

Cultivating gratitude has already been shown to be an extremely effective tool for reaching all kinds of goals and improving quality of life. However, you don’t necessarily need to write to cultivate gratitude—there are lots of ways to be more grateful.

Luckily, applying gratitude specifically through writing can contribute to most of the general benefits of increasing gratitude, and some of the outcomes reported from gratitude journaling include:

  • Boosting your long-term well-being, encouraging exercise, reducing physical pain and symptoms, and increasing both length and quality of sleep (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
  • Increasing your optimism and, indirectly, your happiness and health (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).
  • Reducing your symptoms of depression, for as long as you continue gratitude journaling (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).
  • Helping you make progress toward your goals (Emmons & Mishra, 2011).
  • Making you friendlier, more open, and more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors, which can enhance and expand your social support network (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).

If none of these benefits make you wonder what gratitude journaling could do for you, it seems you don’t need the help that gratitude can give you! Joking aside, there are more benefits to gratitude journaling than we can feasibly list here, and there’s almost certainly at least one or two that are desirable to you. It’s worth a shot!

9 Psychological Benefits of Journaling Every Day

Journaling every day is a great habit to get into. Of course, any time you can carve out for effective journaling is time well spent, but the best practice is a regular, daily journaling session.

What is so great about journaling every day?

There are tons of benefits to keeping a regular journaling practice, including:

  • It promotes and enhances your creativity in a way that once-in-a-while journaling simply can’t match.
  • It propels you toward your goals, helping you bring your vision to life.
  • It offers you a daily opportunity to recover from the daily stressors and leave the unimportant stuff behind.
  • It can help you identify things that would otherwise go unnoticed, such as patterns in your thinking, the influences behind your feelings and behavior, and any incongruencies in your life.
  • It gives you a chance to get all of your emotions out on paper, reducing your stress and releasing tension.
  • It facilitates learning by creating a record of the lessons and key ideas you have discovered and helps you remember them more effectively.
  • It boosts your overall sense of gratitude and your sensitivity to all that you have to be grateful for.
  • It makes you a..
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If you’re like most people (including me!), you were probably not familiar with the concept of drama therapy before landing on this page.

That’s a real shame, and you’ll see why by the end of this piece.

Drama therapy is an established and validated form of therapy that can be applied to a wide range of participants (as clients are generally called in this treatment modality) in an even broader range of issues, problems, and disorders. The evidence backing its effectiveness is compelling, as is the intuitive reasoning behind its appeal.

It is rooted in instinctive human behaviors and need fulfillment, and takes advantage of some of our inherent desires to enact positive change and promote healing.

Curious about drama therapy yet? Good! Read on to learn what drama therapy is and why it is a form of treatment with such exciting potential.

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What is Drama Therapy? Definition and History

Drama therapy is a type of therapy that uses theatrical techniques and concepts to bring about meaningful change. It gives clients a way to express their feelings, interact with others, and rehearse healthy behaviors.

Drama therapy expert David R. Johnson defines this method of treatment as

“the intentional use of creative drama toward the psychotherapeutic goals of symptom relief, emotional and physical integration, and personal growth” (1982).

The North American Drama Therapy Association describes drama therapy as an approach that:

“…can provide the content for participants to tell their stories, set goals and solve problems, express feelings, or achieve catharsis.”

It is intended to help participants explore their inner experience and break them out of any rigid roles or frameworks they have been limiting themselves to. They can express themselves while sharing a new side to their personality, or dig up an old one long forgotten.

Drama therapy was first conceived as a therapeutic approach called psychodrama by psychiatrist Jacob Moreno (Good Therapy, 2015A). Moreno was born in 1889 in Romania and raised in Vienna, where he earned his degree in medicine and began practicing as a psychiatrist. In 1925, he moved to New York City, where he practiced psychiatry and experimented with some of his more odd and innovative ideas. Psychodrama was one such idea, an idea that went against the grain of current psychology, given its focus on the present and the future rather than the past (a la Freud and his successors).

A psychodrama session was generally organized based on the following guidelines:

  • The session focuses primarily on one person, the protagonist.
  • Participants act out their emotions by reacting to others.
  • Participants use techniques like mirroring the protagonist’s behavior and role reversal to better understand their feelings and behaviors, as well as the feelings and behaviors or others.
  • Spontaneity and creativity are emphasized as propellers of progress and development (Good Therapy, 2015B).

From Moreno’s psychodrama technique, what we now call drama therapy was born. People noticed that drama facilitates the expression of difficult emotions and provides psychological distance from the trauma or suffering that a participant is working through, and they applied these truths from the world of theater to the realm of therapy. While psychodrama focuses on an individual—the protagonist—drama therapy can be applied to individuals or groups and can provide therapeutic opportunities for all participants in each session (HealthPRO, n.d.).

During the 1960s, as a new focus on humanistic approaches over the more traditional psychoanalytic framework began to take shape, drama therapy offered adventurous psychologists a way to treat clients through theater that revolved around the actor’s experience instead of the audience’s (Johnson, 1982).

The field really began to take shape when the American Dance Therapy Association formed in 1966 and the American Art Therapy Association followed soon after in 1969. The North American Drama Therapy Association was established in 1979, giving drama therapy a specialized organization to gather their knowledge and centralize the research, practice, and sharing of information (Good Therapy, 2015A).

As drama therapy found its footing, a more cohesive conceptualization of the field emerged. Today, the goals of drama therapy are often described as follows:

  1. Promote positive behavioral changes
  2. Improve interpersonal relationship skills
  3. Integrate physical and emotional well-being
  4. Achieve personal growth and self-awareness
  5. Improve overall quality of life (Good Therapy, 2015A).

Aside from tackling these larger, overall goals, drama therapy can also benefit participants by providing them with the opportunity to:

  • Express their feelings
  • Tell their story
  • Act out/work out issues and problems
  • Relive their symptoms
  • Achieve emotional and physical integration
  • Experience catharsis
  • Expand their depth of inner experiences
  • Boost their self-confidence
  • Improve their self-esteem
  • Increase their sense of play and spontaneity
  • Develop trust
  • Work out relationship issues
  • Improve their interpersonal/social skills
  • Strengthen or expand their personal life roles
  • Increase their mental and emotional flexibility (HealthPRO, n.d.)

In order to work toward the goals listed above, a drama therapy session is usually organized into four separate parts:

  1. The check in – in this first component of the session, participants will check in with the therapist and share how they are feeling today.
  2. The warm-up – the warm-up activity is meant to get the blood flowing as well as participants’ creative juices; it should help get everyone engaged, mind and body.
  3. The main activity – this is the biggest component of the session and the focus of the therapeutic work for the day.
  4. Closing – closing out the session offers an opportunity to discuss how the session went for each participant and reinforce any lessons learned or objectives achieved (Counselling Directory, n.d.).

If you’re curious about what happens during the warm-ups and main activities, the next section is right up your alley! Continue on to read about the techniques, exercises, and activities used in drama therapy.

  Techniques in Drama Therapy

The processes and techniques used in drama therapy are varied and will likely be unfamiliar to a psychologist who has not studied this specific form of therapy. Drama therapy uses exercises rooted in theater to help participants express themselves and gain new insights about themselves and others.

The nine core processes through which drama therapy facilitates change in participants include:

  1. Dramatic projection – a technique that allows participants to project their inner feelings and work their issues out onto a role or object.
  2. Personification and impersonation – two different techniques in which participants can express their own personal material through role play or onto an object.
  3. Interactive audience and witnessing – refers to the participant, the group, and/or the client in the role of audience or witness.
  4. Playing – an attitude characterized by spontaneous problem-solving, in which a play space is staked out, objects are actively repurposed into new roles, and allowances are made for changes.
  5. Drama-therapeutic empathy and distancing – the ability of the participants to engage or disengage with the material that resonates with their personal problems and inner conflicts.
  6. Life-drama connection – a process in which participants analyze their personal problems or issues through dramatic projection.
  7. Transformation – an inherent aspect of much of what happens in theater and in play, built right into the structure of telling a story.
  8. Embodiment – the physical expression of personal material (can be actual or envisioned).
  9. Therapeutic performance processes – these processes refer to the therapeutic use of theatrical performance to work through the participants’ personal issues and themes (Jones, 1996).

Aside from these core processes, there are other techniques that may be employed in drama therapy. Some of the most common techniques are described below.

Stimulating Creativity and Spontaneity

Although this is more of a constant theme and focus of encouragement from the therapist, it’s worth mentioning as a technique on its own. Throughout treatment, the drama therapist will try to poke, prod, and provoke the participants into developing and applying their creative nature (Johnson, 1982; Jones, 1996).

Role Playing

Role playing allows the participant to alter their mindset, act out in new ways, and connect their own experiences to those of another person (whether that “other” is real or imagined, a near-perfect copy of the participant or someone completely different). There are two main types of roles that a participant may play.

