What’s in a name?

While studying on the MAPP (Masters in Positive Psychology) a question that was discussed from time to time was the future of Positive Psychology and whether the name Positive Psychology was the most appropriate name for the discipline. This came about because Positive Psychology does not just focus on the positive aspects of life, it embraces all of life including the negative, the distressing and the challenging. One name that was suggested was Health Psychology, but that title already belongs to another specific discipline. I thought this was a great idea because it is completely relevant as Positive Psychology focuses on health, not illness, in comparison to so much of Psychology. However, as I said this name was already taken, but it is a subject that I often find myself pondering over.

Resilience = Growth

I now think the term Preventative Psychology is a term that could be used because so much of Positive Psychology focuses on research and tools to give people the buffers they need to cope when negative things befall them, in other words, to increase their resilience. For example, by practising gratitude we can shift our attention from negative, destructive thoughts to appreciation and a more positive state of mind from which we can grow.

Prevention (focusing on the negative) and growth are not diametrically opposed, I consider them to be parts of the same construct and the negative aspects that we may want to prevent, are vital in our pathway to growth. If we just did the same thing throughout our life we would have no opportunities for growth, and by doing new things we are opening ourselves up to uncertainty and risk. You cannot have one without the other.

The strength of vulnerability

Brene Brown’s research into vulnerability illustrates this well. She focuses on those times when we feel emotionally exposed, maybe we are taking a risk or a controversial stance. This can lead to feelings of fear, loneliness, humiliation and even shame. While these are negative emotions that we all like to avoid, they also have benefits and by understanding the power of vulnerability, we can prevent those feelings from becoming dominant and in fact use them to help us grow. When we discard our ‘vulnerability armour,’ that is the illusion that we are strong, perfect and’ it doesn’t matter anyway,’ it allows us gain insights to ourselves, to find meaning and purpose and ultimately to grow.


Another example where prevention and growth go hand in hand, is by changing from a fixed to a growth mindset where difficulties are not seen as threats, but as opportunities for learning and growth. This has a growth element as well as a protective, preventative element, increasing resilience for when those times of stress happen.

Second Wave Positive Psychology

Now I wonder whether students on the MAPP still have this discussion. Positive Psychology has moved on and second wave Positive Psychology explicitly researches the negative aspects and experiences in life and examines the role they have in whole human development. To me this is the only way forward and can be seen as a positive cycle.

Second Wave Positive Psychology diagram

About the author: To find aout more about Bryony Shaw MAPP, please click here.


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