What is Dynamic Positive Coaching Psychology?
A new approach to building mental resilience and maximizing personal potential.
By Arnon Levy Ph.D.
For historical reasons, clinical psychology and psychotherapy have evolved within the medical model that was aimed at healing mental sicknesses and neurotic and dysfunctional behaviors. Even now, the medical model dominates theories about the human psyche whose modern roots began with the groundbreaking insights of Freud. Although many changes have taken place since the days of Freud, the central conceptions he shaped are still dominant to this day. This fact is quite amazing as it is difficult to exaggerate the tremendous distance between the Victorian culture in which Freud grew up and acted and the internet culture of today.
Towards the last quarter of the twentieth century, the field of positive psychology (PP) burst into psychology and the general public’s awareness. PP challenged the medical model and set the goal of exploring the characteristics that “make life worth living.”
The unprecedented success of positive psychology seems to be related to several factors
- The revolution in psychological science in the 1960s was generated by humanistic psychology that was also called the human potential movement or the third force.
- The zeitgeist, the spirit of the time of the end of the last century, was expressed in the search for positive thinking and feelings, the realization of personal potential, and the search for an optimal way of life. This spirit was also expressed in the New Age movement and in countless self-help books.
- The uncompromised motivation of Martin Seligman during his tenure as APA chairman to promote this field as a central field in psychological research.
- The PP joining the research on flow initiated by Chizmentihley which is considered by many to be the beginning of modern happiness studies.
There is no doubt that positive emotions allow for improvement in life quality and in physical health and many studies in positive psychology have indicated a list of factors that enhance a person’s good feeling such as the expression of gratitude and forgiveness, promoting social connections, engaging in physical activity, having fun activities, setting goals, etc.
Some studies on positive psychology have discovered new causes that increase life satisfaction and some have provided a scientific basis for what many people already know from life experience.
Notwithstanding the tremendous contribution of research in positive psychology, the field has often encountered peer criticism about the methodology and its latent prescriptive tendency which is typically avoided in standard scientific research.
Human existence is complex, fraught with inevitable conditions of separation, uncertainty, frustrations, anger, stress, anxieties, and sometimes depression. These conditions cannot always be transformed into positive emotions and are often the source of creativity for creative people and are also the “fuel” that builds the resilience to deal with difficulties. People thrive in their lives not only from seeing the positive side of a situation but from overcoming stress and life difficulties. These human existential conditions are the melting pot of human culture.
As a result, the second wave of positive psychology (PP2), strongly sustained by Paul Wong, has recently begun to develop. PP2 aims to change the definition of the field and expand its horizons. This approach removed the focus of PP, from what seemed to be a somewhat narcissistic search for a positive life, into a dialectical approach of empathy and compassion and a search for meaning and the accomplishment of universal human values such as wisdom, freedom, fraternity, meaning, etc. The second wave extended the vision of PP but made it less positive and more existential.
So despite the great contribution of PP to research into positive behaviors and emotions and its unprecedented distribution among the general public, it does not seem that the world is going to a better place at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
One of the main reasons for this is that the discovery of new scientific knowledge or new knowledge, in general, does not change people’s behavior. Many people worldwide who tirelessly struggle for many years to lose weight know it. People, who know that smoking, alcohol, and drugs kill them prematurely still continue with their deadly habit. James Bugental, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, said that people are more afraid of change than of death.
So how do people change?
Before discussing this complex question that underlies all psychotherapies, we want to examine how the basic information that guides human and animal behaviors is created. In a nutshell, we can say that the basic information that guides behavior is known to be encrypted in the DNA and undergoes a process of effectuation of certain genes and the formation of new neural networks following the assimilation of new human experiences. This process occurs first and foremost at the evolutionary biological level at which human experiences as a species have been assimilated. This process was described by the Neuroscientist Dudai (1989): “In commemoration of the struggle of the first unicellular organisms in the primordial sea storms, the echoes of the heavy footsteps of the dinosaurs, the impressions of the heavy breathing of the primates fleeing from the tiger in the savannah – the imprint of all these is already embedded in our body before we even emerged into this world”. Hanson R. (2005) following Panksepp (1998) and Solmes&Turnbull (2005) describes three major human instinctual drives installed from birth in the brain by natural selection:
- he survival/adaptation program, designated to intercept life-threatening hazards. The control program to this is essentially centered in the amygdala and is operated by the cortisol and adrenalin hormones.