Scripted Role

A scripted role gives the participant the opportunity to act as another person, usually based on a script or text describing the individual. The participant studies the role and attempts to understand the individual, and he or she often finds that they can relate to certain factors in the character’s experience.

Improvisational Role

Unlike the scripted role, participants acting out an improvisational role are given minimal guidance on the character and allowed to create their personality spontaneously. The actor in an improvisational role will undoubtedly draw from his or her own experiences, memories, and assumptions to create a personality, making it an exercise in self-expression—whether the actor is aware of each aspect of his or her self that seeps through or not (Johnson, 1982).

Speech and Storytelling

Most of us have an inherent desire to tell our story to others, whether through spoken word, written word, music, or art. This technique capitalizes on this desire to tell a good story and allows us to form new narratives and practice getting our message across to others.

Talk therapy itself is a sort of storytelling, in which the client composes, alters, and refocuses his or her own stories with the therapist as the audience. The simple process of telling your story can bring a surprising sense of catharsis and facilitate a new understanding of yourself and your experiences.

However, storytelling can also be used to construct hypothetical (or not-so-hypothetical) situations and explore the various ways the story could end. In this technique, the client is in a position of leadership concerning the characters, the situation, and the resolution, allowing him or her to work through their own experiences and find healing (Miller, 2011).

While storytelling most often involves speech, it can also be accomplished through movement, the written word, and other forms of expression.

Projective Play

Projective play is generally used with children, although it can also be applied to adults with developmental disabilities and others. This technique uses dolls and toys to allow children to express and project their feelings through the props they have at hand. Projecting themselves onto the external world through play is a sign of healthy development, and failure to do so can provide valuable insights into what the child is struggling with.

A similar technique can also be used with adults, although generally this is done with props instead of toys. The use of props is a prominent feature in drama therapy and offers participants versatile ways to use the things around them to express themselves. Props can be used for a wide range of purposes, from simply giving the participants a tool to utilize in their role to holding symbolic meaning and representing an experience, individual, or concept that is vitally important to the participant.

Movement and Miming

One of the most basic and fundamental human behaviors is movement. The use of movement in a therapeutic manner is also found in art therapy, interpretive dance, and other activities humans devised to express themselves.

Miming is an activity you are probably already familiar with; if you’re like me, the word “mime” brings to mind a person dressed in black and white, with a white face and black beret to match, silently acting out a routine. Of course, miming doesn’t have to involve face paint and black suspenders—miming is essentially movement replacing speech in acting out a scenario or portraying emotion. This technique requires the use of body language alone, which may bring up new thoughts, feelings, and perspectives for the participants (Counselling Directory, n.d.).

Acting Out

This process refers to the opportunity that drama therapy provides for participants to act out negative behaviors without facing the consequences. In this safe space, they can act out those behaviors they engage in that are harmful, and face those behaviors directly and truthfully. This technique is especially helpful for participants suffering from addiction, as they can engage in a thoughtful consideration of their addiction behaviors without actually backsliding (Blank, 2010).

In addition, acting out can be extremely helpful for participants who have engaged in other harmful behaviors or actions that have caused them problems in the past. It is often difficult to dig up these old experiences and the emotions that go along with them, but this technique is applied with the hope of discovering why you acted the way you did and why the negative outcome occurred, as well as learning how you can choose a different path in the future (Counselling Directory, n.d.).


It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes wearing a mask is the best way to be yourself. Donning a mask can help participants feel safer and more secure, as well as giving them yet another way to express themselves and share their feelings with others non-verbally.

According to drama therapist and researcher Robert Landy (1986), there are four main ways in which a mask can be used in a therapeutic encounter:

  1. To represent two sides of a conflict or dilemma.
  2. To express one’s identity in a group.
  3. To explore dreams and imagery.
  4. To express a social role.

In addition to wearing a mask within the therapeutic process, it may also help for participants to create their own mask that reflects their experiences or matches how they feel. This is a great opportunity to both express themselves and engage their creativity.

  13 Activities, Games, Exercises, and Ideas (PDF)

If you’re interested in trying some of the techniques from drama therapy, you’re in luck—there are tons of resources out there to draw from! A sampling of these resources and the activities, games, and exercises they describe are outlined here.

A Dialogue with the Back

In this exercise, the goals are to break the ice between group members, provoke a range of emotions, and warm the group up for interactions.

The group should be split up into pairs, with each person standing back to back with their partner. The therapist or facilitator will read out instructions like:

“Imagine your backs are speaking to each other about trivial, everyday life matters. You exchange ideas, make light jokes about things, share experiences, etc. Eventually, a mild discrepancy between you arises which increases gradually into a discussion. An intense conflict is revealed which turns into an angry argument. You both hold to your positions: it is a matter of principle and you are not willing to give up! Finally, you realize that it was all a misunderstanding, a big mistake. You just didn’t understand or hear each other properly. Now everything is mended, you explain yourselves to one another, you make up. You’re just two loving, caring human beings.” (Pendzik, n.d.).

Next, the fun part! The participants will act out the instructions from the facilitator, but only using movements of the back. They cannot speak or turn to look at each other, raise their arms or use their legs and feet to nudge one another; they can only use their backs.

As you can imagine, this exercise can help participants warm up, get them into their bodies, and help them connect their feelings to their movements. You can find this exercise on page 3 of Dr. Pendzik’s Drama Therapy Exercises resource (please note that clicking this link will start a download of this resource in PDF format).

Creating a Play in Pairs

This exercise is intended to encourage creativity and spontaneity in participants, foster better listening skills and collaboration, and help participants get to know one another.

To give this exercise a try, get the group in pairs again. Instruct participants to take turns describing their house to their partner, and to pay attention when it is their partner’s turn to speak.

Once both partners have given a description of their house, they will have an opportunity to draw their partner’s house. The drawing is not intended to be an especially accurate picture of the partner’s house, but a subjective impression of the house based on what they were told about it. If a certain aspect of their partner’s description caught their attention, the individual can focus their drawing around that.

Next, the partners trade drawings and look over them, discussing the process and the outcome with one another. After a brief discussion, the pair is instructed to find a place on the wall to hang their drawings together, as if they were an art exhibit. They will leave a pencil and a piece of paper next to their display, then all group members will leave the room.

Once all group members have left the room, they will re-enter with the direction to act as if they are visiting a museum. They will stay in their pairs, walking around the room and considering the drawings, and leave their ideas about what kinds of inhabitants live in each house.

Once all group members have visited each drawing, they will go back to their own drawing and look at the ideas they received. The facilitator instructs them to choose one of the suggestions to try out today, and share the suggestions they received and the one they chose with their partner. They should also come up with a brief description of the character they chose and share that with their partner as well.

When both partners have shared their characters and descriptions with one another, they are to arrange a meeting of their characters. The pairs will need to decide where they could meet and what they would each be doing.

Next, each pair will get a chance to role play their characters’ first meeting for five minutes, letting the scene unfold naturally. When it is over, the pairs should process their experience and their feelings about the scene together. They should also decide on three descriptors of the..

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Have you ever done yoga?

For most people these days, the answer you get to that question is “yes.” Yoga is one of the most popular physical activities and group classes in the United States, although it wasn’t always that way. Yoga’s reputation started out in the West as something that hippies did for spiritual enlightenment after consuming one of several mind-altering drugs; however, today it is a much more mainstream and respected practice that centers on the physical and mental well-being of practitioners.

If you’ve given yoga a try, you know that it has the potential to be very effective in treating and soothing a wide range of illnesses, issues, diagnoses, and stressful situations. You also probably know that it’s much, much more than a simple exercise or stretching routine; it requires your brain as well as your body.

In fact, it’s one of the few physical activities that does a pretty thorough job of connecting your brain to your body.

If that sounds fascinating to you, read on to explore the relationship between yoga and psychology and look at the many benefits of yoga on the mental and physical health of men, women, and children.

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The Relationship Between Yoga and Psychology

Although you may be familiar with the physical practice we call yoga, yoga is actually much more than stretching and holding poses; yoga is a more comprehensive practice—indeed, a lifestyle—that encompasses several life principles, like:

  • Yama (moral code)
  • Niyama (self-discipline)
  • Asanas (postures or poses)
  • Pranayama (mindfulness of breathing)
  • Pratyahara (detachment from senses)
  • Dharana (concentration)
  • Dhyanna (meditation or positive, mindful focus on the present)
  • Savasana (state of rest)
  • Samadhi (ecstasy; Ivtzan & Papantoniou, 2014)

You’ll notice that only asanas and savasana are focused on physical experiences. The rest concern mental, emotional, and spiritual experiences.

This is because yoga is much more focused on the practitioner’s “inner” experience than their “outer” experience (i.e., worrying about the body). An authentic yoga practice demands introspection, reflection, and earnest consideration of the self. It is a way to connect with our own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and core values, opening the window into our deeper and truer selves.

