What do Positive Psychology Practitioners do?
What exactly does a Positive Psychology Practitioner do?
Quite often, when we receive course enquiries at the Positive Psychology Network, enquirers know that they want to study and practice Positive Psychology, usually as a coach, trainer, or facilitator – probably as those are the 3 pathway training options we offer.
Becoming a coach, trainer, or facilitator is a fairly easy concept to grasp. Studying Positive Psychology is also straight forward. Where, when, and how to practice Positive Psychology whilst using coaching, training, and facilitation skills isn’t always as clear cut.
We also receive enquiries from HR departments and senior managers who are looking to integrate a wellbeing and strengths-oriented approach into their work policies and processes, and are interested in themselves or their staff being trained.
Common questions include:
- What do I need to know to practice?
- Will I have to have to run my own business, or can I work for someone else?
- How could my career progress after I am fully trained?
- How can we build a positive environment at work?
I’ll be answering these questions in this post, so please read on!
First issue to clarify.
What does studying Positive Psychology entail?
As a subject, Positive Psychology is widely known for its contribution to the following areas of research and practice:
- Authenticity & Happiness
- Character Strengths & Virtues
- Positive & Negative Emotions
- Theory of Wellbeing (PERMA: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement)
- Learned Optimism & Resilience
There are other areas of Positive Psychology under research and in practice, particularly across disciplines. However, the above areas will be the ones you continually come back to as a student and later on in your own practice.
Our Level 5 Certificate in Positive Psychology Fundamentals covers these five areas and more. The reason why we cover more is because Positive Psychology isn’t the only discipline that has conducted research or practices in these areas.
There’s another reason too; knowing only these key areas of Positive Psychology may make a positive difference to you personally and to your clients, but at a certain point they may not be sufficient to practice or collaborate at a professional level with others.
You will likely need a richer understanding of Psychology and Philosophy, and possible another discipline.
Which brings me to my next point.
Second issue to clarify.
Positive Psychology is a multi-disciplinary subject and movement; it does not stand or walk alone.
The former President of the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman, is widely attributed as its founding father, yet many Positive Psychology concepts and teaching points date back much earlier, long before the field of Psychology was formally created.
Psychology just so happens to be taking a lead on some of these topics in our day and age, creating scientific evidence for philosophical principles that date back to the time of ancient Greeks, and building new fields of study and practice through inter-disciplinary collaboration within Psychology and its various schools of thought, and further afield.
Let’s take the disciplines of Education and Health, for example. Through collaboration with Education and Health researchers and practitioners, the sub-fields of Positive Education and Positive Health have emerged. While Positive Education has taken root in practice (Halliday et al., 2019; Seligman et al., 2009), Positive Health still has some way to go (Park et al., 2016; Ryff et al., 2004).
Another emerging collaboration is Positive Sport and Exercise (Salama-Younes, 2011; Mutrie & Faulkner, 2004). As a Positive Psychology Practitioner with a Masters degree in Exercise & Sport Psychology, this is my main area of interest. Sport and exercise have much to teach us about character, performance, positive outlooks, and overall mental and physical health, but what about wellbeing?
It is in the application of Positive Psychology that such collaborations are needed and tend to spring to life.
Exciting collaborative that require much more research and practitioner-academic engagement include Positive Psychology for global peace and social change through good governance (Linley & Joseph, 2004). As a former humanitarian and development practitioner, I wonder if this is a bit of a tall order, but I’m more than willing to be proven wrong. I see infinite potential, if eyes are kept wide open.
Many more inter-disciplinary collaborations are at various stages of development. The key take-aways here are how Positive Psychology can add value to past research studies and efforts made in practice, and connect dots to wellbeing*, optimism, and strengths.
We also like to keep in mind a famous quote from a Japanese poet named Masuo Basho (1644-1694). “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; rather, seek what they sought.” In other words, a deeper understanding is born in returning to the source. What was it that Seligman and his research colleagues were seeking? And what about those who came before?
*As a side-note, it may help to distinguish the Theory of Wellbeing in Positive Psychology (PERMA) from other theories on wellbeing, such as Subjective Wellbeing (SWB) where plenty of research and practice already exists.
Back to the questions.
What do I need to know to practice?
This is a long answer. Bear with us!
You will need to have a recognised qualification in Positive Psychology. For example, a Masters degree in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) or a Diploma in Positive Psychology Practice (PPDip).
