We are entering the second stage of psychology, but the third can be imagined.
The first hundred years or so of psychology was focused on illness, especially within treatment. Having been initiated by physicians, the discipline was saturated with concepts of illness, wellness and a medical model of treatment. Anything that looked at prevention and positive emotional development was considered simplistic, or just not scientific.
Positive psychology began to gain momentum in the late 1990s, as Martin Seligman and others began to look at what was conducive to mental health which allows people to thrive (“Thrive” became the title of a later book by Seligman). Questions were asked about what characteristics and external factors would help a person to develop and maintain strong mental health. Research holds great promise not only for individual psychology, but for group and other dynamics.
Ancient philosophers saw their craft not as a academic career or a way to stimulate esoteric conversations, but rather as a way to attempt to determine what constituted “the good life”. Plato was among their number. Speculation revolved around what was required to live well, from morals to social interactions. The West is not yet ready to return to this area of study, but when it is ready to bring these considerations back into therapy, there will be Cynics, Stoics and other ancients to light the path.
Considerations for my Practice
How are these stages relevant to me and my practice? I devote very little time or energy to psychopathology. There are plenty of others who are in this stage, still. My emphasis is on Positive Psychology as an emerging movement and on the considerations of philosophy which might be helpful within the therapeutic environment – from Stoicism to Existentialism.