Viewed in this light, it’s hard to see yoga and psychology as separate subjects! However, as close as the connection is between yoga and psychology, it’s even more intimately related to the subfield of positive psychology.

  Yoga and Positive Psychology

The link between yoga and positive psychology is a strong one; although yoga started with a slightly different focus, it is now commonly practiced in the West as an attempt to enhance well-being (Ivtzan & Papantoniou, 2014). Of course, well-being is a core topic in positive psychology, which explains the frequent use of yoga in intervention and exercises.

Further, yoga offers an excellent opportunity to enter flow, the state of being fully engaged and present in the moment with no attention paid to the time passing. Practicing yoga can help people cultivate mindfulness, develop greater awareness, and improve their ability to focus on what is at hand.

If you are interested in learning more about the connection between yoga and positive psychology, click here to read about a course on the link between the two subjects. You will learn:

  • The history, core contributors, and traits researched and highlighted in positive psychology
  • The inherent similarities between yoga and positive psychology explored through the Yoga Sutras and the Paths of Yoga
  • How the Yamas and the Niyamas compare to concepts of positive psychology
  • Practical interventions you can use in your yoga practice and your life
  • The use and natural connection of the YogaFit Essence and Transformational Language
  • Specialized cueing and pose selection

If you’re ready to move on to a slightly different tack and learn about yoga and mental health, go on to the section.

  What Does the Research Say About Yoga and Mental Health?

Tons of work has been conducted on the impacts of yoga on mental health. The overall consensus is that yoga has many positive effects on mental health that go beyond the effects of other low- to-medium-impact physical activity, and these effects are likely due to chemical changes in the brain (Grazioplene, 2012).

It turns out that practicing yoga actually facilitates greater release of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) from the thalamus; GABA acts as a sort of “grand inhibitor” of the brain, suppressing neural activity. This can mimic the effects of anti-anxiety drugs and alcohol—yep, doing yoga can make you feel like you just had a nice, relaxing cocktail! This finding indicates that yoga can actually work to help to “reset” your brain to a calmer, more collected state, giving you the baseline mood you need to deal with the stress you encounter every day (Grazioplene, 2012).

Yoga makes an excellent alternative or complementary treatment for issues that require medication and/or therapy, as it is natural, accessible for all, and relatively easy to engage in. In addition, it is a good choice because it is one of the few treatment activities that connects the mind to the body. In therapy, you generally don’t use your body in any significant way; when taking medication, you generally don’t emphasize the mind-body connection, or even think about it much—after all, you just hope it works, and you may not care much how it works!

“The most important pieces of equipment you need for doing yoga are your body and your mind.” – Rodney Yee

Practicing yoga emphasizes the connection between our minds and our bodies, and encourages you to use both at the same time. A yoga session requires precise and mindful movement, but it also calls for mindful thought and enhanced awareness. Unlike when you go for a run or life weights, yoga is only in “full effect” when both mind and body are completely engaged. This marriage of your mental state and your physical state offers a unique opportunity to make a powerful impact on your mental health.

How strong is the potential impact of a “yoga treatment?” So strong that some therapists and doctors have begun to prescribe it as a complementary treatment on top of medication, talk therapy, or both; sometimes, it is even pursued as the only method of treatment, although that is generally not advised for more severe diagnoses.

“Yoga has a sly, clever way of short circuiting the mental patterns that cause anxiety.” – Baxter Bal

Support for yoga as a supplement to other types of treatment comes from a groundbreaking 2007 study of depressed patients who were taking an antidepressant medication but were only in partial remission. The researchers observed that participants who engaged in regular yoga practice (at least three times a week for eight weeks) experienced significantly fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and neuroticism. Some participants even achieved remission from their mental illness, and many participants reported better mood overall (Novotney, 2009).

  The Benefits of Yoga

You’ve likely heard about many benefits of yoga that go beyond alleviating or buffering against mental illness; benefits like:

  • It builds confidence
  • It helps you learn to breathe, both literally and metaphorically
  • It makes you more aware of your posture at all times
  • It makes you more mindful
  • It boosts your strength and endurance
  • It helps relieve stress (Rues, n.d.)

Aside from the anecdotal stories about the wonders of regular yoga practice, there is also peer-reviewed evidence to support the benefits of yoga. For example, reviews of the literature suggest that yoga is at least somewhat effective in lessening symptoms of depression, reducing fatigue, relieving anxiety, and reducing or acting as a buffer against stress, and often boosts participants’ feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem (Büssing, Michalsen, Khalsa, Telles, & Sherman, 2012).

Yoga can be especially helpful for those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Several studies on yoga applied to PTSD treatment show that yoga can have outcomes similar to those of talk therapy (Novotney, 2009). The results of yoga on PTSD symptoms highlights this link between the body and the brain, and the potential of yoga to facilitate that connection and skip right over the barrier.

Many PTSD symptoms are physical, such as the increased heart rate and perspiration that sometimes accompany “flashbacks” or vivid memories of trauma. Yoga may be especially helpful in addressing symptoms such as these, as it can target the physical symptoms of stress, anxiety, fear, and depression.

The Physical Benefits of Yoga

“The beauty is that people often come here for the stretch, and leave with a lot more.” – Liza Ciano

Overall, although yoga may seem like a relatively mild form of exercise, regular yoga practice can result in the same health benefits as many other types of exercise but with less of an impact on joints and more relaxation!

In addition to having the same impacts on general health as other types of exercise, there is some evidence that yoga is even more beneficial than most types of exercise when it comes to:

  • Increasing balance
  • Improving baroreflex sensitivity
  • Reducing fatigue
  • Enhancing flexibility
  • Healthy heart rate
  • Healthy heart rate variability
  • Improved kidney function
  • Lessened or buffered menopausal symptoms
  • Relieving pain
  • Relieving or inhibiting psychotic symptoms
  • Improving quality of life
  • Reducing sleep disturbances
  • Improving social and occupational functioning
  • Increasing strength
  • Lowering obesity
  • Reducing stress
  • Reducing cholesterol (Ross & Thomas, 2009; Ross, Friedmann, Bevans, & Thomas, 2013)

Yoga can also help you beat the symptoms of insomnia and depression and boost your energy, happiness, and encourage a healthy weight.

In one study, participants who engaged in a daily 45-minute yoga practice right before going to bed for eight weeks experienced tremendous decreases in the severity of their insomnia (Novotney, 2009).

In another study, participants who practiced yoga more regularly were also more likely to report higher energy, better moods, greater happiness, more fulfilling relationships with others, and more satisfied lives in general (Ross et al., 2013).

Finally, an overview on the general benefits of yoga found that those who engage in the practice regularly often experience increases in self-efficacy and self-confidence, along with enhancements in balance, flexibility, strength, and weight loss (Büssing et al., 2012). The same study found that yoga has been reported to boost cardiovascular endurance, reduce hypertension, enhance pulmonary function, and more. However, these results are still fairly preliminary, so take these findings with a grain of salt!

The Benefits of Yoga for Men

Besides the physical and mental benefits listed above that are great outcomes for anyone who engages in yoga, there are also many benefits that men often specifically appreciate about practicing yoga.

For example, yoga can help men:

  1. Enhance their athletic performance through improved flexibility, internal awareness, better respiratory capacity, better circulation and motion efficiency, and greater energy.
  2. Prevent injury and speed up recovery through the healing of inflamed muscles, tissue, joints, and fascia, as well as the restoring of connective tissue and increased body awareness, leading to more caution and less injury.
  3. Boost their sex life, by enhancing desire, sexual satisfaction, performance, confidence, partner synchronization, control, and even better orgasms!
  4. Optimize their muscle tone via increased delivery of oxygen to the muscles.
  5. Lower their stress level through movement.
  6. Increase their mental agility through the sharpening of the mind and improved cognitive function that comes with the meditative exercise of yoga (Ross, 2018).

This list provides some pretty good reasons for curious men to give yoga a try! Don’t get jealous yet, ladies—there are also some benefits of yoga that speak to women in particular.

The Benefits of Yoga for Women

The benefits of yoga that are often specifically appreciated by women include:

  1. Helping you to deal with hormonal changes during your cycle and during menopause.
  2. Soothing worry and anxiety caused by a health crisis or serious diagnosis.
  3. Lessening stress and reducing the severity and frequency of anxiety and depression symptoms.
  4. Improving your posture.
  5. Improving your appearance through standing taller, feeling more confident, and more effective weight management (Cespedes, 2018).

In addition, although we noted some of the impacts of yoga on PTSD earlier, it’s worth emphasizing that it may be particularly helpful for women who have suffered some kind of trauma.

The Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts recruited a group of women who had been diagnosed with PTSD to engage in an experimental yoga treatment. The women attended eight 75-minute Hatha yoga sessions over the course of a few weeks. Those who participated reported significantly reduced PTSD symptoms compared with women in a talk therapy group (Novotney, 2009). This might not represent the average results of yoga for PTSD, but there are at least some cases where it’s as effective as seeing a licensed professional therapist! At that price (free or very cheap), yoga is definitely worth a try.

Yoga in the Classroom: The Benefits for Kids

If at any point in this piece so far you’ve thought to yourself, “These benefits are great, but those who could really benefit from more relaxation, awareness, better focus, and enhanced self-esteem are children and young people,” you’re on to something!

There has been a lot of interest in yoga for kids for these very reasons; kids have to deal with many of the same stressors and triggers that adults do, but without all of the decades of experiences to teach them what is most effective and the social awareness to know what is appropriate. In addition, the rise of constant social media has made it even more difficult to simply sit quietly and think, or even sit quietly and just exist for a few moments. Children are also dealing with as much pressure as ever to succeed in school, and perhaps even more pressure from the added competition that our increasingly globalized world introduces to them (Hagen & Nayar, 2014).

Given these truths, it seems that yoga can perhaps help to fill a vital gap in children’s social, emotional, and physical development. Research shows that it contributes to enhanced physical and mental well-being, and may improve resilience, mood, and self-regulation skills (Hagen & Nayar, 2014).

For example, an evaluation of yoga for adolescents in secondary school showed that students who participated in the program experienced significant improvements in ability to control their anger and reduction in fatigue and/or inertia (Khalsa, Hickey-Schultz, Cohen, Steiner, & Cope, 2011).

Further, research has found that regularly practicing yoga can have a positive impact on the following aspects of a student’s or child’s life:

  • Their well-being
  • Their academic performance
  • Their emotional balance
  • Average heart rate
  • Experience of anxiety (i.e., yoga reduces anxiety)
  • Promoting mental health
  • Increasing resilience and self-regulation (Hagen & Nayar, 2014).
Yoga in Long-Term Care: The Benefits for the Elderly

“Yoga is the fountain of youth. You’re only as young as your spine is flexible.” – Bob Harper

Although yoga can have some fabulous benefits for children, it can also be extremely effective for improving both the physical and mental health of the elderly. Of course, some of the moves and poses are modified to suit more fragile bodies, but they still provide a challenging and invigorating experience for the elderly.

In Taiwan, researchers sought out elderly residents in a long-term care facility who were diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia and invited them to join a gentle yoga program. The program lasted for 12 weeks, with three 55-minute sessions per week. The experimental group participated in the yoga classes while the control group maintained their usual daily activities.

The results of this study showed that older adults who engaged in regular yoga practice enjoyed several health benefits, including:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Reduced respiration rate
  • Strengthened cardiopulmonary fitness
  • Enhanced body flexibility
  • Improved muscle strength and endurance
  • Improved balance
  • Increased joints..
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What does it mean to flourish? As a person, I mean.

We can probably agree that a plant which is healthy and blooming can be said to “flourish,” and that a business that is booming and raking in record profit is “flourishing.” But what does it mean for a human being to flourish?

Some might think of financial success as “flourishing.” Others might think of self-development and growth. You might believe that a person is flourishing when she is happy and content, or when she is learning new things and applying her skills to new challenges.

As it turns out, all of these definitions are right! Or at least, partly right.

Flourishing is a multi-dimensional construct, meaning it’s made up of several important parts, and maximum flourishing can only happen when a person experiences a healthy level of each dimension or component.

Read on to find out which components make up flourishing, how flourishing is conceptualized and measured in positive psychology, and what you can do to flourish.

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What is Flourishing? A Definition and History

Flourishing is one of the most important and promising topics studied in positive psychology. Not only does it relate to many other positive concepts, it holds the key to improving the quality of life for people around the world. Discovering the pieces to the flourishing puzzle and learning how to effectively apply research findings to real life has tremendous implications for the way we live, love, and relate to one another.

Flourishing moves beyond the confines of simple happiness or well-being; it encompasses a wide range of positive psychological constructs and offers a more holistic perspective on what it means to feel well and happy. According to the “founding father” of flourishing, Dr. Martin Seligman, flourishing is the result of paying careful attention to building and maintaining the five aspects of the PERMA model.

The PERMA model is a model Seligman developed to explain what contributes to a sense of flourishing. The five factors in this model are:

Using this model as our framework, we can understand flourishing as the state that we create when we tend to each aspect of the PERMA model: increasing our positive emotions, engaging with the world and our work (or hobbies), develop deep and meaningful relationships, find meaning and purpose in our lives, and achieve our goals through cultivating and applying our strengths and talents. To flourish is to find fulfillment in our lives, accomplishing meaningful and worthwhile tasks, and connecting with others at a deeper level—in essence, living the “good life” (Seligman, 2011).

Positive psychologist and professor Dr. Lynn Soots (n.d.) describes flourishing as the following:

“Flourishing is the product of the pursuit and engagement of an authentic life that brings inner joy and happiness through meeting goals, being connected with life passions, and relishing in accomplishments through the peaks and valleys of life.”

Soots is careful to note that flourishing is not a trait or a characteristic; it’s not something that you “either have or don’t have.” She states that flourishing is not a static, immutable piece of who you are, it is a process that requires action. Anyone can flourish, but it will likely require some effort to get there.

The idea of flourishing as a separate—but intimately related—concept from happiness and well-being began long ago, but was formally proposed by Dr. Seligman in the early years of positive psychology. Seligman initially believed that happiness was composed of three factors: positive emotions, engagement, and meaning. However, after looking closer at the research on happiness, he discovered that some important factors were missing from the overarching sense of the “good life” that he was trying to define.

After doing some digging, he identified the two components that were missing: accomplishments (or the need for achievement) and relationships.

Once Seligman identified these last two pieces to the puzzle, he put forth his PERMA model, proposing that each of these five components are:

  • Foundations of human wellbeing.
  • Integral to flourishing/living the good life.
  • Sought for their own sake rather than in service of a greater goal (2011)

Since Seligman proposed his PERMA model and theory of flourishing, the term quickly took positive psychology by storm. In the relatively short time period between Seligman’s proposal and today, hundreds of researchers have explored flourishing from a broad range of perspectives.

  Research and Findings

Although research on flourishing has been prolific it hasn’t been easy; due to the nature of the construct, research on flourishing is often more difficult than research on most other topics in psychology. This difficulty is a result of the multiple definitions and proposed components of flourishing.

Most psychologists agree that flourishing encompasses well-being, happiness, and life satisfaction; however, even these components of flourishing have their own subcomponents, including:

  • Meaning
  • Purpose
  • Autonomy
  • Self-acceptance
  • Optimism
  • Positive relationships
  • Mastery
  • Self-determination
  • Resilience
  • Personal growth
  • Vitality
  • Engagement
  • Self-esteem (VanderWeele, 2017)

The idea of measuring flourishing becomes more unwieldy with each addition to the list—and we’re not done yet!

In addition to well-being, happiness, and life satisfaction, it has also been proposed that constructs like virtue and health be considered components of flourishing. In addition, financial stability and religious or spiritual health may also come into play (VanderWeele, 2017).

Early research on flourishing confirmed that, at the very least, positive emotions play an important role in flourishing (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). Although it was later determined that the mathematical modeling used in Fredrickson and Losada’s study had significant weaknesses, the general findings still hold true: that those who are flourishing report more positive emotions than those who are not.

Although there is still much debate about the dimensions or aspects of flourishing, there is one thing that most scholars have agreed on when it comes to flourishing: it is not simply the opposite or absence of depression or mental illness.

This might seem obvious to you as someone interested in positive psychology, but it’s easy to forget how revolutionary an idea this was at the time it was posed. The idea that mental illness and maximal well-being (i.e., flourishing) were two bipolar ends of the mental health spectrum was a popular one for a long time.

However, research on positive psychology and mental health has revealed that there are truly two spectrums:

  1. Mental illness
  2. Mental health/flourishing

One can be diagnosed with mental illness but still flourish, and one can be diagnosis-free but still languish. As flourishing and positive psychology expert Corey Keyes puts it:

“…even if we could find a cure for mental illness tomorrow, it does not mean that most people would necessarily be flourishing in life. In other words, we cannot treat our way out of the problem of mental illness; we must also promote a life of balance in which people can achieve happiness and realize lives in which they can flourish.” (2016)

In addition to the agreement that flourishing is not simply the absence of mental illness, there is also agreement that flourishing provides numerous benefits. For example, flourishing has been found to have the following impacts:

  • Fewer missed days of works
  • Fewer half-days and work cutbacks
  • Lower helplessness
  • More clear life goals
  • Higher resilience
  • Higher intimacy
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Lower number of chronic physical diseases with age
  • Fewer health limitations of daily living activities
  • Lower health care utilization (Keyes, 2007)

It’s easy to see why flourishing is such a growing topic of research!

And speaking of growth in this area: as research on flourishing continues, it’s important to keep an open mind and embrace changes to pet theories as evidence comes along to support such changes. Young fields such as these are prone to abrupt shifts and refocusing, but we can’t let that distract us from how vital it is to learn what makes us flourish and how to apply it.

