What do Positive Psychology Practitioners do?

Applied Positive Psychology Research / Coaching / Counselling / Online Courses / Positive Psychology / Professional Practice

What exactly does a Positive Psychology Practitioner do?

When we receive course enquiries at the Positive Psychology Network, enquirers often know that they want to study and practice Positive Psychology, usually as a coach, trainer, or facilitator.

Becoming a coach, trainer, or facilitator is a fairly easy concept to grasp. Studying Positive Psychology is also straightforward. Where, when, and how to apply and practice Positive Psychology as a coach, trainer, or facilitator 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?

We’ll be answering these questions in this post, so please read on!

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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:

  1. Authenticity & Happiness
  2. Character Strengths & Virtues
  3. Positive & Negative Emotions
  4. Theory of Wellbeing (PERMA: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement)
  5. 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, which serves as the first module for practitioner training as a coach, trainer, and facilitator, covers these five areas and more. The reason why we cover more is because Positive Psychology isn’t the only school of thought in Psychology that has conducted research or practices in these areas. We believe it is important to study the bigger picture and understand where, why, and how Positive Psychology emerged, and how it is not separate from broader Psychology.

There’s another reason too; knowing only these key areas of Positive Psychology may make a positive difference to you personally, but a broader understanding of Psychology is needed to grasp the research and evidence base behind Positive Psychology in Practice. This is also useful when dealing with the complex nature of client work and collaborating at a professional level with others working in a similar field.

You will also need an understanding of Ancient Greek Philosophy, which our courses also cover. At the Positive Psychology Guild, we also welcome and encourage enquiry into other areas of Philosophy during your course – for example, Eastern and Western Philosophies – and take on the more complex challenge of seeing where Philosophy and Psychology intersect with regard to Positive Psychology.

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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). Sport and exercise have much to teach about character, performance, positive outlooks, and mental/physical health and wellbeing. So too do various forms of movement that may overlap with sport such as martial arts and the more spiritual practice of yoga.

Exciting collaborative that require more research and practitioner-academic engagement include Positive Psychology for global peace and social change through good governance (Linley & Joseph, 2004). A tentative ‘third wave’ of practice is also emerging where practitioners and researchers are exploring Positive Psychology in relation to groups and systems rather than just the individual (Lomas et al., 2020).

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.

At the Positive Psychology Guild, 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, Peterson, and their 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.

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What do I need to know to practice?

Bear with us – this is a long and evolving answer!

Firstly, you will need to know that as yet (2020), the field is not regulated. This will likely be a process that takes time as the field is still relatively new and research continues to evolve.

At the Positive Psychology Guild, we are taking steps towards helping to regulate the profession. This starts with identifying the benchmarks for Positive Psychology Practitioner training courses that will prepare you for professional practice.

In our view, you will need to have a recognised qualification in Positive Psychology. For example, a Masters degree in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) from a university, or a Diploma in Positive Psychology Practice from the Positive Psychology Guild (PPGDip).

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. At the Positive Psychology Guild, PPG Diploma graduates may apply for Professional & Fellow Membership while MAPP graduates may apply for Fellow Membership. For more details on membership options, please click here.

The Positive Psychology Guild (PPG) Level 5 Diplomas in Positive Psychology in Practice will teach you various pathway skills that will help you to translate your Positive Psychology knowledge into action (coaching, training, facilitation). We will also supervise you in a related case study project practice to help prepare you for practice in the real world after graduation. You can learn more about our approach to this in our course prospectus here.

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Practitioner Insurance & Liability Coverage

PPG is also helping to resolve the lack of regulation through its professional membership service that offers insurance and liability coverage and an annual review process to ensure practitioners have the  support they need to run an ethical and knowledge-based practice in a skillful manner. On successful completion, practitioners then join a Register of Professionals.

To practice commercially in any discipline, a practitioner will also need to have the relevant insurances in place. Malpractice is not something we recommend experimenting with, simply because the field is unregulated. Yet it can be difficult to know where to fit in.

We offer our 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.

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 the mutual protection of the practitioner and client.

