Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why Psychology needs to be more "bipolar"

Forgive the expression, but I think psychology needs to be more bipolar.

Mainstream psychology has always been focused on two subjects: first, how to treat those with psychological maladies, and second, investigating the nature of the human mind and human behavior- how we work as sapient organisms. While important, these two subjects are not the complete package, I don't think. There is not enough emphasis on how to use psychological principles to improve or optimize one's life.

If clinical psychology is the negative end of the spectrum, humanistic or "positive" psychology is, well, obvious.

Positive psychology is a subset of psychology focused on discovering how a human being can live their life with maximum success and happiness. It's been around since the eighties, but has only recently, in the last decade or so, starting gathering momentum.

I've only got a B.A. and my specialty is clinical psychology, so unfortunately I'm not your best guy to inundate you on some of the big names in the field, but if academic text isn't your thing, there's another positive psychologist you can definitely look into. He's been practicing his craft for decades, and applying it to his own life with notable success. He doesn't call himself a psychologist, though. He calls himself the Dalai Lama.

People talk about the "supernatural" abilities possessed by some Buddhist monks with awe and respect. Of course there are things like levitation, which are probably the result of exaggerated firsthand accounts, but there are other things, too. For example, Buddhist monks have shown to be more resilient to the effects of stress, and have higher tolerance to physical pain.

Look into The Little Book of Happiness if you want to see a quick glance of what the Dalai Lama is about. If you want to see his words critiqued by a legitimate psychologist, read The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler M.D. In the latter, Cutler has many one on one talks with the Dalai Lama, critiquing his words and comparing the holy man's assertions with archival psychological research.

It's absolutely amazing how often the two fall parallel with each other.

There are precedents in our nascent global culture that are literally thousands of years old that show the importance of self-mastery. We are imperfect beings who have created an imperfect society, but the latter will not improve until the former does. I think positive psychology is the answer, and we can start by combining scientific research with insight from figures like the Dalai Lama.

Just a thought.