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Positive Psychology — A Fresh Approach to Substance Abuse & Mental Health Treatment

I’ve been in the field of mental health and addiction treatment for over twenty years.  As anyone who has done this work will tell you, burnout and frustration come with the territory.  I recently had an event in my life that at first caused me great frustration.  However, after processing it — or perhaps reprocessing it! — I realized what an amazing opportunity this was for me.

I am using this opportunity to reexamine the way I look at treatment for substance use and mental health disorders.  I started to dive into literature surrounding positive psychology, general wellness and the study of happiness.  I must admit, at first, I was skeptical, but as I continued to read and research these topics, I realized the immense applicability these concepts could have in the treatment of substance use and mental health disorders.  They just make sense.

With this in mind, I set out to reshape my practice and my center’s practice around the core principles of Positive Psychology and wellness first introduced by Dr. Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania.

These well-studied principles simply make sense when taking about treating individuals with substance use and mental health disorders.

There is a tendency for treatment orientations to be deterministic in nature.  What has drawn me to Positive Psychology is its emphasis on the present and future.  Positive psychology does not discount the past — however, unlike other approaches, the past is not weighed as heavily in treating these disorders.

I find this to be a huge comfort to my clients and their families.

The following is a brief outline of the Theory of Well-Being developed by Dr. Seligman, who labels it “PERMA”:

P = Positive Emotion

E = Engagement

R = Relationships 

M = Meaning

A = Accomplishment.

All of these elements are invaluable to healthy living and are vital for a person seeking recovery from a substance use or mental disorder.

I’ll talk about each of these elements of well being in future blogs.  For now, I encourage you to think about how these elements can lead to recovery and a happy and fulfilling life.

Here’s more about PERMA and how to use it in real life.