By: Dr. John P. DeMann
Much of psychology as we see it today has been developed with the doctrines of Freud. This has created a focus on what is wrong with the client (Seligman, 2002, 2003). Positive Psychology has as one of its premises that psychological well-being is best achieved by practicing a person’s strengths, not weaknesses (Linley, Joseph, 2004). Positive Psychology was an attempt to counter the twentieth century orientation of mainstream psychology, the disease medical model (Linley, Joseph, 2004). Although this may be a move in the right direction it still does not address the missing link, an integrated approach. The medical model has much to offer and trying to replace it may not be the answer. The Positive Psychology model has much to offer, but replacing it is not the complete answer either. Using an eclectic approach, in terms of skill and philosophy, seems to be a possible direction where a client is treated for illness and guided to strive for experiencing self-actualization to create a fully-functioning person. The problem seems to be that psychology has focused on individual aspects of human nature and in this approach has failed to produce a fully-functioning psychology that treats not only illness, but also promotes self-actualization and a fully-functioning person.
Seligman says that psychology has done well in finding cures in psychological illnesses. He states that out of a few hundred psychological illnesses 13 of them can be cured and most can have the symptoms removed partly using proper medication and therapy (Seligman, 2002). This does not show much in terms of improvement or growth in the field of therapy or psychology as a whole. I am not saying the current medical model of psychology is not working; it is to a point, but it is ignoring some important aspects of the nature of man/women. Psychology on a practical level is ignoring what Rogers called the fully-functioning person. Because of this we see only a portion of psychology being practiced fully and much of what psychology can offer in terms of growth, development and genuine happiness is being ignored. If psychology could integrate, for example Positive Psychology and the medical model, it could become a dominating force in all areas of life. For example, business and other fields could benefit from a fully-functioning psychology by not just focusing on the problem, but also deal with the strengths of the individual. Communities are another example where a fully-functioning psychology could be beneficial. In other words, there is much to be gained if psychology could find an integrated approach where focus is given to the medical model and the Positive Psychology model. The problem seems not to be with the ideas researchers come up with in terms of individual concepts and theories, but with the neglect of the self-actualization aspect of the client to create the fully-functioning person, organization or community. This approach would not only help the client, but psychology as a whole by creating a broader focus in the field in treating the client fully.
There is a move in the medical field and in the insurance industry to a more preventative model of medical care. They are not ignoring the illness and cure aspect; however they are bringing more focus on the importance of prevention. Psychology seems to have a problem today doing this where therapy and even industrial and organizational approaches focus on what is wrong with people, ignoring the part behavior plays, for example, responsibility of choice, in illness and low productivity (Glasser, 2003). Many illnesses, including some of the more prevalent psychological illnesses are caused by behavior (Hatfield, 2004), for example, smoking, poor nutrition, lack of appropriate levels of exercise to name just a few. Many of these behaviors have been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity (Hatfield, 2004). Some of these may have a genetic factor that play a role, but many are triggered by lifestyle or treatment. Glasser (2003) suggests that psychiatry can be the cause of mental illness in some cases. He suggests that many who seek help are not suffering from mental illness, their brain is functioning normally. When the client is given medication to deal with mental issues he suggests that the drug can often create real mental disabilities (Glasser, 2003). This means that sometimes using medication to treat many of the psychological illnesses places the client at risk for other health issues (Glasser, 2003). In this approach many times we are only covering up the symptoms, but we are also creating new problems and other symptoms from the medications being prescribed (Glasser, 2003). This is not to deny medication is not needed, but research has shown that we depend on medication too much and in many cases these psychological drugs are not being prescribed appropriately (Linley, Joseph, 2004). Many times they are prescribed by our general healthcare practitioner who has had no training or at best limited training in mental illness causing even more confusion and low levels of care (Glasser, 2003).
One area that psychology and psychiatry have completely ignored in the area of treatment is the benefits of diet and exercise. The truth is that many psychologists and psychiatrists are not even trained in exercise physiology or nutrition. Much research has shown the benefits of proper nutrition and diet (Linley, Joseph, 2004; Glasser, 2003; Seligman, 2002; Hatfield, 2004). Diet and exercise are powerful natural forces that could in some cases take the place of medication. Our bodies have the most powerful pharmacy in the world and it rarely fails to prescribe the perfect amount of medication needed. Whenever we experience symptoms of illness of any kind the body is trying to tell us something. Take for example obesity. Obesity is an epidemic that in most cases could be prevented through proper diet and nutrition (Hatfield, 2004). Some may suggest that this illness is a behavior or choice problem and psychology could play a major role in helping clients overcome this deadly disease by helping clients make more responsible choices using psychology’s many tools. This could and should in most cases be done without medication creating a more “clear” mental environment to deal with the problem. Some psychologists suggest that most of us who experience illness in any form could have prevented it by changing our lifestyle or behavior (Linley, Joseph, 2004; Glasser, 2003; Seligman, 2002).
Health and wellness, mental and physical, also play a role in organizations. An example where well-being plays a major role in business can be seen in job related well-being (Linley, Joseph, 2004). This can be defined as the promotion of physical and psychological health at work and can create positive results in many areas of business (Linley, Joseph, 2004). There seems to be a need for a complete approach that can help in prevention of illness and helping organizations become more productive. What Rogers (1961) called the fully-functioning person and Maslow (1968) called a self-actualizing person could be the model for all employees. One way to do this could be through an integrated approach that takes individuals or organizations from illness to well-being using ideas from the medical model, humanistic model and the Positive Psychology model as examples to strive for a fully-functioning human being or organization.
Another way to look at a fully-functioning approach would be to consider psychological illness to well-being as existing on a continuum. Consider for a moment a scale from -10 to +10. The scale can be broken down into three main sections, psychosis, un-psychosis and self-actualization. Starting with -10 to -1 we see all forms of psychological illness or psychosis. On the scale 0 represents a neutral state what could be considered un-psychosis, the client is not suffering from mental illness, but they are not fulfilled either. From +1 to +10 we can see psychological well-being or self-actualization. Today psychology focuses mainly on the -10 to -1 portion of the scale relieving individuals from symptoms of mental illness (Linley, Joseph, 2004). This leaves the client at 0 on the scale where some will continue to improve the quality of their life, but many do not and fall back into mental illness or psychosis having to repeat the process over and over (Linley, Joseph, 2004). Another way to look at this example is to suggest that the there are four stages of psychological treatment and well-being. The first stage can be called the stage of needs where the client must meet her basic needs to be able to experience mental health. The second stage could be called the transition stage where the client has met her basic needs and are ready to grow. The third stage would be called the self-actualization stage where the client seeks growth actively. The final or fourth stage could be called the fully-functioning person who can meet any one of the stages on their own recognizing life fluctuates in and out of happiness and unhappiness.
Psychology can do much in terms of dealing with psychosis or illness and it can do much focusing on the self-actualization part of the above scale, but it can do much more if a model can be developed that uses all the stages mentioned above. Positive Psychology is a move in the right direction and provides a great deal of research in the third or fourth stage of the above scale, but because it fails to recognize fully the effectiveness of the disease model it is not a fully-functioning psychology. The bottom line is that the medical model and models like the Positive Psychology model fall short in creating a workable solution to psychological well-being. My goal is to bring to the table information and research that can support a “fully-functioning” psychology where all the stages of the scale above are integrated. It is important to note that the scale can be entered anywhere; the fully-functioning person moves in and out of all the stages successfully. The difference is that they can do it on their own providing a more fulfilling life which in itself can help prevent mental illness and physical illness as well.
Glasser, William. (2003). Warning: Psychiatry can be hazardous to your mental health. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Hatfield, Fredrick, C. (2004). Fitness: The complete guide. Santa Barbara, CA: International Sports Sciences Association.
Linley, P., Alex & Joseph, Stephen. (2004). Positive psychology in practice. New Jersey, Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.
Maslow, Abraham, H. (1999). Toward a psychology of being (3rd ed.). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Rogers, Carl, R. (1995). On becoming a person. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Seligman, Martin, E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness: using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.