After all, we live in a world where only about 40% of adults are flourishing (Keyes, 2016)!

At this point, you might be asking yourself, “How do you even measure such a construct?” If so, you have predicted exactly where this piece was headed! Read on to learn about how the concept of flourishing is measured.

  Measuring Flourishing in Positive Psychology

As with any popular topic, there are many ways to measure flourishing! Since we can’t cover them all here, we provide a brief overview of the three most popular or promising scales of flourishing.

This scale for measuring flourishing is based on the idea that there are six domains that contribute to the experience of flourishing:

  1. Happiness and Life Satisfaction
  2. Mental and Physical Health
  3. Meaning and Purpose
  4. Character and Virtue
  5. Close Social Relationships
  6. Financial and Material Stability (VanderWeele, 2017)

To create a comprehensive measurement of flourishing, two questions are posed per domain. These questions are:

  • Happiness and Life Satisfaction
    o Overall, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?
    ▪ 0 = Not Satisfied at All, 10 = Completely Satisfied
    o In general, how happy or unhappy do you usually feel?
    ▪ 0 = Extremely Unhappy, 10 = Extremely Happy
  • Mental and Physical Health
    o In general, how would you rate your physical health?
    ▪ 0 = Poor, 10 = Excellent
    o How would you rate your overall mental health?
    ▪ 0 = Poor, 10 = Excellent
  • Meaning and Purpose
    o Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
    ▪ 0 = Not at All Worthwhile, 10 = Completely Worthwhile
    o I understand my purpose in life.
    ▪ 0 = Strongly Disagree, 10 = Strongly Agree
  • Character and Virtue
    o I always act to promote good in all circumstances, even in difficult and challenging situations.
    ▪ 0 = Not True, 10 = Completely True of Me
    o I am always able to give up some happiness now for greater happiness later.
    ▪ 0 = Not True of Me, 10 = Completely True of Me
  • Close Social Relationships
    o I am content with my friendships and relationships.
    ▪ 0 = Strongly Disagree, 10 = Strongly Agree
    o My relationships are as satisfying as I would want them to be.
    ▪ 0 = Strongly Disagree, 10 = Strongly Agree
  • Financial and Material Stability
    o How often do you worry about being able to meet normal monthly living expenses?
    ▪ 0 = Worry All of the Time, 10 = Do Not Ever Worry
    o How often do you worry about safety, food, or housing?
    ▪ 0 = Worry All of the Time, 10 = Do Not Ever Worry

To calculate a score of flourishing, you simply need to sum up the responses from the first five domains. To calculate a score of what the author terms “Secure Flourishing” you can simply add the responses from the sixth domain. It provides a total score between 0 (no flourishing whatsoever) to 100 for the five-domain version or 120 for the six-domain version (maximum flourishing; VanderWeele, 2017).

This measure can be a great way to get an idea of someone’s level of flourishing, especially if you are concerned about financial and material stability as well as the other, more traditionally “flourishing” aspects.

Another useful scale for measuring flourishing comes from researchers Butler and Kern (2016). They developed the PERMA-Profiler, a brief multidimensional measure of flourishing based on Seligman’s five pillars.

The PERMA-Profiler poses 23 questions on a scale from 0 to 10, measuring the five PERMA pillars (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment) via three questions each, as well as one question on overall well-being, three questions on negative emotions (sadness, anger, and anxiety), one question on loneliness, and three questions on self-perceived physical health.

A sample question from each 3-question group is included below, as well as the two individual questions on over well-being and loneliness:

  • Positive Emotion
    o In general, to what extent do you feel contented? (1 = not at all, 10 = completely)
  • Engagement
    o How often do you lose track of time while doing something you enjoy? (1 = 0, 10 = always)
  • Relationships
    o To what extent do you receive help and support from others when you need it? (1 = not at all, 10 = completely)
  • Meaning
    o To what extent do you feel that what you do in your life is valuable and worthwhile? (1 = not at all, 10 = completely)
  • Accomplishment
    o How much of the time do you feel you are making progress towards accomplishing your goals? (1 = never, 10 = always)
  • Health
    o Compared to others of your same age and sex, how is your health? (0 = terrible, 10 = excellent)
  • Negative Emotions
    o In general, how often do you feel sad? (0 = never, 10 = always)
  • Overall Well-being
    o Taking all things together, how happy would you say you are? (0 = not at all, 10 = completely)
  • Loneliness
    o How lonely do you feel in your daily life? (0 = not at all, 10 = completely)

This measure results in 7 domain scores (one for each of the five pillars, negative emotion, and health), an overall happiness/well-being score, and a loneliness score. A composite well-being score can be calculated by averaging all 15 PERMA items and the overall well-being item (Butler & Kern, 2016).

Finally, another handy scale for measuring flourishing comes from well-being expert Ed Diener and colleagues (2010). This measure is a brief, 8-item “summary measure” of the respondent’s psychological well-being, also sometimes referred to as flourishing. It is not based strictly on Dr. Seligman’s five pillars, but it has a lot of overlap and offers a good alternative to Seligman’s conceptualization.

The Flourishing Scale, as Diener and colleagues named it, is composed of the following eight statements rated on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree):

  1. I lead a purposeful and meaningful life.
  2. My social relationships are supportive and rewarding.
  3. I am engaged and interested in my daily activities.
  4. I actively contribute to the happiness and well-being of others.
  5. I am competent and capable in the activities that are important to me.
  6. I am a good person and live a good life.
  7. I am optimistic about my future.
  8. People respect me.

The responses are scored by adding up each value for a total score from 8 (lowest possible flourishing) to 56 (highest possible flourishing).

Each of these measures can provide a valid and reliable measure of flourishing; which one is “best” depends on your goals and your particular understanding of flourishing. If you’re a fan of Seligman’s five pillars, Butler and Kern’s (2016) measure may be best. If you want a measure that focuses more on the well-being aspect of flourishing, the Flourishing Scale may be the right choice. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive measure that takes variables that are often ignored into account, VanderWeele’s (2017) measure may suit your purposes.

  Contributing Factors: How Can a Human Flourish?

Although there is no exact recipe for creating flourishing, research has discovered several factors that contribute to flourishing. A few of the factors are inherent characteristics that we cannot change—but don’t be disheartened, since many are at least somewhat within our control!

A long-term study of adults in The Netherlands discovered that these factors were related to flourishing:

  • High levels of conscientiousness
  • High levels of extraversion
  • Low levels of neuroticism
  • Social support
  • Positive life events
  • Hedonic well-being
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You’ve certainly heard of Freud and psychoanalysis before, but if you’re like most people, you’re not really sure what it’s all about. You might also wonder how psychoanalysis differs from other forms of talk therapy, and the main distinctions between the theories behind each.

If so, you’ve come to the right place! In this piece, we’ll give a brief, but hopefully comprehensive, overview of psychoanalytic theory and practice, the impact of psychoanalysis on other disciplines and areas, and the main criticisms.

If you’re ready to dive in and learn about the father of talk therapy and his (often kooky) theories on human behavior and personality, read on!

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What is Psychoanalysis? A Definition and History of Psychoanalytic Theory

Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that aims to release pent-up or repressed emotions and memories to lead the client to catharsis, or healing (McLeod, 2014). In other words, the goal of psychoanalysis is to bring that which is at the unconscious or subconscious level up to consciousness.

This goal is accomplished through talking to another person about the big questions, the things that matter, and diving into the complexities that lie beneath the simple-seeming surface.

The Founder of Psychoanalysis: Sigmund Freud and His Concepts

No doubt you’ve heard of the influential but controversial founder of psychoanalysis: Dr. Sigmund Freud.

Freud was born in Austria but spent most of his childhood and adult life in Vienna after his family moved there when he was four years old (Sigmund Freud Biography, 2017). He entered medical school and trained to become a neurologist, earning a medical degree in 1881.

Soon after his graduation, he set up a private practice and began treating patients with psychological disorders. His attention was captured by a colleague’s intriguing experience with a patient; the colleague was Dr. Josef Breuer and the patient was the famous “Anna O.” who suffered from physical symptoms with no apparent physical cause. Dr. Breuer found that her symptoms abated when he helped her recover memories of traumatic experiences that she had repressed, or hidden away from her conscious mind.

This case sparked Freud’s interest in the unconscious mind, and spurred the development of some of his most influential ideas.

Models of the Mind

Perhaps the most impactful idea put forth by Freud was his model of the human mind. His model divides the mind into three layers, or regions:

  1. Conscious: this is where our current thoughts, feelings, and focus live.
  2. Preconscious (sometimes called the subconscious): this is the home of everything we can recall or retrieve from our memory.
  3. Unconscious: at the deepest level resides a repository of the processes that drive our behavior, including primitive and instinctual desires (McLeod, 2013).

