Meet the Courage Scholars (Caitlin Cockcroft)

Courage Scholarship / Post Traumatic Growth / Professional Research / Violence

This guest entry is from Caitlin Cockcroft, a PPG Courage Scholar for Violence and Post Traumatic Growth. Caitlin is a humanitarian aid worker and holistic wellbeing practitioner-in-development. She has had a keen interest in psychology since she was a 16, studying it at university (Bachelor’s and Master’s level), followed by six years in the humanitarian sector in war zones managing mental health and psychosocial support programmes. She enjoys yoga, meditation, baking, running, and calligraphy. 

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How did your journey in Positive Psychology begin?

My journey into Positive Psychology began with Claire Higgins in 2018. Before this, I had touched upon the concept through my studies in psychology, but had experienced it as more of an abstract concept, as opposed to an area of scientific study in and of itself. I had come across Seligman’s work previously, but his work on the more traditional pathological dimension of psychological studies. After having finished my Bachelor’s degree, I went straight into the humanitarian sector. I felt like both the degree which focused on applying traditional, clinical interventions based on diagnoses, and the moving into a sector where the focus is on treatment and survival as opposed to flourishing and quality of life, meant I had somehow skipped the chapter about Positive Psychology altogether. In fact, it wasn’t included in my studies in any meaningful way, and I came across it by chance, through wanting to engage in personal development through a life/career coaching programme, which had a strong focus on Positive Psychology interventions. This was revolutionary for me.

At the time, I was working in Yemen as the Head of the Mental Health department for an international non-governmental organisation, which was working on multi-sectoral programming to prevent and treat malnutrition in the country; very much a ‘fix what’s wrong’ approach, which is very common in this sector, as the problems are countless. I was struggling with the toxicity I was experiencing on a deep level, due to the nature of the crisis in Yemen. Trying to sustain a positive approach to provision of support in a country in crisis, with heavy bureaucratic processes, in a volatile and unpredictable security context, with limited social support or opportunities for ‘escaping’ the situation, was exhausting. I started the coaching programme having worked with Claire previously during a transitional period between missions, knowing that she helped me to gain perspective in situations like this. The coaching programme helped me to reframe some of the situations I was in in a positive way, to take control of the aspects that I could, to make decisions that were right for me, and to hold onto the qualities of the experience that were, in fact, positive.

Being able to take some simple practices that seemed common sensical, and apply them to my own situation was invaluable to me at that time, and got me through a very difficult period, both professionally and personally. I went on to continue reading about Positive Psychology, and looking into courses that I could engage in in future, but at that point wasn’t able to put my finger on anything in particular that suited me and the nature of my work.

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Why did you apply for the Courage Scholarship?

When I found out about the Positive Psychology Network and the different diploma pathways available, I was genuinely deeply excited about the prospect. I spent a considerable amount of time deliberating (and continue to…) over the pathway that I feel an affinity with, however I knew that the course itself was exactly what I wanted, and needed, to engage in. I learnt about the course whilst on my current mission in Afghanistan. I had engaged in a new coaching programme for women leaders, and realised that post-Afghanistan, I wanted to start on an ‘exploration and curiosity sabbatical’ where I focus on my personal and professional development, in line with my values, my core strengths, my true self. I realise that this sector has taught me a lot, gifted me a huge amount, but has also depleted a lot of my resources, and I need to regain my strength, and revisit my intuitive self in order to know how to move forward. The Positive Psychology diploma opportunity was presented to me at the exact moment that I was listing the areas I wanted to explore, of which Positive Psychology was one. The universe practised her magic.

The courage scholarship was a wonderful surprise on top of an already exciting prospect, and given that I plan to take a year out of full-time employment to jump head first into the deep end of the exploration journey, this was a really beneficial option. I started the process in order to commit to the journey of the diploma and feel very grateful to have been interviewed and accepted for the scholarship.

I am looking forward to finishing my mission and walking straight into something new and exciting, and deeply connected to my authentic self. I am looking forward to learning, being curious, developing ideas, thinking about theories, contemplating how to apply Positive Psychology interventions in the humanitarian and mental health sectors. I hope that the scholarship, and the diploma itself, will help me to work towards becoming a holistic wellbeing practitioner, alongside other studies and discoveries.

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Why and how does strengthening Positive Psychology research on Violence & Post Traumatic Growth interest you?

I am particularly interested in this area having worked in warzones for six years. I have witnessed violence and conflict, felt the experience of bombs landing five kilometres away, have heard gunshots landing nearby, and have heard hundreds of stories of trauma witnessed and experienced by children, teenagers, adults, and elderly people from all walks of life. Having lived in the contexts within which all forms of trauma have been experienced, from natural disasters, to violent conflict, to displacement, to sexual violence (especially domestic violence and sex as a weapon of war), I realise that trauma itself does not consistently lead to traumatisation. Although this is already known, and researched, witnessing it first hand is quite fascinating, and realising that the buzzword of ‘resilience’ that is capitalised upon a lot in the sector, is often a very natural phenomenon, that we can support people to develop or maintain, but we are not the creators of this idea. People living in decades of war, grieving family and friends for years, losing freedom and independence and rights, are able to not only survive, but grow, and flourish.

I want to learn how, as practitioners, we can meaningfully conduct Positive Psychology interventions to develop resilience, after studying how people are doing it themselves knowingly or unknowingly. I want to focus on people’s strengths, their values, their purpose, the meaning they create out of their life, and how they take these things forward to see the positives in life and to develop as individuals and communities, as well as healing from widespread traumas. On a personal level, I understand how trauma can negatively impact on a person’s belief about themselves. I also want to take the opportunity from this diploma to learn about how to apply these practices to my own life, to be a healer for others but also for myself.

“A healer is someone who seeks to be the light that she wishes she had in her darkest moments.”

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What are you most looking forward to on your scholarship journey?

I am really looking forward to working with the course tutors. I believe that this programme is an open space for people who are living authentically, or on the journey towards this, and that feels like a safe space to learn, explore, and develop as an individual and as a practitioner.

I’m excited about refreshing my memory on topics that I learnt about for personal growth previously, and being able to learn about them in a context of academic, professional, and personal development combined.

I am also eager to meet other like-minded people, who also wish to develop knowledge and skills in Positive Psychology. To be able to bounce ideas around together about applying the concepts to reality, in different sectors, will be a highlight of this course.

And finally, I’m just excited that this course exists, that it came up at the right time, that I was open to the opportunity, and that I will develop into the wellbeing practitioner that I’ve always wanted to work towards being.

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The Courage Scholarship for Violence and Post Traumatic Growth is funded by the PPG Scholarship Fund as a priority research area. Four positions were awarded for the period, 2020-2022. The four Courage Scholars are each tasked with researching the relevance and possibilities for application of Positive Psychology to post-traumatic growth in situations of violence, conflict, and crime.