As I plan for the online Positive Psychology Foundations training I’m co-leading from Oct 4th (2017), and the free webinar linked to it, I’m exploring the theme of ‘How to be a positive psychology practitioner’. I use pictures to help me think and teach, and there’s a favourite I’d love to share here. It is called the spider diagram.
With the spider on its side, its body represents the present moment, and each leg a different timeline of how the future might go. When I’m struggling, this spider diagram reminds me that even difficult times can develop in different ways, some much better, others much worse. The Penn Resilience Program invites a similar consideration of possibilities when it encourages people to ask themselves ‘what’s the best that can happen here? what’s the worst? and what’s most likely?’
We can apply this spider diagram to ourselves – in considering the different ways our lives, personalities, work and relationships can develop. In the 20th century, the dominant focus of psychology was on the lower legs – on looking at what can go wrong with us. There were a hundred research papers on depression and sadness for each one on happiness and joy. With the emergence of positive psychology, the last two decades has seen that balance change. This discipline explores the upper spider legs of ‘what’s the best that can happen with us?’ and then looks at what we can do to make these better possibilities more likely.
If a practitioner is someone who practices, then one form of Positive Psychology Practitioner is someone who uses positive psychology practices to support their wellbeing. I think of this as Level One, and it is a role for us all. In my coaching work, I encourage all my clients to see themselves this way.
Many helping professionals are drawn to positive psychology by the prospect of dual benefit – where we gain by becoming familiar with practices we use and benefit from ourselves, then help our clients, students, customers or associates by passing on tools that help them draw out their best side too. I think of this as being a Level Two Practitioner, where positive psychology may not be your main focus, but you seek to support wellbeing in others through the work you do.
I think of a Level Three Practitioner as someone who’s chosen to make positive psychology their main focus or a key area of their expertise. If we are to help ourselves, each other, our families, teams, communities and organisations find our or their upper legs of positive potential, there is a need for more people to inhabit this role.
What about the lower legs of the worst possibilities? For that I point towards, value and teach Resilience Practitioner Training. That’s part of find our best potential too, where we strengthen our capacity to deal with difficult times. It is important to look at what we do when things go wrong. What I love about the term positive psychology practitioner is that it counterbalances this with practices that help things go right.
Dr Chris Johnstone is a positive psychology practitioner and director of CollegeOfWellbeing.com, which offers online trainings in Positive Psychology and Resilience. With Miriam Akhtar he offers the free webinar How To Be A Positive Psychology Practitioner on 20th Sept. They also offer a free online taster course throughout September, and a more in-depth 8 week Positive Psychology Foundations online course starting on Oct 4th 2017.