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Positive Psychology and Psychological Suffering

Updated on February 6, 2019
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Charlotte likes pretty things, and she loves the beach, sushi, coffee and seashells.

What is Positive Psychology?
What is Positive Psychology? | Source

What is positive psychology?

The use of positive psychological interventions may be considered as a complementary strategy in mental health promotion and treatment. A study was done to see if positive psychology could help patients in regards to their overall well-being, especially their psychological well-being. Was positive psychology able to help lessen the patient's depressive symptoms? The results of the study showed that positive psychology can be effective in the enhancement of the patient's wellbeing while reducing the patient's depressive symptoms. The usual established treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, problem solving therapy, and interpersonal therapy. Mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Under this definition well-being and positive functioning are core elements of mental health. Psychological well-being focuses on the optimal functioning of the individual and includes concepts such as mastery, hope and purpose in life. (Boiler, 2013) Positive psychology as a science is based on three pillars the first is a positive life experience for individuals – exploiting positive emotions. The second pillar is a person’s positive physical properties – exploiting positive personality traits, mainly virtues and strengths, but also aptitudes. The third pillar is a positive society – exploiting positive social institutions, in particular those such as democracy, a strong family, and education which promotes positive development. (Pluskota, 2014) At this time, positive psychology is considered a newish trend, even though its roots lie deep into psychology's beginnings. The aim if positive psychology is to change the focus from being what's negative in life, to those things that are considered positive in life. Positive psychology can be used as a tool to assist patients to increase their well-being. However, there is a real need for well-designed PPIs (Positive Psychology Interventions) using standardized psychometric measures and RCT methodology to test whether the benefits found in non-clinical populations can be replicated with a clinical population to similarly improve their well-being. (Macaskill, 2016)

What is Psychological Suffering?

Physical pain, an aversive state related to actual or potential injury and disease; social pain, an aversive emotion associated to social exclusion; and psychological pain, a negative emotion induced by incentive loss. (Papini, 2015) Scientists who study pain and doctors who treat pain consider the psychological suffering within strictly physical phenomenon context, in the sense that it can only be caused by injury to the body. Pain occurs when receptors on nerve cells in the skin and internal organs detect potentially damaging stimuli, a pinprick, for example, or high temperatures. (Biro, 2010) An example is pulling an arm from a flame. The body is able to use a finely tuned biological system to prevent further damage to the human and to begin the healing process. If a patient is not suffering physical injury, is he patient experiencing psychological suffering? Their nociceptors, at least with respect to these particular feelings, remain silent, sending no distress signal to the brain. Therefore, their feelings are not really pain but something categorically different, what the professionals prefer to call suffering or anguish. There is an argument, in the scientific community that psychological pain does not exist. There has to be an understanding on why there can be severe injury and no pain (wounded soldiers in battle) and, conversely, no injury and severe pain (migraine, fibromyalgia). And do we truly understand how the brain processes pain? Interestingly, in the brain, the sensory center (in the somatosensory cortex) and the affective center (in the anterior cingulate and insula cortices) are not only spatially apart but dissociable: that is, a person can have the sensation of pain but not feel pain. (Grahek, 2007) Some patients have a condition call pain asymbolia. This is where they may still be able to feel a needle prick, but they will laugh at the insignificance, so there is a disconnection from the sensation and feeling of pain, and even the complexity of pain. It's more than just signals to the somatosensory or anterior cingulate cortex. Its behaviors, feelings, cognitions and memory. Issues like this force the rigidness of the scientific community to soften a bit to allow for new discoveries, within the brain, to be made. Medicine dictates that pain is a signal of physical injury to the body. This is regardless of evidence contradicting the linkage. Medicine dictates this despite the many patients who have truly experienced psychological pain.

Positive Psychology and Psychological Suffering References

Biro, D. (2010). Is There Such a Thing as Psychological Pain? And Why It Matters. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 34(4), 658–667.

Bolier, L., Haverman, M., Westerhof, G. J., Riper, H., Smit, F., & Bohlmeijer, E. (2013). Positive psychology interventions: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. BMC Public Health, 13, 119.

Grahek N. (2007) Feeling Pain and Being in Pain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Macaskill, A. (2016). Review of Positive Psychology Applications in Clinical Medical Populations. Healthcare, 4(3), 66.

Papini, M. (2016) Behavioral neuroscience of psychological pain. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015 Jan; 48:53-69. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.11.012. Epub 2014 Nov 25.Pluskota, A. (2014). The application of positive psychology in the practice of education. SpringerPlus, 3, 147.

© 2018 Charlotte Doyle


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    • Charlotte Doyle profile imageAUTHOR

      Charlotte Doyle 

      19 months ago from Texas

      Thank you!

    • daniellepopovits profile image

      Danielle Popovits 

      19 months ago from Traverse City, MI

      Great article!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 years ago from UK

      It is a sad fact of modern day living that so many suffer from psychological issues.


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