- Posted by Virginia
- On June 28, 2017
- 0 Comments
- Emotional and Mental Health, Positive psychology
According to positive psychologists, for most of its life mainstream psychology (sometimes also referred to as ‘psychology as usual’) has been concerned with the negative aspects of human life. There have been pockets of interest in topics such as creativity, optimism and wisdom, but these have not been united by any grand theory or a broad, overarching framework.
This rather negative state of affairs was not the original intention of the first psychologists, but came about through a historical accident.
Prior to the Second World War, psychology had three tasks, which were to:
- cure mental illness,
- improve normal lives and
- identify and nurture high talent
However, after the war the last two tasks somehow got lost, leaving the field to concentrate predominantly on the first one.
How did that happen? Given that psychology as a science depends heavily on the funding of governmental bodies, it is not hard to guess what happened to the resources after World War II. Understandably, facing a human crisis on such an enormous scale, all available resources were poured into learning about and the treatment of psychological illness and psychopathology.
This is how psychology as a field learnt to operate within a disease model. This model has proven very useful. Martin Seligman highlights the victories of the disease model, which are, for example, that 14 previously incurable mental illnesses (such as depression, personality disorder, or anxiety attacks) can now be successfully treated.
However, the costs of adopting this disease model included the negative view of psychologists as ‘victimologists’ and ‘pathologisers’, the failure to address the improvement of normal lives and the identification and nurturance of high talent.
“Psychology is much larger than curing mental illness or curing diseases. I think it’s about bringing out the best in people; it’s about positive institutions; it’s about strength of character.” – Martin Seligman