Later, Freud came up with a more sophisticated and structured model of the mind, one that can coexist with his original ideas about consciousness and unconsciousness. In this model, there are three metaphorical parts to the mind:

  1. Id: the id operates entirely at an unconscious level and focuses solely on basic, instinctual drives and desires. According to Freud, two biological instincts make up the id:
    a. Eros, or the instinct to survive that drives us to engage in life-sustaining activities.
    b. Thanatos, or the death instinct that drives destructive, aggressive, and violent behavior.
  2. Ego: the ego acts as both a conduit for and a check on the id, working to meet the id’s needs in a socially appropriate way. It is the most tied to reality and begins developing in infancy.
  3. Superego: the superego is the portion of the mind in which morality and higher principles reside, encouraging us to act in socially and morally acceptable ways (McLeod, 2013).
Defense Mechanisms

Freud believed these three pieces of the mind are in constant conflict, as the primary goal is different for each piece. Sometimes, when the conflict is too much for a person to handle, his or her ego may engage in one or many defense mechanisms to protect the individual.

These defense mechanisms include:

  • Repression: unconscious mechanism in which the ego pushes disturbing or threatening thoughts out of consciousness.
  • Denial: the ego blocks upsetting or overwhelming experiences from awareness, causing the individual to refuse to acknowledge or believe what is happening.
  • Projection: the ego’s attempt to solve discomfort by attributing the individual’s unacceptable thoughts, feelings, and motives to another person.
  • Displacement: a mechanism by which the individual can satisfy an impulse by acting on a substitute object or person in a socially unacceptable way (e.g., releasing frustration directed toward your boss on your spouse instead).
  • Regression: a defense mechanism in which the individual moves backward in development in order to cope with stress (e.g., an overwhelmed adult acting like a child).
  • Sublimation: similar to displacement, this defense mechanism involves satisfying an impulse by acting on a substitute, but in a socially acceptable way (e.g., channeling energy into work or a constructive hobby; McLeod, 2013).
The 5 Psychosexual Stages of Development

Finally, one of the most enduring concepts associated with Freud is his psychosexual stages. Freud proposed that children develop in five distinct stages, each focused on a different source of pleasure:

  1. First Stage: Oral – the child seeks pleasure from the mouth (e.g., sucking).
  2. Second Stage: Anal – the child seeks pleasure from the anus (e.g., withholding and expelling feces).
  3. Third Stage: Phallic – the child seeks pleasure from the penis or clitoris (e.g., masturbation).
  4. Fourth Stage: Latent – the child has little or no sexual motivation.
  5. Fifth Stage: Genital – the child seeks pleasure from the penis or vagina (e.g., sexual intercourse; McLeod, 2013).

Freud hypothesized that an individual must successfully complete each stage to become a psychologically healthy adult with a fully formed ego and superego; otherwise, individuals may become stuck or “fixated” in a particular stage, causing emotional and behavioral problems in adulthood (McLeod, 2013).

The Interpretation of Dreams

Another well-known concept from Freud was his belief in the significance of dreams. He believed that analyzing one’s dreams can give valuable insight into the unconscious mind.

In 1900, Freud published the book The Interpretation of Dreams, in which he outlined his hypothesis that the primary purpose of dreams was to provide the individual with wish fulfillment, allowing him or her to work through some of their repressed issues in a situation free from consciousness and reality’s constraints (Sigmund Freud Biography, n.d.).

In this book, he also distinguished between the manifest content (the actual dream) and the latent content (the true or hidden meaning behind the dream). The purpose of dreams is to translate forbidden wishes and taboo desires into a non-threatening form through condensation (the joining of two or more ideas), displacement (transformation of the person or object we are concerned about into something or someone else), and secondary elaboration (the unconscious process of turning the wish fulfillment images or events into a logical narrative; McLeod, 2013).

Freud’s ideas about dreams were game-changing; before him, dreams were considered insignificant and insensible ramblings of the mind at rest. His book provoked a new level of interest in dreams, an interest that continues to this day.

Jungian Psychology: Carl Jung

Freud’s work was continued, although in altered form, by his student Carl Jung. His particular brand of psychology is known as analytical psychology and formed the basis for much of today’s theories and concepts in psychology.

Jung and Freud shared an interest in the unconscious and worked together in their early days, but a few key disagreements ended their partnership and allowed Jung to fully devote his attention to his new psychoanalytic theory.

The three main differences between Freudian psychology and Jungian, or analytical, psychology are related to:

  1. Nature and Purpose of the Libido: Jung saw it as a general source of psychic energy that motivated a wide range of human behaviors, from sex to spirituality to creativity, while Freud saw it as a psychic energy that drives only sexual gratification.
  2. Nature of the Unconscious: while Freud viewed the unconscious as a storehouse for the individual’s socially unacceptable repressed desires, Jung believed it was more of a storehouse for the individual’s repressed memories and what he called the collective or transpersonal unconscious (a level of unconscious shared with other humans that is made up of latent memories from our ancestors).
  3. Causes of Behavior: Freud saw our behavior as caused solely by past experiences, most notably those from childhood, while Jung believed our future aspirations have a significant impact on our behavior as well (McLeod, 2014).
Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Jacques Lacan

In the mid to late 1900s, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan called for a return to Freud’s work, but with a renewed focus on the unconscious and greater attention paid to language. Lacan drew heavily from his knowledge of linguistics, and believed that language was a much more important piece of the developmental puzzle than Freud assumed.

There are three key concepts of Lacanian psychoanalysis that set it apart from Freud’s original talk therapy:

  1. The Real
  2. Symbolic Order
  3. Mirror Stage

The Real

While Freud focused on the symbolic, particularly in dreams, as indicative of a person’s unconscious mind, Lacan theorized that “the real” is actually the deeper, most foundational level of the human mind. According to Lacan, we exist in the real but experience anxiety because we cannot control it. Unlike the symbolic, which Freud proposed could be accessed through psychoanalysis, the real cannot be accessed; that which cannot be integrated into the symbolic order is put in the real. Once we learn and understand language, we are severed completely from the real. It is described as the state of nature, in which there exists nothing but need—need for food, sex, safety, etc. (The Real, 2002).

Symbolic Order

Lacan’s symbolic order is one of three orders that concepts, ideas, thoughts, and feelings can be placed into. Our desires and emotions live in the symbolic order, and this is where they are interpreted (if they can be interpreted). Concepts like death and absence may be integrated into the symbolic order because we have at least some sense of understanding of them, but they may not be interpreted fully. Once we learn language, we move from the real to the symbolic order and are unable to move back to the real. The real and the symbolic are two of the three orders that live in tension with one another, the third being the imaginary order (Symbolic Order, 2002).

Mirror Stage

Lacan proposed that there is an important stage of development not covered by Freud called the “mirror stage.” This aptly named stage is initiated when infants look into a mirror at their own image. Most infants become fascinated with the image they see, and may even try to interact with it, but eventually, they realize that the image they are seeing is of themselves. Once they realize this key fact, they incorporate what they see into their sense of “I” or sense of self. At this young stage, the image they see may not correspond to their inner understanding of their physical self, in which case the image becomes an ideal that they strive for as they develop (Hewitson, 2010).

  The Approach: Psychoanalytic Perspective

In the psychoanalytic approach, the focus is on the unconscious mind rather than the conscious mind. It is built on the foundational idea that your behavior is determined by the experiences from your past that are lodged in your unconscious mind, where you are not aware of them. While the focus on sex has lessened over the decades since psychoanalysis was founded, there is still a big emphasis on one’s early childhood experiences (Psychoanalytic Perspective, n.d.).

Methods and Techniques

There are many methods and techniques that a psychoanalyst may use, but there are four basic components that make up today’s psychoanalysis:

  1. Interpretation
  2. Transference analysis
  3. Technical neutrality
  4. Countertransference analysis

Interpretation is the verbal communication between analyst and client (or patient), in which the analyst discusses their hypotheses of the client’s unconscious conflicts. Generally the analyst will help the client see the defensive mechanism they are using, then the context of the defensive mechanism, or the impulsive relationship against which the mechanism was developed, and finally the client’s motivation for this mechanism (Kernberg, 2016).

There are three classifications of interpretation:

  1. Clarification, in which the analyst attempts to clarify what is going on in the patient’s consciousness.
  2. Confrontation, which is bringing nonverbal aspects of the client’s behavior into the his or her awareness.
  3. Interpretation proper, which refers to the analyst’s proposed hypothesis of the unconscious meaning that relates all the aspects of the client’s communication with one another (Kernberg, 2016).
Transference Analysis

Transference is the term for the unconscious repetition in the “here and now” of conflicts from the client’s past. Transference analysis refers to “the systematic analysis of the transference implications of the patient’s total verbal and nonverbal manifestations in the hours as well as the c patient’s direct and implicit communicative efforts to influence the analyst in a certain direction…” (Kernberg, 2016). This analysis of the patient’s transference is an essential component of psychoanalysis and is the main driver of change in treatment.

In transference analysis, the analyst takes note of all communication, both verbal and nonverbal, the client engages in and puts together a theory on what led to the defensive mechanisms he or she displays, which form the basis for any attempts to change the behavior or character of the client.

Technical Neutrality

Another vital piece of psychoanalysis is what is known as technical neutrality, or the commitment of the analyst to remain neutral and avoid taking sides in the client’s internal conflicts; the analyst strives to remain at an equal distance from the client’s id, ego, and superego, and from the client’s external reality. Additionally, technical neutrality demands that the analyst refrains from imposing his or her value systems upon the client (Kernberg, 2016).

Technical neutrality is sometimes considered indifference or disinterest in the client, but that is not the goal; rather, the goal is to become a mirror for the client, reflecting their own characteristics, assumptions, and behaviors back at them to aid in their understanding of themselves.

Countertransference Analysis

This final key component of psychoanalysis is the analysis of countertransference, the analyst’s reactions to the client and the material the client presents in sessions. According to Kernberg, the “contemporary view of countertransference is that of a complex formation co-determined by the analyst’s reaction to the patient’s transference, to the reality of the patient’s life, to the reality of the analyst’s life, and to specific transference dispositions activated in the analyst as a reaction to the patient and his/her material” (2016).

Countertransference analysis can be generally understood as the analyst’s attempts to analyze their own reactions to the client, whatever form they take. To successfully engage in psychoanalytic treatment, the analyst must be able to see the client objectively and understand both the transference happening in the client and in his or her own experience.

  Transference and Other Forms of Resistance in Psychoanalysis

Speaking of transference, it is one of the many forms of resistance considered in psychoanalysis. In psychoanalytic theory, resistance has a specific meaning: the blocking of memories from consciousness by the client (Fournier, 2018). More generally, as understood by psychology in general, resistance is the client’s general unwillingness to change their behavior and engage in growth through therapy. This resistance may be developed or motivated by a myriad of reasons, some conscious and some unconscious, and can even be present in those who want to change.

Transference occurs when the client redirects their emotions and feelings from one person to another, often unconsciously, and represents a resistance or obstacle between the client and their desired state (healing). It frequently occurs in treatment in the form of transference onto the therapist, in which the client applies their feelings and expectations toward another person onto the therapist.

There are many different types of transference, but the most common include:

  • Paternal transference: in this type, the client looks to another person (potentially the therapist) as a father or idealized father figure (e.g., wise, authoritative, powerful).
  • Maternal transference: the client looks to another person as a mother or idealized mother figure (e.g., comforting, loving, nurturing).
  • Sibling transference: this type may occur when parental relationships break down or are generally lacking; instead of treating this other person as a parent (in a leader/follower type relationship), they transfer a more peer-based relationship onto the other person.
  • Non-familial transference: this is a more general type of transference in which the client treats others as idealized versions of what the client expects them to be, rather than what they truly are; this type of transference can lead the client to form stereotypes (Good Therapy, 2015).

Transference is not necessarily harmful but may be a form of client resistance to treatment. If the client is projecting inappropriate or unrealistic expectations onto the therapist, they may not be entirely open to the change that treatment can..

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Langley Group is a consulting company that combines positive psychology, human flourishing, emotional intelligence and neuroscience to increase wellbeing in personal and professional life.

All over the world they optimise performance and engage people. Their scientific but positive approach inspires people to achieve sustainable positive changes and outcomes.

Langley Group was founded by Sue Langley in 2002 and successfully runs programs in Australia, North America, and Europe.

This article will tell you more about the programs they are running in London this year.

  Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing (10653NAT) – London August 2018

Langley group offers students the opportunity to become a qualified positive psychology practitioner with their Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing training. It’s specially created for busy professionals who want to apply Positive Psychology in their personal and professional life and increase wellbeing on an individual, collective and business level.

The training provides the students with both theoretical and practical contexts and focuses on the latest research in neuroscience and emotional intelligence. The training will teach the practitioner how to apply practical Positive Psychology tools in their work and everyday life and provides them with a wide range of activities and strategies.

“Graduates of the Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing (10653NAT) agree that studying this quality course brings unexpected, profound, and life-changing experiences.”

The course is designed for anyone who wants to apply positive psychology and increase wellbeing in themselves and others (coaches, psychologists, trainers, managers, teachers, parents, etc.) It’s a self-paced training that has to be completed within a year.

Upon completion, students will receive a credible, nationally-recognised qualification in positive psychology. The course is approved by the British Psychological Society Learning Centre for the purposes of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and the Australian Skills Quality Authority.

In order to receive the diploma students must successfully complete eight modules and a range of assessment activities within one year (six core modules and two electives). These six core modules run over six full days of face-to-face training (9.00am – 5.30 pm). You can follow the two elective modules online at your own pace. You can read more here about the eight units.

The next course will take place from Monday 13 August: 9:00 am – Saturday 18 August: 5:30 pm BST. For more information about this course click here. They have payment plans available if necessary.

  Strengths Profile Accreditation – London May 2018

“Learn how to help people realise their strengths to deliver the performance that achieves their goals.”

Strengths Profile is a development and assessment tool that’s based on the latest research. The tool is developed by Alex Linley and his team at Capp and gives people insights into their strengths, weaknesses and learned behaviours. Strengths Profile enables practitioners with all the knowledge to understand strengths and how they can use them in their work and life. The online tool assesses 60 strengths across three areas:

  • Performance: how well someone performs using certain strengths
  • Energy: how energised someone is by using certain strengths
  • Use: how often someone uses certain strengths

And helps to understand how to take action and enjoy life more, using these four categories:

  • Realised Strengths: strengths someone uses and enjoys using
  • Unrealised Strengths: strengths someone doesn’t use on a regular basis
  • Learned Behaviours: things someone’s good at but may not enjoy
  • Weaknesses: things someone finds hard to do and doesn’t enjoy

Strengths Profile Accreditation provides practitioners with all the knowledge they need to put their client’s strengths into practice and help them realise their strengths to:

  • Feel more energised
  • Be more engaged in what they do
  • Achieve goals
  • Understand what motivates them and why
  • Be more productive and improve performance
  • Enhance interactions with others
  • Make better decisions
  • Increase resilience

The course is designed for coaches, psychologists, managers and anyone who wants to assess strengths. It’s a two-day training program that includes small group practice, personal mentoring and all the tools and materials the practitioner needs to successfully integrate the Strengths Profile into their practice. Upon successful completion, students receive a certification from the only licensed providers of Strengths Profile certification in Asia-Pacific. The next course will take place from Tuesday 29 May: 9:00 am – Wednesday 30 May: 5:30 pm BST. For more information about this course click here.

MSCEIT Accreditation – London May 2018

The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) is an ability-based test that gives groundbreaking insights in people’s emotional intelligence. It emerges the scientific understanding of emotions and their functions and it helps to assess, measure and develop emotional intelligence in a way that people learn to:

  • Use their emotions more intelligently
  • Communicate better
  • Increase their personal resilience
  • Achieve goals more successfully

The MSCEIT course offered by Langley Group provides practitioners with the theoretical and practical knowledge to assess their own and others emotional intelligence abilities and enables them to accurately interpret and understand the MSCEIT Profile. After completion, the practitioner will be able to help others to:

  • Develop more self-awareness
  • Improve interpersonal skills
  • Enhance communication
  • Respond to others’ emotions
  • Manage emotional responses
  • Become more resilient

This training is designed for coaches, managers, psychologists, consultants, and recruiters who want to know how to apply MSCEIT in their work and everyday life. It’s a three-day training program that includes mentoring and small group practice and the best resources that will help the practitioner to successfully integrate MSCEIT in their practice. The course is accredited by the International Coach Federation. The next course will take place from Wednesday 23 May: 8:00 am – Friday 25 May: 5:59 pm BST. For more information about this training click here.

This article has given a brief overview of the courses available in Europe. As said before, Langley Group also runs programmes in North America and Australia. You can find everything you need to know about Langley Group and their other programmes via this website.

The post Langley Group: Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing, Strengths Profile & MSCEIT appeared first on .

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A brief history of psychology, the universe and everything.

This is truly an auspicious occasion for the Positive Psychology community. Martin Seligman, the iconic founder of Positive Psychology, has finally published his autobiography, The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist’s Journey from Helplessness to Optimism.

This is more than just the memoir of a public intellectual. Seligman takes us on an insider’s journey through the most important turning points of 20th-century psychology – weaving his personal story throughout.

It is a surprisingly turbulent history of how we got to here; culminating in the flourishing field of Positive Psychology.

  In the Beginning…

We learn how American Psychology began in 1904 when the hierarchy of the American Psychological Association (APA) assembled at the University of Pennsylvania. This meeting, headed by William James, decided the ground rules for what psychology would be about, what it would study and what questions would be ruled out. American Psychology was in its infancy and craved the same legitimacy of the grown-up sciences, i.e., chemistry and physics.

