MAPP’s Little Secret?

Positive Psychology as Self-help for Depression

This is what inspired me to write my new book, Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression; Self-help strategies for happiness, inner strength and well-being (Watkins, 2012) to show how PPIs can be applied to the shadow side of life.

Much is made of positive psychology’s remit to increase the total tonnage of happiness on the planet but what about the global burden of depression afflicting life in the 21st century? 1 in 2 people in the developed world will have an incidence of depression in their lifetime, which means that a fair proportion of MAPPsters will have lived experience of a visit from the black dog.

There is a certain irony in being a positive psychologist with a history of depression but signing up for the MAPP proved to be one of the best prescriptions – I was able to self-medicate with positive psychology interventions!

PPIs worked as evidence-based self-help where other forms of treatment hadn’t. One of the most depressing things about depression is the limited choice of treatment available, which usually boils down to either anti-depressants or one of the talking therapies- but as one of my clients puts it, “digging up sad stories from the past is not my idea of an effective treatment for depression”. What if you prefer a drug-free approach which doesn’t involve picking over emotional scabs?

It occurred to me on the MAPP that PPIs had a potential that went beyond their original aim in helping people – who are already well – to be happier. In my own experience and as a practitioner of the science I’ve found that positive psychology doesn’t just work as prevention against depression, it also works as a treatment for the milder end of the spectrum.  Positive Psychotherapy (Seligman, Rashid & Parks, 2006) established the benefits of PPIs as a form of evidence-based self-help for depression while Sin & Lyubomirsky’s 2009 meta-analysis confirmed that that PPIs are efficacious in alleviating depression just as they are in enhancing happiness and well-being. This is what inspired me to write my new book, Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression; Self-help strategies for happiness, inner strength and well-being (2012) to show how PPIs can be applied to the shadow side of life.

 

Positive Psychology Coaching for Depression

In my coaching practice, I find that helping a client to build their experience of positivity is one of the first priorities in the positive psychology approach to depression recovery- no surprise when you consider that low positivity is one of the main symptoms of depression. Once a client is actively engaged in increasing positivity, we look to reduce the negative by applying optimistic explanatory style to puncture the monstrous pessimistic beliefs that can drag you into the downwards spiral. I find that strengths have a role to play to counteract the lethargy of depression. When you’re at a low ebb, your strengths act as a source of support, providing a much-needed injection of energy to carry you. A visit from the black dog is often a reflection of something no longer working well in life. Strengths help people who have ground to a halt to move forward by providing a clue to a new, positive direction that lends meaning to life and helps to rebuild from the low.

Akhtar, M. (2012). Positive psychology for overcoming depression: Self-help strategies for happiness, inner strength and well-being. London: Watkins.

Seligman, M.E.P., Rashid, T., & Parks, A.C. (2006). Positive psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 61, 774-788.

Sin, N. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: A practice-friendly meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(5), 467-487.

Author’s Bio

Miriam Akhtar (www.positivepsychologytraining.co.uk) is one of the MAPP alumni from cohort 2. She works as a coach and trainer and is one of the facilitators of the Penn Resilience Program in the UK. She is the author of Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression; Self-help Strategies for Happiness, Inner Strength and Well-being (Watkins, 2012), the first book to offer a positive psychology solution to depression and is one of the contributors to the World Book of Happiness, sent to world leaders by the President of the European Union, Herman van Rompuy.

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