In the realm of social sciences Psychology is still a newcomer and we’re learning all the time; in particular our knowledge of the brain is massive compared to a decade ago. One theory that is beginning to make its presence felt is the theory of Positive Psychology.
It’s a theory I’ve long adhered to. Here’s the definition from the Centre of Positive Psychology itself:
Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.
When I was first training it was widely accepted that if you found the cause of clinical depression and related illness, you could begin to cure it. I was never fully signed up to this approach as it seemed to fuel the unhappiness. I do think talking about our issues can be extremely helpful if we’re talking about the ‘worried well’ category, people who are intelligent enough and have enough insight to make full use of the process. However, in some instances ‘talking about it’ has proved positively unhelpful as *research with sufferers of past traumatic syndrome showed.
Also in the ether 30 odd years ago was the idea that people who meditated regularly were lessening and even getting rid of their depressive episodes. The later research on mindfulness proved conclusively that this can happen and brain scans before and after mindfulness exercises have shown that the brain actually changes. It is entirely possible to move yourself from a pessimist to a optimist and feel happier. This was recently researched by a BBC documentary which you can read about here. It also contains one of the exercises for you to try yourself.
The grand daddy of them all, at least in the western world, is Jon Kabat-Zinn. Here is a short video of him leading a mindfulness mediation. Take some time to try it out and see how you feel in 15 minutes time.
If the video clip doesn’t open correctly, click here.
*A report by the Oxford-based Cochrane organisation – which provides specialist medical advice – questions whether counselling can help. Its authors conclude that counselling is useless at best, and in some cases could even make victims more likely to suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Simon Wessely, professor of psychological medicine at London’s Institute of Psychiatry, said his study of 3,000 soldiers who served in the Bosnian conflict showed that only 3 per cent suffered long-term traumatic stress. He said: ‘Undoubtedly some people do suffer, but most do not. The toxic effect of counselling is that some people begin to see themselves as having a mental health problem, when they do not.’
The study’s authors praise the mental strength of heroes such as Scott of the Antarctic, whose diaries show that he maintained perfect self- control while faced with almost certain death.
Their research comes after a study into counselling undertaken following the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Up to 9,000 therapists offered their services to New Yorkers – three for every victim of the Twin Towers attacks. But an American psychiatrist who led the study called therapy for survivors and victims’ families ‘an enormous waste of money’.
Professor George Bonnano said: ‘There is little evidence that getting people to “open up” actually helps. There is more data supporting the view that talking about how unhappy you are just makes it worse.’
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Photo courtesy of Michiru Maeda
Posted on August 1st, 2013 by Jane