How We Practice Positive Psychology (Jane Jennison)
This guest entry is from Jane Jennison MSc, a positive psychology coach and author, and co-founder of the Positive Psychology Summit:UK. Jane is a fellow member of the Positive Psychology Guild (PPG) and co-director of Autonomous Ideas, one of the PPG’s organisational members. Her grassroots-driven approach to practicing and sharing Positive Psychology is one that is much needed in communities today.
How did your Positive Psychology journey begin?
When I was in my 20’s, I was a passenger in a Road Traffic Accident, that left me slightly loopy with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and also triggered the endometriosis that left me infertile. I spent a good 10 years in a state of PTSD, anxiety and traumatic amnesia, and eventually decided that I needed to get myself well (mental health services had not been available or helpful at this time). So, I worked on re-training my brain, dealing with the endometriosis and getting married.
We have children, adopted at 5 months and 18 months. When we adopted, there was no understanding of neuroplasticity, and it was believed that we did not form memories until we could speak. We could not ‘heal’ our children, but we could train them to behave in a way that was socially acceptable.
Within 2 years, I had discovered the wonderful Kate Cairns and learned about neuroplasticity, trauma, attachment and resilience. These were game-changers in how to understand how the brain works, and that it can heal and re-wire itself.
I trained in Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, Parenting and Practice and theraplay ™ so that I could help our family when therapeutic services were not available.
I wanted to understand how to help our family, and soon realised that the skills I was learning and using for our children could and should be available for adults, too. I was convinced that the tools that worked well for children – strengths spotting, building secure attachments, gratitude, and having good quality relationships, would work equally well for adults. I wanted to find a structured, science-based approach for adults that would be similar to what I had learned.
I looked into coaching. I found a course run by the British School of Coaching, and applied for that. One of the books on the reading list was on using Positive Psychology in coaching…This was my ‘eureka moment! My ‘thing’ wasn’t coaching per se, it was Positive Psychology!
I completed their ‘Wellbeing coaching programme’, at Level 7, Master’s Degree level. It still seemed relevant, and ‘coaching’ was a therapeutic model that appealed to me more than ‘counselling’.
I wanted to study at Master’s Degree level, attend In Real Life, not distance-learn, and it needed to be do-able around my family commitments.
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (ARU) offered the course content I was interested in. I also wanted to do a piece of research as my Major Project (dissertation), and ARU also offered this (I believe this has changed).
I was also mindful that I was still the primary parent for our family, so I wanted a course that I could attend part-time, which ARU also offered.
How do you practice Positive Psychology today?
As Peterson says, ‘other people matter’. My main focus since finishing the Master’s Degree has been on building ‘my’ tribe of Positive Psychology practitioners. Catherine Stacey, a fellow ARU-Graduate, Andrew Foster, an Executive Coach, and I set up the Positive Psychology Summit: UK with a view to holding a Summit every two years, and break-out events in between. This would be an avenue for building the Positive Psychology community in the UK sharing how we ‘do’ Positive Psychology, and running workshops for Positive Psychology Interventions and tools. We held our first Summit in April 2019. Since Covid-19, we have suspended any break-out events.
The Positive Psychology Guild have come on board as our first sponsor, and we are delighted to be working in partnership with them. Why sponsorship? One thing that came out of MAPP for me very strongly was that I wanted to work in the field of Positive Psychology with other people, not on my own.
I am a Director of Autonomous Ideas, which Andrew and I run together. We have developed a Strategic Leadership Course together, where one session was built on identifying and using strengths – a key tenet of Positive Psychology. I have also designed and run workshops and courses based on applying Positive Psychology to build authentic happiness.
I am also an Associate for Worth-It CIC, set up by MAPPsters from the University of East London (UEL), and am working with a small group of MAPPsters on developing a subscription website using Positive Psychology. I am drawn to people who have a similar vision for helping people be their best self, and have a desire to ‘give back’ to the community, foster inclusion and are based on robust science.
I have also been working on a range of products. You can find these on the Positive Psychology Summit UK website here.
I also write articles discussing how to apply Positive Psychology. These are published on a variety of sites, and I am currently bringing them all together on Substack. My website, Adopting Positivity, is in development. I also write for Home for Good, Adoption UK and Goldie Magazine.
I also have coaching clients, who I ‘see’ on Zoom or WhatsApp.
These different areas all align with my character strengths
Kindness and generosity led to the setting up of the PPSummit:UK – we did not draw any profit or salary from this; we wanted to build and support ‘our’ community. It linked in with love of learning, to share, learn and teach. Appreciation of beauty and excellence features in the designs for my products (creativity is one of my top strengths, too). All of this is underpinned by gratitude, honesty, authenticity and genuineness.
Where does the future of Positive Psychology lie?
As I write, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and this has brought mental health into sharp focus. We are seeing the negative impact of prolonged periods of social isolation as well as educational and employment patterns being disrupted. We can be key players in helping people understand how to build wellbeing and resilience. I would love to see Positive Psychology become accessible and move from academia into public life. Action for Happiness is a great example of ‘mainstreaming’ Positive Psychology, with its courses and ‘happy café’s. There are charities and faith-based organisations also embracing Positive Psychology, such as Renew Wellbeing setting up wellbeing cafes. This ‘grassroots’ application of Positive Psychology is something I am very interested in, and am in the process of training with Renew Wellbeing with a view to setting up a wellbeing café. I am encouraged by these models as I see them being key to the future of Positive Psychology – moving from academic research into applied practice based on the research.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to train to become a Positive Psychology Practitioner?
At a recent ARU careers event, I was asked where prospective students for the MAPP could get work experience. My response was to take Positive Psychology to their workplace (paid or voluntary) rather than look specifically for opportunities calling themselves Positive Psychology. The example I gave was of Forest School; I volunteered at a local Forest School prior to my MAPP. Everything I did there was based on Positive Psychology: strengths-spotting; building positive relationships; sharing, and periods of reflection we would call ‘mindfulness’. This shows that Positive Psychology can be a ‘state of being’, as Christian Van Nieuwerburgh calls coaching, as well as an academic practise.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Positive Psychology is uniquely positioned to help people identify and build on their strengths, values, purpose. This can help us build wellbeing not just individually but for societies as a whole. Other people matter.
Jane Jennison is a positive psychology coach and author. She is Director of Autonomous Ideas Limited, and co-founder and co-organiser of the Positive Psychology Summit: UK. She has a Master’s Degree in Applied Positive Psychology. Her workshops help people identify their strengths, build positive relationships and find authentic happiness.
 Houston, E., 2019 https://positivepsychology.com/christopher-peterson-other-people-matter/
 Van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2017), “An introduction to coaching skills” Sage, London.