Q : I have read about Positive Psychology and how it focuses on the positives, is Positive Mental Health the same thing ?
A : Positive Psychology is a movement taking place within psychology and academia, and a welcome one. It is finally swinging the pendulum in the direction of positive human traits and scientifically measuring them. In this respect, it can be most helpful in classifying, understanding and measuring approaches that lead to health.
As I understand it, positive psychology is not a therapy nor a personality model, but analyzes a variety of approaches for positive outcomes such as the human capacity for resistance, or the benefits of gratitude. It is the birth of a new field analyzing tools and methods, which can help measure human strengths.
Positive Psychology can of course study the Lifetrack model of positive mental health which is an integrated personality model based on health (see criteria for positive mental health models by Jahoda). The model is a step in the direction of a science of health, and defining and quantifying wellbeing.
While the Lifetrack model is not born of the positive psychology movement, it admires its founders Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Dr. Seligman for taking psychology and academia in the right direction. Our hope is that psychiatry will soon follow.
The Lifetrack model of positive mental health is developed by a Japanese psychiatrist Dr. Yukio Ishizuka. Dr. Ishizuka developed his model on insights from both the East and West and tested it daily by treating a large number of patients over the last 35 years.
The approach uses breakthrough intimacy to help patients in distress overcome and go far beyond a previous best level of adjustment (close relationships, achievement and self). With the predominance of the pharmaceutical industry, the bias of psychiatry towards the disease model, and the focus on the disbursement of medication, Ishizuka has remained happily isolated from the mainstream. With only recent awareness of the positive psychology movement, he hopes new doors and directions can be opened.
Towards an understanding of the Mind in Optimal Health and Disease
The Lifetrack model of human personality model can be used to understand both optimal health and disease. It has been tested on the well, and those in dire distress with ‘psychological illnesses’ such as borderline personality, deep depression and others. Due to the model’s breadth, it provides fundamental insights on the mind at its best and worst.
Such an understanding of healthy human beings can be taught to psychiatrists and non psychiatrists, it can be applied to the sciences, and used by the general public.
At the same time, because psychiatry is prepared to deal with important symptoms of distress, should the field of psychiatry transform its understanding of health, psychiatrists may be ideally suited to help extremely defensive individuals such as those with borderline personalities (or with other overwhelming defenses) change fundamentally.
The reason psychiatrists may be useful in this role is because they are comfortable with dealing with certain distress signals such as anxiety, anger, physical symptoms, depression or psychosis. In highly defensive individuals, such symptoms may initially escalate as one attempts to surpass a previous best level of adjustment. In this sense, a past understanding of distress and disease can be a useful tool. Should psychiatrists be capable of re-orienting their practice beyond mere symptom relief to the greater goal of building inner health and happiness, this dual expertise will be particularly effective.
Naturally, one does not have to be a psychiatrist to integrate a better understanding of health and happiness or the functioning of the mind. It is knowledge that should be accessible to all.
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A Japanese Harvard trained psychiatrist explores happiness and health, and discusses the positive psychology approach, constructs of positive psychology.