Schizophrenia: A Meta-Analytical Feed

Schizophrenia: A Psycho-Social Intervention RSS

Gyrus Cinguli in Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia Research Forum News

Nature Neuroscience - AOP

Nature Neuroscience TOC

Science In The News Daily

Science News

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Positive Psychology

As an eternally optimistic medical student one of the reasons for which I was interested in psychiatry was that I wanted to figure out what are the mechanisms underlying happiness and personal growth.  But that is not the traditional focus for either psychiatry or western psychology.  When it comes to the mind or the brain our scientific interest has been in studying the abnormal and pathological with the idea that is the way to learn and understand what normal is.  This is a logically valid approach if normal and abnormal would be parts of the same continuum - in other words, qualitatively equivalent states that are mainly differentiated through quantitative differences.  But is this the case?  What if we are in fact looking at discrete, qualitatively different states?  Or, to put it differently: how much can we learn about happiness by looking at unhappiness and misery?  Can we understand serenity by studying anxiety or creativity by dissecting psychosis?

All these are questions that are still unanswered.

The reality is that we are just coming our of a century dominated by the Freudian (mis)conception that the goal of our interventions should be to help patients transform their “misery into common unhappiness” and, at the best, provide them “with a mental life that has been restored to health [so they] will be better armed against that unhappiness” (Breuer & Freud, 1895/1955, p. 305).  So, it's so much more refreshing to see that there is a new school of thinking proposing that happiness is common and achievable, while unhappiness is neither common nor normal.

This might seem like a purely academical point but is it really?  Consider this question: while agreeing that depression equals unhappiness what is the best intervention?
A. An intervention that would "fix" unhappiness?
B. An intervention that would promote happiness?
My answer would actually be C. Both.

We now know that the brain circuits responsible for feeling unhappy are not the same with the brain circuits responsible for feeling happy.  If that is the case then A and B interventions actually engage different brain circuits and by using both we are pulling in more resources that the brain can use.

While this is true most of our present day interventions, including both psychotherapy and medications, fall under the A category.

Here is where I see that value of positive psychology.  Building on the shoulders of Maslow's self actualization theory, positive psychology finally got it right: when it comes to happiness learning how to be happy might just be a better strategy than learning how not to be unhappy.

© Copyright Adrian Preda, M.D.

No comments: