Clinical psychology has predominantly focused upon the alleviation of human suffering through the assessment and treatment of psychopathology and disorders. As a result, mental health has then been conceptualized as dysfunction and/or disorder rather than as the presence of affirmative characteristics and traits.
In response to this school of thought, Positive Psychology emerged at the start of the new millennium. This novel movement expands upon the definition of mental health and well-being, emphasizing the need to develop a deeper sense of human potential and flourishing through facilitating the strengths and traits people have to optimally function, thrive, and essentially lead a meaningful and fulfilling life. Positive psychology, as a scientific field, commits toward identifying the sources of psychological wellness, and the institutions that facilitate their development (Lee Duckworth et al., 2005; Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009). Martin Seligman, credited as the father of Positive Psychology, explained that positive psychology complements the endeavor of traditional psychology (in ameliorating psychopathology) by recognizing and building on human strengths. In other words, the field advocates the “importance of using the scientific method to determine how things go right” (Positive Psychology Institute, Australia).
In turn, the study of mindfulness, as both a clinical intervention and theoretical framework, offers much to this emerging shift in clinical work. Shapiro & colleagues (2016) posit that mindfulness offers a unique and deeply healing element to the mental health professions, through its acceptance of negative and positive experiences as equally important and valid. The philosophy of mindful awareness or mindfulness was derived from the Buddhist tradition, however these techniques have recently emerged under scientific and clinical enquiry (Hayes & Wilson, 2003). Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, widely recognized father of contemporary, scientifically-based mindfulness, refers to mindfulness as the practice of “bringing attention purposefully, in the present moment & non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994).
Consistent with the positive psychology goal of promoting resilience, mindfulness incorporates goals such as enhancing well-being and awareness of the self and environment and simultaneously disciplining the mind and emotions. The principles of mindfulness have also been established as a promising intervention improving positive psychological processes, namely ‘flow’, forgiveness, hope and resilience. Wood and Tarrier (2010) posit the future of clinical psychology lies in the integration of positive psychology principles into research and daily practice of clinical work – where clinicians embrace a concept of wellbeing that validates the interdependence of negative and positive emotions, thoughts and experiences. The research literature, including those from Professor Kabat-Zinn and colleagues, additionally demonstrates that practicing mindfulness improves both physical and psychological symptoms as well as positive changes in health attitudes and behaviors. Maintaining a more mindful perspective on a daily basis, especially when under pressure, can facilitate flexible and adaptive behavior.
For more information on positive psychology and mindfulness, please refer to our information sheet below: