Writing as a Positive Psychologist: Part 1

It is always interesting to learn about the writer behind the book. For example, I was delighted to find out that the passionate woman behind the memoir I am currently reading, Silver Pages on the Lawn, is well into her 90’s! Somehow that reassures me about my own aging. I was also delighted to find out that the mystery book I just read and loved, The First Rule of Ten, is written by a therapist, like myself. But more about that at the end of my story.

I am delighted to share my story as an author with you. Of course it began before many of the details I will now share. It began way back when my mother told her dreams every morning, and my dad spoke eloquently every day, about all items, large and small. It began when I bought the Girl Scout Diary in Reed’s Department Store for myself when I was 9, with the small lock and key. And it probably began even further back when my mother told me fantastic stories about herself and Melvin, the kid who teased her with exaggerated truths, who lived next door. But I’m going to take an author’s privilege and leap ahead to my grown-up days of writing as a professional psychologist. What follows now is part of a paper I gave at the Norwalk Community College Writer’s Conference several years ago:

The famous novelist, Proust stated, “The real voyage for discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but having new eyes.” In the 1990’s as a psychologist, I sought new landscapes, and was blessed instead with new eyes to see past the disease model, to the world of human potential that was right in front of me all the time. I had been researching, via case study methods, women outside of my practice to see how women handle childhood messages carried inside them, such as, “you’re dumb but beautiful” or “Make sure you get married before your beauty fades.” These are discouraging, judgmental messages, if they are not spoken, still ’heard’ clear as a bell. All the women I interviewed concurred with the above premise, giving me many personal examples. However, they had more to teach me. They showed me their strengths, capacities to grow and change, and what most amazed me, their capacities for happiness. These capacities were far beyond what the clinician usually discovers when she is looking through a lens that is primarily sensitive to pathology.

With my new ‘eyes’ I became certain that women, and I am sure most men, have greater capacities to restore themselves and enjoy themselves, than previously documented. I also realized we are not given enough signals in our society to help us feel positive about ourselves, or to recognize what makes us happy. We are not taught how to hold on to positive feelings, or how to bring them back and again and again.

My work appeared to be cut out for me. With my new awareness of what was right about my clients, rather than what was wrong, I was excitedly looking anew at the treatment room. I began to examine how we interact with our clients, how we set the stage for change, how we interview for information, how we teach our clients to view their past behaviors, how we listen and how we encourage a sense of well-being. I developed techniques for all of the above that could be used as a positive overlay for psychologists, regardless of their formal training and orientation. For example, when interviewing a new client, one can easily build in questions that encourage the client to talk about their earlier talents, strengths, lost potential and resilience. All of these treatment changes in questioning, listening and processing with the client took shape as The Enchanted Self, a Positive Therapy.

Soon, I realized I had a case book in the making. THE ENCHANTED SELF, a Positive Therapy, was published in 1997. The book, utilizing case studies, personal insights from my own life, reader exercises and even poetry, allows the reader to explore positive aspects of herself. If she is a therapist, she also learns how to make long overdue corrections in the treatment room. Many readers, therapists, and lay people, have thanked me for the positive paradigm shift I had so clearly outlined in the book. One psychiatrist from Sweden wrote to me that she had waited for years for someone to finally have the courage to make this long overdue correction in therapeutic model.

To be continued…

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