These qualifications will teach you the science and philosophy of Positive Psychology, and how to translate these findings into practice so that you may run an evidence-based practice for your clients, or practice Positive Psychology in your regular or future work role.
The Positive Psychology Guild (PPG) Level 5 Diplomas in Positive Psychology in Practice will help you to build the knowledge and skills needed to practice right after graduation. You can learn more about these in our course prospectus here.
PPG also offers its graduates one complimentary year of Professional Membership. This will cover your insurance and liability needs – essential when taking on your own clients – and provide free entry to sit the annual exam for the PPG Register of Professionals.
This last point is an important one.
As yet, the practice of Positive Psychology is not regulated in itself. PPG is attempting to help to resolve this by creating a professional membership body with annual checks to ensure practitioners have the professional support they need.
To practice commercially in any discipline, a practitioner needs to have the relevant insurances in place. Malpractice is not something that anyone would wish to experiment with, simply because the field is unregulated. That isn’t an excuse for not having a professional base.
A professional membership body is also important for clients. They need to know that their practitioner is covered for insurance and liability, and that they have recourse to further action should they find their practitioner is not acting ethically.
In other words, a professional membership body sets ethical standards for mutual protection of the practitioner and client.
PPG has a set of Professional Guidelines for Positive Psychology Practitioners that anyone may access here. All PPG members have agreed and are expected to practice Positive Psychology with respect for these guidelines.
The guidelines are also a protective measure for practitioners and clients, putting the wellbeing of both at their centre. Which other profession requires you to put your own wellbeing front and centre when it comes to practice? Not many, I gather.
Having said that, there are many best practices, guidelines, and national occupational standards already in existence. For example, in coaching, counselling, leadership, management, and psychology. These are all areas where Positive Psychology may operate.
A Positive Psychology Practitioner may choose to join a membership body related to another area of practice, as their other areas of practice may require this. Can you hold more than one membership? Absolutely, and we would not discourage this.
At the same time, if you are practicing Positive Psychology, doesn’t it make more sense to belong to a membership body that not only specialises in Positive Psychology (we teach it too!), but also covers your insurance and liability coverage in one place?
So what is the bottom line here?
Plenty of hard work goes into becoming a Positive Psychology Practitioner and building your own practice. There are no weekend courses that can adequately prepare you for the technical and ethical aspects of practice, and fast-track you on the knowledge base required.
You may take an academic route to training, or you may choose a professional route. Both are valuable. Which one you choose will depend on your interest area. You might even find yourself choosing both! Either way, you are welcome to join PPG as a member.
As a starting point, you will need to study the science and philosophy of Positive Psychology, and then learn how to translate your knowledge into a professional practice. This is where skills development and professional ethics come in.
You will need a relevant skill. If you have one already, then you will need to learn how to integrate Positive Psychology into that skill. Let’s say you’re a teacher. Training, mentoring, and supervision can help you here.
If you don’t have a relevant skill, then you may acquire one. Options include coaching, training, facilitation and professional research – if you are studying with PPG – as well as teaching, counselling, psychotherapy, and academic research.
You will also need to belong to a professional body and be insured. The latter is essential if you are running your own practice.
Positive psychology has the potential to benefit and enhance many existing domains, as well as creating its own unique one. Unlike many disciplines, it allows the user to have autonomy and power over its many interventions.
Emancipatory and participatory paradigms are embedded within its framework, meaning that knowledge is shared rather than withheld. This is a philosophy we subscribe to and we encourage our members to do so too in their practice.
Will I have to have to run my own business, or can I work for someone else?
Quite often, people turn to Positive Psychology training as a second or even third career choice. The field tends to attract people later in life who may have acquired both life and work experience that can be of value on this new path.
Due to the lack of formal vacancies looking for Positive Psychology Practitioners, people may assume that the only choice is to set up their own practice. This is great if you have business acumen or aspirations, and are willing to take on this challenge.
However, not everyone is cut out for running their own business. And not everyone who is cut out for it wants to run their own business either. It really is a personal choice and at PPG, we support both options: work for yourself, and work for someone else.
If you are setting up your own practice, then our range of diploma courses will take you from A to Z in terms of knowledge acquisition, skills development, and professional practice. Your assignments will support your growth here.
