How We Practice Positive Psychology
This guest entry is from Diane Dreher PhD, a positive psychology coach, author, leadership consultant, and professor at Santa Clara University in northern California. Diane kindly sat down to answer a few questions we posed to her on our Summer 2020 theme, “How We Practice Positive Psychology”. Her rich insights are cultivated through years of experience. We hope you enjoy learning from her!
How did your Positive Psychology journey begin?
In college, I began exploring pathways to human potential, studying Eastern Philosophy, Renaissance literature, Viktor Frankl, Abraham Maslow, and biographies of leaders who used their strengths to make a positive difference in the world. In graduate school at UCLA, I wrote my doctoral dissertation about spiritual development in Renaissance literature. When I became an English professor, I incorporated these insights into my teaching. In the 1990s, I began training in aikido and writing The Tao of Inner Peace, The Tao of Personal Leadership, and The Tao of Womanhood, relating the inclusive wisdom of Taoism to our ongoing human quest for peace, purpose, and reaching for our fullest potential. Excited by the new field of positive psychology, I included hope, mindfulness, and strengths research in my 2008 book, Your Personal Renaissance. I returned to graduate school, this time in counseling psychology, studying mindfulness with Shauna Shapiro, and hope theory with David Feldman. Dave and I conducted a short hope intervention and published our research in 2012. After receiving my Master’s degree in counseling, I’ve continued to write about positive psychology in a variety of venues and used it in academic leadership, realizing how acknowledging people’s strengths and working inclusively can bring out the best in all of us.
How do you practice Positive Psychology today?
In 2017, I became a positive psychology coach, credentialed through MentorCoach, a training program with a strong foundation in positive psychology. I now enjoy working with a range of clients from writers and musicians to educators, therapists, humanitarian workers, social entrepreneurs, coaches, consultants, and emerging leaders. I draw upon my background in Eastern philosophy to help my clients think more inclusively. Seeing beyond the divisive false dilemma of either/or, they learn to combine the energies of yin and yang to create new possibilities within and around them. I use positive psychology to support clients in reaching their goals, asking them to take the VIA strengths survey, then use their top strengths, mindfulness, and hope theory to create greater joy and meaning in their lives. My own top strengths are curiosity, fairness, spirituality, love of learning, and appreciation of beauty and excellence. I engage my clients with curiosity and love of learning, finding continuing inspiration in the coaching relationship.
Where does the future of Positive Psychology lie?
Positive psychology has provided us with a more comprehensive view of human nature. For too long, the field of psychology was focused on treating the mental illnesses described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This view has now been balanced by research on our strengths, described in Martin Seligman’s and Christopher Peterson’s ground-breaking study, Character Strengths and Virtues (2004), along with ongoing research on what enables us to flourish. The future of positive psychology lies in preparing us to meet the compelling challenges of our time. As young people in the United States and other developed countries are experiencing record levels of depression and anxiety, we need positive psychology education to help them develop a growth mindset and greater resilience. Drawing upon Carol Dweck’s research, positive psychology interventions can help them overcome their fear of failure so they can learn, grow, and meet life’s challenges more effectively. We need a positive psychology that promotes effective problem solving to deal with the global challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and conditions of racial, gender, and economic injustice. Mindfulness interventions, drawn from research in positive psychology and neuroscience, can help us overcome the emotional turmoil and limited thinking produced by our body’s natural stress reaction. By developing greater emotional intelligence and a more inclusive view of reality, we can then think more creatively and act more effectively, discovering new solutions to the problems of our time. Finally, we need positive psychology leadership—in our neighborhoods, organizations, and nations. In a time when fear and lack of vision have caused too many of us to collapse in despair or surrender to demagogues who seek to divide and dominate us, we need leaders who can inspire us with greater vision, agency, resilience, and hope. Positive psychology interventions can help emerging leaders develop the skills they need to help people work together, combine their strengths to solve current problems, and create new possibilities for our collective future.
What advice would you give on becoming a Positive Psychology Practitioner and building a Positive Psychology Practice to:
Someone training to become a Positive Psychology Practitioner?
- Apply positive psychology to your own life and personal development.
- Find an area that connects positive psychology to your profession or area of concern.
- Look for ways positive psychology perspectives and interventions can lead to greater effectiveness in this area.
A newly graduated Positive Psychology Practitioner?
- Keep learning and developing, using your own signature strengths, and pursuing your personal mindfulness practice to deal with the stress of entering your new profession.
- Stay current with the latest research in positive psychology.
- Find ways to reach out to others, sharing the benefits of positive psychology in talks, workshops, and blogs.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
That positive psychology can light our path to new possibilities for ourselves and our world.
Diane Dreher is a positive psychology coach, author, leadership consultant, and professor at Santa Clara University in northern California. She has a Ph.D. in English, a Master’s degree in Counseling, MentorCoach certification, and professional credentials from the International Coaching Federation. Diane writes a regular blog for Psychology Today and her books include the best-selling Tao of Inner Peace, along with The Tao of Personal Leadership, The Tao of Womanhood, Inner Gardening, and Your Personal Renaissance. Drawing upon insights from Eastern philosophy and positive psychology, Diane’s work helps people find greater hope in challenging times. Using strategies from positive psychology, Diane’s coaching helps her clients discover their strengths, set goals they can believe in, overcome roadblocks, and flourish in their personal and professional lives. Her workshops and consulting help people overcome stress, expand their perspectives, and develop greater hope and collective action to solve our complex problems and create new possibilities for our time.
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