- A second aspect of the survival program is the seek/reward, mostly located in the ventral tegmentum. It is operated by dopamine and serotonin transmitters.
- A third brain program is that of attachment and interpersonal relations. It is mainly located in the anterior cingulate gyrus and is operated by oxytocin and prolactin (ibid).
These three programs naturally operate from birth and have to do with survival. The seeking program enables the newborn to look for his mother’s feeding nipple and get his reward. The attachment program is based on the infant’s deep bonding with his mother, which is also essential for survival. As the child grows up, these inborn programs gradually become independent of the child’s survival needs and integrated into his culture.
The attachment behavior develops into social relations and helps the individual to become part of the human community through socialization and acculturation. The search/reward program becomes a passion for exploration and a source of creativity, joy, and the search for human happiness.
Apart from the survival drives that nature has instilled in us, two other formative factors exist which shape the individual’s behaviors: the culture in which a person grows up and the unique way he internalizes and elaborates on his life experiences.
Human cultures have created a synergy with the brain and enhanced the activity of operational mechanisms embedded in it from birth. This synergy has probably led to the unprecedented human brain development and the success of humans and their domination over the world.
However, as sometimes happens, a “bug” in the course of natural selection has happened, causing a conflict in the integration of human culture into the control programs installed in the brain. The bug derives from the fact that the survival programs are designed to function in nature, while human cultures are symbolic environments, where the symbolic hazards are not life-threatening. So, when a person meets a symbolic hazard, such as facing his boss, confronting parental criticism, speaking before a group of colleagues, or going through an experience of shaming on social networks, the human organism behaves as if the symbolic hazard is life-threatening. The body generates fight, freeze, and flight responses and stress, and anxiety.
Consequently, the brain forms a new neuronal network (a syndrome) which is reactivated in similar situations in the future.
Because of this discordance, a large part of our learning throughout life, especially during the formative period of early age , is dysfunctional to our adaptation and is misleading. Dysfunctional learning shapes our personality and creates paradigms that block our growth and potential to thrive. It often generates fear, insecurity, and anxiety in the survival program, frustration, rage, and depression in the seeking/reward program, and isolation and separation distress in the attachment program.
Overcoming the growth/blocking paradigms is a necessary (yet not a sufficient) condition to achieve wellbeing. When we overcome the dysfunctional paradigms, the survival program may generate confidence, equanimity, and serenity. The seeking/reward program promotes curiosity, joy, happiness, and creativity, and the attachment system, caring, empathy, compassion, and love.
In Dynamic Positive Coaching Psychology, we use a very practical toolbox through a developmental approach aiming to generate authentic meanings in the client’s life through the implementation of different techniques of psychotherapy at different stages of the coaching process. This toolbox has been practiced for years by my students in a practicum where the students coached people in a Coaching Psychology approach and were supervised by my faculty teachers and myself.
More information about it could be found on my site www.studycoaching.org and more thoroughly in my new book “The Mindful Brain”. https://www.amazoamazon.com/…/B08WR51FCV/ref=x_gr_w_bb_sinn.com/gp/product/B08WR51FCV/ref=x_gr_w_bb_sin?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_bb_sin-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B08WR51FCV&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2T
Csikszentmihályi M. (2012): Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Tel Aviv: Opus (in Hebrew)
Dudayi I. (1989) Biology of memories Tel Aviv:Misrad Hbitachon (in Hebrew)
Hanson R. (2016) Hardwiring Happiness Tel Aviv: Matar books (In Hebrew)
Levy A. (2001) The Mindful Brain
Panksepp J. (1998) Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Solms, M.; Turnbull, O. (2005): The Brain and Inner World. Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad (in Hebrew)