Mental Health Minute: A New Column By Cristina Frick… This new Monday Morning weekly column will showcase recent news developments and topics in the area of mental health from a positive and inspirational perspective as well as provide information that can help those who may be struggling with mental health issues.
I would like to dedicate this column to my wonderful, kind, and supportive father, who was a Humanistic psychologist and with whom I was very close. He died when I was fifteen, but I know he is looking down on me from Heaven and is very proud.
Positive psychology is an outgrowth of its predecessor, person-centered (also known as Humanistic) psychology. Psychologist Carl Rogers, as founding father of this type of psychology, taught therapists to have unconditional positive regard for the client and to value the client for his or her worth as a person regardless of choices he or she might have made or difficult emotions the client may be experiencing. Person-centered therapists also believe that all human beings have a self-actualizing tendency, or a natural tendency to reach their highest potential and an ability to create goals for therapy in order to self-actualize. (See the “The Carl Rogers Reader” below for citation).
Humanistic/person-centered therapy and positive psychology both have the goal of helping the client to be happy and a belief that human beings have a natural tendency to be happy and successful. Recent positive psychology news focuses on the new findings surrounding human beings and happiness. A BBC news article about the topic states that having meaning in one’s life, such as a belief in a higher power, praying, or a philosophy of life, as well as social relationships, marriage, and goals are all important to happiness.
Positive psychology researchers believe it is not money that makes us happy, but the depth of our relationships with family and friends. If, for example, we suddenly win the lottery, our happiness may increase for awhile, but we will become used to it and go back to our original level of happiness, a sort of biological “set point” of happiness that we are born with. Although we may remain close to this set point throughout much of our lives, it is possible to change this set point slightly so that we are somewhat happier, according to Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology. Other research shows that we have quite a bit of control over this set point by intentionally choosing positive actions and thoughts.
How do we change this set point?
According to an article in Time Magazine about happiness, one way to change our set point is to keep a gratitude journal, writing down three things that went well each day. Another way to boost happiness includes performing acts of kindness or altruism. Martin Seligman has found in studies that one of the most effective ways of boosting one’s happiness is to make a “gratitude visit,” which involves writing a letter of gratitude to someone and then visiting them and reading the letter in person. Seligman also recommends visiting the website http://www.reflectivehappiness.com/ to find your strengths and new ways to use them, which can also substantially increase happiness.
Other ideas for boosting happiness include taking care of yourself, thanking a mentor, learning to forgive, developing coping strategies to deal with stress, and investing energy in friends and family. In addition, several self-report numerical scales have been developed to measure happiness, such as Diener’s Satisfaction with Life Scale and Daniel Kahneman’s Day Reconstruction Method, which requires keeping a detailed journal of activities done each day to see which bring the most and least happiness. (Read the Time Magazine article by clicking on the link at the bottom of The U. Penn Authentic Happiness website).
In Dr. McAnulty’s class at school we had a discussion about whether the positive psychology movement is helpful or hurtful to people’s mental health. One opinion that we discussed was the opinion that positive psychology tries to deny the inevitability of human suffering so that when people do naturally experience suffering, they feel that there is something “wrong” with them- in effect, the opinion that the positive psychology movement creates denial.
So how do we as psychologists determine if something such as a day reconstruction journal or a happiness measure is helpful or hurtful? I think it is crucial to know one’s client well. For example, would they have the patience or the discipline to fill out such a detailed journal? Do they tend to dwell on their emotions to an unhealthy degree, or do they have an analytical mind that allows them to take their emotions out and look at them, finding patterns that can help them to feel happier? What is their diagnosis? All of these questions are crucial to consider in knowing how to help lead a client to happiness.
Citation for “The Carl Rogers Reader:” H. Kirschenbaum and V.L. Henderson (Eds.). The Carl Rogers Reader. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
I am currently in the process of completing my Master’s degree in Clinical and Community Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I have completed all my coursework except for my thesis and plan on graduating in December.
My thesis (if approved), advised by Dr. Rick McAnulty, would explore whether there is a link between obsessional personality traits and creativity. I hypothesize that the greater the level of obsessionality, the greater the level of creativity, but it is also possible that creativity could be lower with increased obsessionality or that there is no correlation between the two at all. I look forward to beginning this project in the fall. I consider myself to be person-centered in orientation and would eventually like to open my own clinical practice.
In addition to psychology, I love going to church and have always loved writing and editing. I wrote stories and journaled when I was younger and began writing tutoring in college at Otterbein College in Ohio. I found Geri’s site the summer after my junior year when the idea for a Good News Network popped into my head. I looked online to see if anyone had the same idea. Geri has happily worked with me through two summer internships and accepted my volunteer work as a writer and copy editor for the site. I am thrilled now to be the author of this new weekly column.
I would also like to dedicate this to my grandma, Nan, Theresa, and Venny, who passed away but who I know are watching over me from Heaven. I would also like to thank God and Geri for this amazing opportunity and would like to thank my kind, wonderful, and supportive mom with whom I am very close, my amazing grandpa with whom I am very close and who has been like a second dad to me since my dad died, my aunt, uncle, half-brothers and their families, cousins and their wives, family, friends, Alison, Graham, Ian, Molly, Laura, my boyfriend Brad, and all my friends (Mike, Amanda, Jana, Katrina, and Jeff) and professors at UNC Charlotte for their immeasurable support- you guys are all amazing!