When the world of psychology was suffering from constant cynicism of Freud, Maslow came in as a ray of light on the positivity and true potential of humans. He tried to emphasize the goodness of humans and what they can achieve at full potential. His hierarchy of social needs is topped by transcendence; a human at his/her full potential. This school of thought was called the humanistic school.
It is hence natural that the humanists had a model of mental health as well. Their definitions focused on not just making a human survive; but flourish.
Positive Psychology on Mental Health
The idea of mental health as positive psychology is actually as old as the time of Aristotle. In this model, mental health is portrayed as a utopia where every human is at the maximum of their potential and possessing a ‘good character’. One might think that ‘good character’ isn’t in the purview of psychology but actually until the 20th century, psychologists often wrote about ‘moral insanity’.
They basically focus on inculcating optimism in every human. Maslow’s theories had come under attack for not giving any evidence and being unscientific. Positive psychology is different from humanistic psychology in that it tries to provide scientific evidence for its theories; otherwise they are practically the same.
Positive psychology actually dominates the definition of mental health in the modern world. The UN defines mental health as “a state of well being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” We can see that it has a lot of influence from positive psychology and as is obvious with everything that is famous, positive psychology also comes with a lot of cautions and pitfalls.
Drawbacks of This Model
There are loads of cautions that come with positive psychology. The first one is that since it has such a broad definition of mental health, can someone who is not happy with himself avail medical insurance for a mental illness? If the state of mental health is so broad and demanding, is everyone else mentally ill and hence qualified for health insurance? This definition puts a huge burden on the state of health insurance.
The other caution is one that was shared by Nietzsche, Darwin, Freud and Marx. It was that if we start promoting a state of optimism, we might make people ignorant to the hard realities of life. They didn’t see optimism as a virtue.
In spite of all these drawbacks, positive psychology is the brightest light in the world of psyche right now. Optimism includes ‘hope’ and that is something that isn’t studied a lot so far. This model is the one that is most apt in the current times.
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