My Positive Psychology Journey (Sarah Monk)
This entry is from Sarah Monk, a Chartered Psychologist, Positive Psychology Practitioner, Coach and Mindfulness and Meditation teacher. She has a background in Clinical Psychology and works with adults in a coaching or therapeutic capacity to improve wellbeing. She is a Fellow Member of and Senior Membership Officer at the Guild. Here, she shares some memories from her own journey into and within Positive Psychology.
How It Started
I’ve always been interested in people and the factors which influence how they think, feel and behave. After some difficult life events, I struggled with my mental health in my late teens. This led me to study psychology at university and then train as a Clinical Psychologist.
I worked in the NHS for a number of years with adults in a Community Mental Health Team and in hospital with adults in spinal injury rehabilitation and chronic illnesses. Working from a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) model, I often felt that something was missing in my work. I found ways to help people manage their difficulties, but I didn’t have an overall picture of how to help people really feel good about themselves and flourish in life.
To use a metaphor from nutrition, I knew how to help people stop eating junk food, but I didn’t know how to help them find the healthy eating plan that worked for them. Clearly, I didn’t know how to do this for myself either. After a series of viral infections, I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or M.E.). I was unable to work or exercise. I couldn’t concentrate to study or read and at my worst even getting out of bed and walking to the bathroom was a struggle.
All my prior life goals and aspirations went out the window. I was able to use my CBT skills to help me manage my illness. With careful energy management I developed some semblance of a normal life and was eventually able to have a family. I had no spare resources for a career, although I did a range of voluntary work when able to. My children became less physically dependent as they got older and then I discovered Positive Psychology (PP)
Finding My Path
Reading about PP felt like a lightbulb going on in my head. This was the piece of the puzzle that had been missing. Understanding what makes life feel good is as important as understanding what can make us feel bad and mental health is not merely the absence of mental ill health.
Applying some of the ideas from PP really helped me manage my ongoing health issues. I took courses in mindfulness and meditation and developed a personal mindfulness practice. I also remembered that love of learning was one of my strengths and I enrolled on the Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) programme at Buckinghamshire New University, 23 years after I had last studied.
This was hugely challenging for me and when I started the course I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to finish it. It turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done.
Studying the MAPP was completely different to my previous psychology studies. For a start (the clue is in the name!) it was so applied. Clinical Psychology training is also very applied and involves working with clients and developing therapeutic skills. However, a key element in PP is that, “the first intervention is ourselves”. This means not only learning about key PP theories, research and interventions but trying them on yourself and reflecting on and evaluating the impact.
This personal exploration really gets you to engage with what you believe about yourself and the nature of the human condition. I learnt so much from doing this and my experiences inform and empower my ongoing work. The range of wonderful fellow students, from different backgrounds, I met studying the MAPP also facilitated this process and provided novel perspectives.
In addition to doing the MAPP, I also trained as a mindfulness and meditation teacher and a coach.
Using PP Professionally
I still use PP every day in my personal life. My interest in self-compassion, which was a revelation during the MAPP and the area of my dissertation, is a work in progress and a key specialist area for me.
I started my PP coaching business, All Weather Wellbeing, in 2020 and work with individuals to help them find their own path to flourishing, whatever their circumstances.
I remain interested in working with people with chronic conditions and disabilities and supported a number of vulnerable people in isolation during the pandemic. For people who are often judged by what they can’t do, finding their strengths and connecting with meaning and purpose can be hugely empowering. I find these clients often have huge untapped strength, resilience and potential which not only they, but society, is missing out on.
I am also fortunate to be working as an associate lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University on the MAPP and PP in Coaching Courses. This gives me the privilege of sharing my understanding of PP with others, keeping up to date with new advances in research and practice and mixing with established and newly developing PP Practitioners who are a constant source of inspiration and challenge me to be at my best.
I am grateful to be involved with the membership team at the PP Guild and am working to establish Communities of Practice, a Peer Review process and the Register of PP Practitioners. I hope all these initiatives will support the development of PP in a professional, ethical and evidence informed manner, allowing both practitioners and the profession to grow and spread the message and the means to enable flourishing across the world.
Sarah Monk is a Chartered Psychologist, Positive Psychology Practitioner, Coach and Mindfulness and Meditation teacher. She has a background in Clinical Psychology and works with adults in a coaching or therapeutic capacity to improve wellbeing on a one-to-one basis through her company All Weather Wellbeing (www.allweatherwellbeing.co. uk). Sarah is also an Associate Lecturer on the Buckinghamshire New University MAPP and PP in Coaching courses and Senior Membership Officer for The Positive Psychology Guild. She is passionate about facilitating ongoing learning, ethical and professional development and support for PP Practitioners. Her areas of interest include self-compassion, mindfulness and helping people with long term health conditions, disabilities and other marginalised groups to thrive. Sarah endeavors to use her strengths of love, kindness, perspective and fairness to enact her values of supporting people, wisdom and authenticity. This is a work in progress!