Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Therapist Is In: From Pathological to Positive: A New Psychology for the Twenty First Century

By Mark Sichel, L.C.S.W. on July 30, 2008 in The Therapist Is In
These days when people come to my office, I'm not interested solely in rooting out their painful personal and familial issues. Building on their strengths, positives, achievements moral, ethical, and spiritual beliefs, is much more helpful, I've found, in overcoming psychological and interpersonal problems.

Vaclav Havel, playwright, dramatist, statesman, humanist and former President of the Czech Republic, beautifully and boldly encapsulates the lessons we should have learned from the ignominious twentieth century: Without a sober and conscionable approach to human events, affluence and technology has bred world wars, genocide, greed, and despair. This is especially tragic in an era that could have used innovation, expertise and prosperity to create a renaissance of the human spirit.

"Whenever I reflect on the problems of today's world, whether they concern the economy, society, culture, security, ecology or civilization in general, I always end up confronting the moral question: what action is responsible or acceptable? The moral order, our conscience and human rights - these are the most important issues at the beginning of the third millennium."

Twentieth century psychology paralleled the prevailing societal ethos with a focus on psychopathology, internal and intrapersonal psychological wars, and individual wants, needs, impulses, and feelings. Rather than developing as an inspirational art and providing guidance based on strength, optimism, hope, and wisdom, therapists were taught to be scientific practitioners of a skill taught to help people indict their parents and partners in the hopes of attaining symptom relief. While indictments are often merited, unless initiated after a moral inventory of personal responsibility and accountability, indictment simply justifies psychopathological behavior.

Many psychotherapy orientations still use the prevailing twentieth century focus on psychopathology. Psychological education often ignores questions of wrong and right, faith and fidelity. Hope and optimism are pejoratively labeled reassurance and deemed to thwart patients' autonomy. In psychological circles, wisdom is circumvented with a prohibition against giving advice.

The hopeful news is that the twenty first century has ushered in Positive Psychology, a treatment that focuses on positives, strengths, and moral character. Virtue, spirit and character are emerging as crucial elements of professional guidance. Blame and negativity are being replaced with a positive attitude and a quest for correct behavior in an imperfect world.

The challenge for all of us is to bring our behaviors in line with our convictions. Whenever I've asked a person whether they aspire to be a good human being who lives in a virtuous manner, their answer is "yes, of course I do, I'm a good person. I always want to do the right thing." When I point out to them that their actions contradict their beliefs, an individual will invariably stop dead in their tracks and pause to think. The benefit of this kind of thinking immediately suggests new ways to handle personal and painful issues and conflicts that hurt, upset, and anger others. It helps people assume responsibility for their own behavior and changing focus from MY needs to what their immediate community needs. It stops accusation and blame and gives direction to a higher purpose of positive and happy human relationships. The willingness of people to bring their behaviors in line with their beliefs, their desired perception of themselves, will always put a person where they really want to be, on the high road to more hopeful, optimistic and positive living.

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