Positive psychological thinking has really emerged in the last 20 years, greatly influenced by the work of individuals such as Professor Martin Seligman. Working within a positive psychological framework means that we focus on building on people's strengths and developing resilience rather than 'fixing things that are broken.' Analysing success and building on it is far more effective than constant preoccupation with negatives. A key focus of positive psychology is enabling individuals to live their best lives, as independently and with as much control as we can give them. At Studio 3, we work with likeminded individuals such as the team at Lives Through Friends to support people to live 'Good Lives.'
The PERMA(H) Model
The PERMA(H) Model, developed by Professor Martin Seligman, is a model of happiness and flourishing which identifies six key components to achieving overall psychological well-being and happiness. These elements are considered essential for all people to promote well-being and achieve fulfilment. At Studio 3, this model is applied across the board as the basis for our positive psychological approach to supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities (IDs), autism, and a range of other conditions.
Understanding and applying the PERMA(H) model is one of the central elements of the Atlass training course, which focuses on stress management. The following key describes each of the six elements identified by Seligman in the PERMA(H) model, as well as indicating how this model can be employed towards helping individuals who require psychological support. Working to strengthen overall psychological well-being has been proven to reduce stress, increase coping, and prevent distressed behaviours from becoming more challenging by pre-emptively stopping them in their tracks.
How does Studio 3 utilise this framework of positive psychology?
The PERMA(H) model is an important part of our philosophy at Studio 3 because we believe in the power of positive psychology when supporting individuals with additional needs. De-escalation and crisis management training can only go so far. When supporting vulnerable people, their overall well-being and happiness should be an important factor, as people are less likely to engage in distressed behaviours or 'meltdown' when they are in a happy and stress-free environtment. Whilst most support systems tend to focus on reacting to behaviours which are considered ‘challenging,’ our philosophy regards these behaviours not as concerns, but as signs of distress which can be pro-actively prevented by anticipating their causes.
At Studio 3 we know the power overall well-being has over a person’s mental and physical health. We believe that by cultivating well-being – psychological, physical, emotional, social and environmental – rather than focusing on negative incidents, we can support individuals in a positive way which seeks not only to prevent behaviours of concern, but also to increase overall happiness and quality of life.
Here is what some of our training course participants have said about the PERMA(H) model:
"It is simple, so easy for front line staff to apply in their work and it fits with a person-centred philosophy"
"I think there are great strengths in applying the model to an organisational culture."
Positive Emotion. Seligman’s model of happiness proposes that focusing on positive emotion by recognising achievements, recording happy moments, and generally being positive and optimistic about the future is a key factor in an individual’s overall happiness.
Engagement. Everyone needs to feel fulfillment by engaging in activities which are of interest to them. Nurturing our interests by engaging in activities such as music, sport and hobbies can help us to achieve a sense of ‘flow’ – contented immersion in an activity. For people in supported living, engaging in immersive activities is especially important as it can help to reduce stress and promote happiness.
Relationships. As human beings, we thrive off of our relationships with other people, and for people with ASD’s, this can be a particularly challenging area of life. Seligman’s model proposes that nurturing healthy and strong relationships with those around us is a significant contributing factor towards our overall happiness.
Meaning. Having meaning and purpose in our daily lives is crucial for cultivating happiness and well-being. Focusing on creating meaning can have positive implications both for service users and their supporters, helping individuals to become more motivated and fulfilled in their work and their lives.
Achievement/Accomplishment. Achievement has been shown to produce a positive response in our psychological well-being, and this is no less true for individuals who may have some difficulty in accomplishing their goals. By nurturing environments in which supported individuals are able to achieve small daily goals and broader life goals, we can push these individuals to thrive and flourish, bringing meaning to their lives and boosting self-esteem.
The concept of happiness has been debated by many philosophers. Happiness has been the subject of a great deal of international research. Happiness is a ‘state of being;’ it is much more than doing things that just bring a smile to your face. There is a huge quantity of international research in this area and even an academic journal about happiness. Higher ratings of happiness are associated with longevity and may help prevent diseases such as coronary heart disease and even some cancers.
What can we do to enhance our sense of happiness?
40% of happiness may be determined by intentional activities, 50% genetic and 10% life circumstances (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon & Schkade, 2005). So there is a great deal we can do to develop our own happiness. Targeting happiness is also possible. Identify the key activities or situations that promote happiness and focus on doing more of them.
Rating your happiness
With people we may support in some way focusing on happiness rather than challenging behaviours may help develop a person to be more resilient. Atlass practitioners will routinely ask the people they support and their support staff to rate their happiness.
Here are 2 useful questions:
Question 1) In general how happy do you feel right this moment?
Rate this on a 10 point scale ranging from 10 = feeling ecstatic, joyous, fantastic to 0 = utterly depressed or completely down
Now rate the following:
Question 2) On average what percentage of the time do you feel happy?
For question 1 the average answer = 6.9
For question 2 the average = 54%
How did you do?
(adapted from Fordyce, 1998)
Read more about Martin Seligman's theory of happiness and well-being in his book Flourish, or here.
Positive Recording: An Atlass Tip
People are often asked to analyse and record behaviours of the people we support. Much of this involves looking at negative situations (swearing, physical behaviours). The same recording system can be used to analyse positive interactions (acts of kindness, smiling, other forms of happiness). The very act of doing this can lead to profound changes in how we view an individual.