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Professional Guidelines for Positive Psychology Practice

PPG has a set of Professional Guidelines for Positive Psychology Practitioners that you 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.

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.

There is also a set of Ethical Guidelines for Positive Psychology Practitioners that we recommend you read through to understand how the development of ethics in Positive Psychology is evolving (Lomas et al., 2019).

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May I join another membership body?

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? Yes, and we would encourage this if you are using a professional skill that our membership may not cover for insurance (e.g. clinical practice).

You may also choose to belong to more than one professional body for the same professional skill. For example, you may have a practice that is unrelated to Positive Psychology and wish to keep this part of your practice separate. For example, you could be an NLP Practitioner, or a Health Coach or Yoga Teacher who integrates Positive Psychology into your health or yoga practice. In this case, you may choose to keep multiple professional memberships to ensure your other professional skills are covered.

If you are practicing Positive Psychology in regular coaching, training, or facilitation, it could make more sense to belong to a membership body that specialises in Positive Psychology and will understand the needs of your practice, offers further training and development in Positive Psychology subjects, and covers your insurance and liability coverage in one place.

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Bottom line.

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, or fast-track you on the knowledge base required.

We recommend pursuing shorter courses for personal development and to learn more about this evolving field. However, when it comes to professional practice, a short course probably won’t give you the richness that Positive Psychology in Practice has to offer, or cover the ethical standards required by professional practice.

Positive Psychology in its richer depths 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 at PPG and we encourage our members to do so too in their practice.

What you need to know in order to practice will be an ongoing process as you train and after you graduate. Staying up-to-date with how this conversation evolves will become part of your professional practice.

At PPG, we are very hopeful for the future of Positive Psychology in Practice. It is clear that the profession is here to stay and we hope that our role and contribution will be a worthy one to the professionalisation of practice at large. We encourage our members to play a role here in this ongoing conversation, and seek to learn as much from them as we do from the research community.

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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. A younger generation is also finding its way into the field.

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.

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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.

At PPG, we have students who are working towards a PhD and others who are already running their own professional practices. Some have never engaged in formal Psychology studies before. We also have students on the autism spectrum and are a neurodiverse organisation.

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, and these may change over time. 

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.

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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 strengths-based 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 support you here.

You may even wish to consider offering your staff Positive Psychology Practitioner training through one of our courses. This would help you to build internal capacity for the long-term, and we would be happy to support your organisation here.

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 qualified staff may create their own courses tailored to your organisational needs and PPG will accredit them, subject to criteria. This activity falls under Organisational Membership.

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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 is that we aren’t all the same, nor do we have to be. 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!

We all operate from the same knowledge base; the difference lies in the application and here, the context in which we operate will determine the skillset required, and vice versa.

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.

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If you have any questions about becoming a Positive Psychology Practitioner or topics raised in this article, please drop us a line at: membership@ppnetwork.org

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References

Halliday, A.J., Kern, M.L., Garrett, D.K., Turnbull, D.A. (2019). ‘The student voice in well-being: a case study of participatory action research in positive education.’ Educational Action Research, 27(2):173-196.

Lomas, T., Roache, A., Rashid, T. (2019). ‘Developing ethical guidelines for positive psychology practice: An ongoing, iterative, collaborative endeavor.’ The Journal of Positive Psychology, published online 20.8.19.

Lomas, T., Waters, L., Williams, P., Oades, L.G., Kern, M.L. (2020). ‘Third wave positive psychology: Broadening towards complexity.’ The Journal of Positive Psychology, published online on 6.8.20.

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.

Ryff, C.D., Singer, B.H., Dienberg Love, G. (2004). ‘Positive health: connecting well-being with biology.’ Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 359(1449):1383-1394.

Salama-Younes, M. (2011). ‘Towards a positive sport psychology: A prospective investigation in physical practice.’ World Journal of Sport Sciences, 4(2): 104-115.

Seligman, M.E.P., Ernst, R.M., Gillham, J. Reivich, K., Linkins, M. (2009). ‘Positive education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions.’ Oxford Review of Education, 35(3):293-311.