So, unlike Freudian psychology, American Psychology would only examine behaviors that could be scientifically measured in the laboratory, e.g., rats pressing levers. Anything remotely subjective – disorders, dreams, relationships, cognition, introspection, emotions- were dismissed as unscientific.

Within two decades, behaviorism had swept away introspection entirely, and its experimental psychologists ascended to the top professorships of American Psychology. P. 65.

As behaviorism tightened its grip BF Skinner dispensed with mental life altogether. In Skinner’s view, people are born as blank slates ready to be shaped by rewards (reinforcements) and punishments. The human mind was now officially off limits and experiments with rats were to reveal everything worth knowing about psychology.

  Paradigms and Showdowns

To put this into perspective Seligman invokes Kuhn’s paradigms. In 1962 the science philosopher Thomas Kuhn challenged how we understand science. We like to think science proceeds with the steady accumulation of new discoveries, with exciting new truths rising to the top like some unstoppable force. If you like this romantic idea, and you want to hang onto it, you might consider reading no further.

Kuhn argued science is tribal, with powerful warlords ruthlessly defending their empires and worldviews (paradigms). For example, only employing academics with the ‘right’ background, only funding research they consider relevant to their priorities and rejecting studies that ask the ‘wrong’ questions. Kuhn showed when a given field of science does advance it does so with a painful revolution of new thinking – a paradigm shift.

The Hope Circuit provides a ringside account of these painful shifts.

  Inside the Fortress

Seligman is forensic in his analysis of behaviorism. He compares its priorities to a man looking for his wallet, not where he left it but where the light is good. But he is also kind. For example, he recounts the discovery of systematic desensitization by the behaviorist Joseph Wolpe. Wolpe showed when a phobic person undergoes progressive muscle relaxation and is gradually exposed, in baby steps, to the feared object the anxiety is eventually conquered.

This discovery was a direct challenge to the Freudian paradigm. Freud believed we fear things because they symbolize unconscious conflicts and until the conflict is uncovered the fear will remain. You can’t just relax your way out of it. Well, as it happens, you can. Behaviourism did get some runs on the board.

However, the fortress of behaviourism would soon, in turn, find itself under siege. The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget showed children progress through predictable stages of cognitive development independently of reinforcements. The renowned linguist Noam Chomsky noted our ability to make sense of nonsense words showed language skills are creative, not shaped by reinforcement.

Then came the nuclear threat;- Seligman’s own work on learned helplessness. Seligman and his long-term collaborator, Steve Maler, demonstrated when dogs received unpleasant shocks over which they have no control, they learn ‘nothing I do matters’ and give up. They become helpless and remain helpless (compared to control groups) even when the rules change and they can now escape the shock. Not only were Seligman and Maler venturing into the forbidden realm of cognition, they were showing cognition made the difference between mastery vs helplessness. This meant war.

  The Empire Strikes Back

The behavioral empire braced for the coming rebellion, and we are treated to some astonishing insider accounts of professional paranoia and counterattacks. It seems smart people go feral when they’re wrong. Skinner’s disciples attacked the new heresy at conferences and scientific gatherings and through the scientific literature.

The more Seligman and Maler proved their findings, the more enemies they made. In one example, when a NIMH panel was deciding whether Seligman’s work would receive a large research grant, four psychiatrists visited him at Penn and investigated his work. When the panel assembled back in Washington they rated his proposal with the highest evaluation possible. A fifth panelist, a disciple of BF Skinner, simply asked what grade he needed “to give Seligman to prevent him from getting any money.” P. 117.

It turns out Seligman was grateful for the sabotage. It helped his decision to accept tenure at Penn which would become his dream job. At Penn, he would study psychopathology and depression with the father of cognitive therapy himself, Aaron Beck. To this day, with Beck now in his late nineties, they still meet each month for research luncheons.

Eventually, the day came when Beck said… “Marty if you continue down this path you will waste your life.” P. 127. Seligman admits to being shaken by this rebuke from his kindly mentor, then resolved to deal directly with real people and real problems.

  Evidence-Based Therapy

The next showdown occurred when the experimental psychologists lost their majority control of the APA to the growing number of clinical psychologists. By this time experimental psychologists (and insurance companies) were insisting on formal DSM diagnoses for patients, with specific therapies prescribed for specific disorders. Clinicians in the field pushed back. They knew people in the real world didn’t always fit into neat categories and sometimes eclectic tools worked better.

To help settle the argument the consumer publication ‘Consumer Reports’ conducted a large study into the lived experience of people in psychotherapy. This was a departure from conventional clinical trials which allocated patients to predetermined treatment conditions, with no choice over which therapy they received or how long it lasted. In contrast, this study measured how people did in real-world settings with their own therapists.

The results found people in real-world therapy did much better than those in controlled experimental trials. The results also found long-term therapy worked better than short-term, that psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers all did equally well, and when insurance companies limited a person’s choice of therapist or the duration of therapy, people did worse.

Seligman’s involvement in this study was welcomed by the growing community of therapists. However, the experimental establishment did not go quietly.

“One of the most senior advocates of rigorous science about therapy, told an audience that my participation in the CR report was unforgivable and that I was a traitor.” P. 219.

By this stage, most of us would be throwing in the professional towel. Not Seligman. In total defiance of these attacks, he decided to run for the highest office in the land; the APA presidency.

Here we gain another insider peek into the profession. It seems you don’t just run for the APA presidency. The APA, while appearing to be democratic, was in fact controlled by an internal machinery – handpicking nominees from the most powerful committees.

“I determined to defy this smug, self-appointed group and win.” P. 225.

Seligman campaigned on the need for psychotherapy to have a better evidence base. The ‘traitor’ won by the largest majority of the APA’s one hundred year history.

  The Rise of Positive Psychology

With this new platform, and with the help of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Positive Psychology revolution began. We learn more about the various roles played by key figures, many of whom are now well known, as well as more established figures such as Don Clifton. Clifton and the Gallup Organisation had been a lone voice studying strengths (in organizations) and now became an enthusiastic backer of Positive Psychology.

Before long Penn established The Positive Psychology Centre, and the Master of Applied Positive Psychology course was launched. And the rest, as they say, is history.

  Personal Life

As mentioned at the beginning, the essence of this book is the weaving of a deeply personal story around the turbulent history of psychology. Out of respect, I think it’s more appropriate if people read about the more personal details for themselves. Until then here are a few quirky examples that tickled me…

Seligman completed his Ph.D. in psychology in two years and eight months, smashing the all-time record at Penn.
As an aspiring therapist, he was proud of having cured his first ever patient of depression using the new cognitive therapy, only to find the patient had been malingering to avoid the Vietnam draft.

Science buffs will enjoy his friendship with Carl Sagan. When Sagan showed his friend a new manuscript about the evolution of human intelligence, Seligman advised him not to publish it because the psychology was too ‘sloppy.’ It won the Pulitzer Prize.

With devastating irony, he ‘forgives’ his old science teacher for keeping the school’s biology curriculum untarnished by the theory of evolution. He says… “He can be forgiven since it had only been a century since the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’ and the news may have traveled slowly up the Hudson River to Albany.”

One day he received a handwritten note from a frustrated personality researcher. It said…“Can I come to Penn and re-tool as a clinical psychologist under your supervision? In exchange, I can offer you my body and my offbeat research mind. Pretty please?” Thus began the awesome collaboration between Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson producing such achievements as the VIA Survey of Character Strengths (of what he meant by ‘body’ I would never discover) P. 164.

Finally, by far the most moving chapter on the book is dedicated to his wife Mandy. It begins touchingly…

Mandy McCarthy Seligman is the love of my life. She is the mother of our five children. After thirty years, when I wake up by her side, I am still thrilled to see her. She turned my personal life around and then was the muse who turned me sunward towards positive psychology. And yet I have never written her a love letter. This is it…P. 195.

  A Take Home Message

This book is for anyone seriously curious about psychology’s historic turning points, written by someone who helped make that history.

This book is about truth to power. It is about having the soul to form a unique vision, and the guts to see it through.

This book is a personal story for anyone wanting to be moved, inspired and enriched by one of the most loved scientists of our age.

Post Script: Acknowledgment of Humanistic Psychology

It has been a bone of contention among Humanistic Psychologists that Positive Psychology has not given more credit to the work of Abraham Maslow, with some commentators criticising The Hope Circuit for not settling this old score. I conclude with the below quote to allow readers to make up their own minds.

“Indeed, the humanistic psychologists were furious with me and the Positive Psychology movement. They felt slighted and not properly acknowledged. They laid into me mercilessly. Their anger was more than partly justified. Abraham Maslow first used the term ‘Positive Psychology’ and his thinking was iconoclastic and antedated some of our main ideas.” P. 268.

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  • References

    The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist's Journey from Helplessness to Optimism. Apr 2018. Martin E. P. Seligman.

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