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Improving Teen Mental Health with Positive Psychology

The adolescent years have always been seen as a time when teens often pull away from their parents, develop their identities and assert their independence. But the unprecedented rate of depression, stress and anxiety among modern teens indicates they are facing unique challenges that require new and effective ways for improving the situation.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing and an applied approach to optimal functioning. Others have defined it as a psychological science that is concerned with strength and weakness; it is a practice focused on developing the best things in life as well as in repairing the worst. The field of positive psychology is intended to complement, not replace, traditional psychology. The practice fully acknowledges the importance of understanding how things go wrong, but it flips the focus and emphasizes using the scientific method to determine how things go right. Traditional psychological methods look at the causes and attempt to heal the damage of mental illnesses. Proponents of positive psychology believe that, while such approaches are necessary and important, they have neglected the positive side of life. Therefore, one of the principle aims of positive psychology has been to correct this imbalance by supplementing knowledge about suffering and mental illness with a great deal more knowledge about positive emotions, experiences and environments, along with human strengths and virtues.

Underlying Principles of Positive Psychology

Positive psychology represents a commitment to understand and develop the sources of mental wellness, not merely to combat the sources and repair the damage of mental illness. Underlying this approach are three important principles:

  • A good life is just as authentic, valid and real as a bad life. Desiring good things is not derived from unacceptable impulses. Neither are good things less important, illusory or otherwise suspect.
  • A good life is not merely a life with the absence of problems. There’s a big difference between simply not being depressed and facing the day with great enthusiasm.
  • A good life requires its own explanation. Simply taking an understanding of a bad life and reversing it will not suffice.

Positive Psychology is Real Science

Positive psychology should not be confused with untested feel-good anecdotes, sappy affirmations or guru-style pronouncements. It is not an academic repackaging of the self-help movement or some elevated version of “positive thinking.” Positive psychology is a truly scientific approach to psychological health and well-being. It utilizes controlled studies, theory falsification, replication to confirm findings, peer review and many other components vital to the scientific method. As such, positive psychology will stand or fall based on the science that underpins it.

Four Ways Positive Psychology Can Help

Despite the challenges confronting today’s adolescents, strategies drawn from positive psychology can help protect youth against mental illness. When teens learn to apply the science of strengths, gratitude, optimism and selflessness, it leads to positive outcomes in their lives. Research has demonstrated that when adolescents practice these strategies, they experience real benefits, including reduced symptoms of distress, anxiety and depression, minimized behavioral problems and greater satisfaction with their lives. Positive psychology elicits these benefits by actively pursuing four major goals:

  • Developing personal strengths. Helping teens rise to life’s challenges and to make the most of setbacks and adversity.
  • Fostering gratitude. Showing teens the value of engaging and relating to other people in positive ways that show appreciation and thankfulness, even for seemingly small or insignificant things.
  • Encouraging Optimism. Learning to find fulfillment in creativity and productivity as their own rewards and not merely as a means to an end.
  • Promoting Selflessness. Understanding the importance of looking beyond oneself and helping others to find lasting meaning, satisfaction and wisdom.

The approach of positive psychology is relatively young, but its strategies hold promise not only for alleviating suffering from mental illness, but also for increasing and maintaining happiness. Seeking professional treatment that offers positive psychology might be the best option for your teen. To learn more about teen mental health and addiction treatment services, give us a call now at 877-466-0620.