If you are looking to integrate your course knowledge into an existing or future work role, then the course tutoring we offer will provide guidance here. For example, your assignments can be tailored towards your workplace needs.
How could my career progress after I am fully trained?
It’s important to think of the longevity of your career and how Positive Psychology fits in here. It is possible to create a long-term career as a Positive Psychology Practitioner, and continuing professional development will be a part of this.
For example, after completing a PPG diploma you may choose to further your studies of Positive Psychology and progress to a MAPP. You may also choose to go into applied research (we offer a Level 7 Diploma in Applied Positive Psychology Research here if this is of interest).
Some of you may enjoy research so much that you choose to progress even further to a PhD. This would be a popular choice for those who love learning and wish to contribute to emerging Positive Psychology in Research, for example in Positive Neuroscience or Positive Health.
Some of you may choose to graduate from the diploma and focus on integrating Positive Psychology into another professional practice. For example, Social Work or Counselling. Here, you may engage with regular CPD courses to keep your knowledge fresh and up-to-date.
I’ll give you a personal example. After studying Positive Psychology, I chose to complete a Masters degree in Exercise and Sport Psychology, where my research included Positive Psychology. I enjoy learning and teaching, and I see my path moving towards a related PhD.
I also have another side to me. I teach self-defence. My first Masters degree was in Violence, Conflict and Development. I’ve seen plenty of trauma in my work and life, and have a special interest in the role of Positive Psychology in Post-Traumatic Growth.
We have students who are working towards a PhD, and others who are already running their own professional practices. All are beautiful representations of the diverse ways in which Positive Psychology can either lead or fit into a wider picture.
Some of our students want to enhance their existing skill set at work. They don’t see themselves changing professions but rather bringing Positive Psychology into their existing one. Others are taking a leap with the intention of setting up their own practices.
There is no right and wrong way here; it’s down to you and your professional interests or goals.
Whichever route you choose, keep in mind that the channels between research and practice are fluid. Each needs the other in order to exist. If you can find your ideal medium and balance here, you will more likely find enjoyment in your Positive Psychology career.
How can we build a positive environment at work?
There are many ways to go about this and all depend on the contextual needs at hand, as well as the resources available. Hiring a Positive Psychology Practitioner who is qualified in Positive Organisational Psychology to consult with is one way to start.
Our Positive Organisational Psychology graduates are trained to facilitate leadership and teamwork processes, and translate wellbeing policies into practice. These graduates are sometimes qualified in other skills, such as coaching and training.
Alternatively, or in addition, you may require leadership coaching or staff resilience training. Our Positive Psychology Practice & Coaching and Positive Psychology Practice & Training graduates will be qualified to step in here.
You may also be considering how to build internal capacity for the long-run. Here, a recommended route would be to invest in staff training for your HR department and a selection of key managers and team leaders.
One of the benefits of building internal capacity is that once your staff are trained, you will be able to pass on these skills internally and continue to grow a positive environment at work year after year, as your needs and priorities change.
There is also the possibility of setting up your own Positive Psychology coaching and training division, where your staff create their own courses and PPG accredit them, subject to criteria. This falls under organisational membership.
So there you have it.
A few insights into what some Positive Psychology Practitioners do.
You may also want to check out an earlier blog post on Becoming a Positive Psychology Practitioner.
A key take-away I hope is that we aren’t all the same. Some of us coach, train, and facilitate. Some of us engage in teaching or research. And some of us integrate what we learn into another professional practice or profession.
Perhaps we even do all of this and more at various stages in our careers!
Whether Positive Psychology takes the lead in your ongoing career, or serves as a supporting knowledge base for another career, no doubt the study of it will leave your perspective on wellbeing in life and work changed for the better in numerous ways.
This article was written by Claire Higgins, the COO and Director of Research & Education at the Positive Psychology Guild, and Director of Inner Athletics Ltd.
If you have any questions about becoming a Positive Psychology Practitioner or topics raised in this article, please drop us a line at: email@example.com
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Mutrie, N., Faulkner, G. (2004). ‘Physical activity: Positive psychology in motion.’ Positive Psychology in Practice, ch 8, edited by Alex Linley and Stephen Joseph, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Park, N., Peterson, C., Szvarca, D., Vander Molen, R.J., Kim, E.S., Kollon, K. (2016). ‘Positive psychology and physical health.’ American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 10(3):200-206.
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