It is peculiar for me to write this article about the psychotherapy I’m practicing… On one hand, I feel as if I’m breaking some sort of professional secret, something that I’m working with any potential client. On the other hand, I feel some sort of nostalgia, as I doubt I’ll ever manage to be a full practitioner, given the fact that I lack the required number of cases so as to finish supervision and be allowed to work with a full license. Chances are I won’t make it, since I have only a period of less than 3 years to gather the mandatory cases before my provisional license expires. But I wanted to leave the trace of Positive Psychotherapy on my blog – a portrayal of some basic elements of this school of psychotherapy.
Positive Psychotherapy is all about capacities or abilities. The main assumption is that humans have 2 main abilities: to love and to know. From them emerge all the other abilities. You can see some of them ordered in the two columns in the first image of this article. All the conflicts we experience happen between any 2 or more of those abilities. Some of those are also existential values. The nice thing about Positive Psychotherapy is that it is integrative and transcultural. Integrative means that we may use different techniques from different other schools of psychotherapy, keeping in mind that the essential attitude is psychodynamic (based on the psychoanalytical idea of unconscious) and humanistic. Transcultural means that the same abilities can be found across any culture or civilization, although the constellation of values differs from population to population. The creator of this school of therapy was Nossrat Peseschkian, a guy originating from the nowadays Iran, who moved to Germany, in Wiesbaden. This granted the huge flexibility of this psychotherapeutic approach. Here is the website of the World Association for Positive Psychotherapy.
Another core idea of this therapy is the balance model. Each person needs to have active four main existential areas so as to be pleased with life, areas that you can see around the first rhombus in the first image. Most of the clients seeking therapy aren’t happy with a particular corner of the first rhomb: senses, achievements, relationships and fantasy or future plans. Essentially, the areas are described in different words in the image, but practically we look at how the client satisfies his/her senses (including sport, sleep, eating, sexual life, and up to somatic/body problems/diseases), what are the professional achievements or how successful are they in their professional life (an area where reason/logic/cognition is mainly used), relationships with their partner/family/friends (the social life, usually following traditional patterns), and finally, the aspect of intuition expressed in their fantasies about the future and about the meaning in life. The idea is that the four areas must be balanced. To put it simpler, if you have satisfying sex and practice a sport, if you are ok in your professional life, if you have friends and socialize well, and if you have a decent number of future plans, you have no reasons to seek therapy. People who are ok with these areas and still encounter problems often need some form of counseling and this is pretty enough for them.
“You know, doc, I have a perfect life… I have a wonderful loving partner, I am highly active in my professional and social life and we’re planning to get married and…”
… and she bursts into tears…
I have seen this many times. Many movies have been made on this subject. Some persons don’t burst in tears but would tell you in a soft voice that they are not happy even when their lives seem perfect by all standards. Truth is, the first rhomb is made to cover mainly rational aspects of life – it’s the rhomb of happiness for a person taken as an individual being who possesses stuff. People are, however, in relationships. And people have, apart from knowledge, the ability to love. I know that the present society does not highlight this aspect, but it is fundamental for understanding the mechanism of loneliness and alienation of the human being.
Take a look at the second rhombus in the first image and at the second image, alternatively. It’s the same thing. Everybody can understand, using their capacity to know, the needs highlighted in the first rhomb, so I won’t insist, but the capacity to love and her rhomb needs to be explained thoroughly.
1. The way you love yourself is based on the model of the love you received from your parents/caregivers. If they were unloving, you will have a cold relationship with yourself. The fundamental question a child is asking is: are they accepting or rejecting me? If they reject me, you can imagine the outcome. If they accept me, we need to ask a second question: conditionally or unconditionally? If they accept/love unconditionally, everything is ok in this area. If they accept/love me on the condition of me being silent/proficient/you name it… I will learn to love myself only if… you name it… For instance, if the only time I can love myself is when I am successful in life, and during times of misery I despise myself, I am in the situation of conditional love towards myself, the internalized requirement being to be successful.
A second problem arises here when we talk about patience, time and models (abilities you can find as well in the column of love, in the first image). Ask yourself how patient are you with yourself, thinking about the patience your parents/caregivers had with you! How much time you allow to yourself? And so on.
A third problem is that the answers to these questions, and the fact that the child imitates the parental model of relationship with their child, give birth to 3 aspects of one’s life: self-image, self-esteem and confidence. By now you can understand the second image; everything is cascading from the center to the exterior. I don’t think I need to explain how conditional love can lead to dysfunctional confidence, for instance…
2. The way you love your partner is based on the model of relationship between your parents. The child sees, over the years, what happens between his parents, and what are the main values or the main protocols in case of… How do your parents deal with conflicts? What altruism means? How sincere are you supposed to be? The tricky issue of fidelity and how your parents dealt with it… what did you see in the intimacy of your family? You will do in your relationships pretty much what you saw in your family, with few exceptions (usually counter-models of things you found disturbing).
3. You attitude versus the social group is emulated after the way your family socialized. Don’t expect from a child coming from a family who lived in social isolation to enjoy having an open house to large crowds. If it happens to be so, think about additional issues, such as the other corners of the rhomb (having a lot of guests could also be seen as an achievement which guarantees self-acceptance in the relationship between I and myself, for instance, and is done with a lot of anxiety, not with pleasure). Here, at the third corner of the rhomb, lie the qualitative/quantitative aspects of social interactions: am I inviting people at home because I love being surrounded by them or because I have an interest, a professional advancement for instance, or the desire to shine socially?
4. You attitude versus life in general is emulated after the various attitudes/visions your parents had versus life on Earth. Imagine that one parent is a fervent Christian and the other is an atheist. You got the picture? Would it be a surprise to be confused then? Or acknowledge that life is absurd? Or having problems to find meaning in life? Or be thrown in doubt?
As you can see, things aren’t simple. The capacity to love is adding a lot of hassle in our life and creates situations that can’t be understood from a rational perspective. You then need to employ the emotional logic, and a decent understanding of this means to be able yourself to resonate emotionally. That is why psychology or psychotherapy are best practiced by primarily emotional human beings, and a rational individual is often the exception.
This article wasn’t intended to cover every aspect of Positive Psychotherapy. I only scratched the surface, enough to lift the curtain a bit, but safely enough so as not to share too much. Key concepts from this therapy are successfully employed in corporate training and leadership, especially the first rhomb that can be applied for team management and the capacities that can be applied for conflict management. The second rhomb can be used in coaching to some degree. Beware that both images are clickable and can be enlarged for clearer view.
The theory of Positive Psychotherapy is very arid. There are books in German but also in English and even in my native language, and you can find them online or in libraries. You can find a lot of info, but true mastery is putting together everything in a coherent form that can facilitate understanding and… change. And this can only be done in a real therapy setting. Otherwise, the knowledge from this article remains a barren space.