How to Become a Positive Psychologist – Career and Schooling Guide [2024]

Last Updated: June 1, 2024

What is Positive Psychology?

Rather than just treating the devastating effects of mental illnesses, the niche of positive psychology deals directly with helping patients to nurture their strengths, and to lead more fulfilling lives. Positive psychology, though relatively new, has introduced groundbreaking concepts regarding the treatment of patients suffering from debilitating mental and emotional disruption.

Running counter to the intensive self-examination advocated by Freud and Jung, the school of positive psychology emphasizes the importance of focusing on the things that are going right in a person’s life.

Positive psychology sees little benefit to the endless discussion of personal weaknesses, traumatic events, and fears. Instead, this niche focuses on buffering and amplifying individuals’ personal strengths so that they can in turn strengthen the community.

This field of psychology is also intensely interested in the ways in which social institutions and various other social groupings might enhance a person’s life.

What are the Three Pillars of Positive Psychology?

First proposed by Dr Martin E.P Seligman PhD in 2000, positive psychology is a framework encouraging people to focus on a positive outcome and life, and to identify effective and positive behaviours to promote that goal and help them on their way to achieving it.

The initial three pillars were:

  1. Positive Experience – this first pillar focuses on an individual’s experiencing of subjective happiness and well-being. It describes the need for positive experiences as a precursor for the goal, positive emotions. These emotions were suggested to be happiness in the present, satisfaction and contentment when thinking about past experiences and optimism and hope when contemplating future experiences.
  2. Positive Traits – in addition to experiences of positivity, it is suggested that these need to be anchored against personal positive character traits to make them most impactful and successful. Examples of these individual traits include (but are not limited to) wisdom, integrity and altruism.
  3. Positive Institutions – the only pillar without a focus on the individual, the third focuses on positive institutions and how they can help encourage individuals towards positive citizenship. This looks at features such as how the culture of positivity impacts upon workforce, and how that positive workplace experience can encourage others into engagement in positive citizenship.

It was initially described that by regularly and thoroughly engaging in activities that promote positive emotions, by learning how to maximize these emotions and by utilizing one’s skills and abilities to help the wider community, people could experience a “life well-lived”.

As the area continues to grow, the theory is continually evolving. Recent discussion has also focused on other contributing factors such as positive relationships but, despite developments, the three pillars of positive experience, positive traits and positive institutions remain.

What Do Positive Psychologists Study?

Positive psychologists study aspects of human psychology which are not pathological. Most of psychology has historically focused on the Deficit model – what is wrong with people, and treated pathology – mental illness and abnormal behavior. Positive psychology focuses on what is right with people – happiness, peak performance, success, accomplishment, resiliency, coping, competence, and adaptation.

Although the primary focus of positive psychology is on high functioning, the principles can be applied in psychotherapy to treat pathology, as positive psychology does not deny the reality of mental illness and suffering. Applications of positive psychology in psychotherapy include as assessment of strengths, resources, and supports as part of a clinical evaluation.

A treatment application of positive psychology would be to ask the exception question what is different when the problem is not occurring. Or the miracle question“what your life be like if the problem disappeared?”

What Does a Positive Psychologist Do?

Positive psychologists use a variety of means in order to develop their patient’s strengths. With therapeutic intervention, positive psychologists do not focus on their patient’s illness, but on ways in which their patients can lead lives which fulfill their intended life-purposes.

Positive psychologists work to improve not only the individuals they serve, but their entire communities. They also place incredible emphasis on strengthening individuals by improving familial bonds.

The field of positive psychology maintains that if clinicians focus only on a patient’s illness, the strengths and positive attributes of the patient may be lost and disregarded within the therapeutic framework. Those who conduct research within the field of positive psychology are interested in talent acquisition, pleasure, and personality traits.

Other areas of interest include relationships and institutions which encourage self-efficacy. Positive psychologists work hard to alter patients’ views of the world and their views of themselves. Their overall goal is create happy well-adjusted personas.

Positive psychologists do research into maximum human potential, understanding emotions such as happiness and hope, and how to apply this understanding to improving quality of life. Positive psychologists may integrate concepts such as emotional intelligence.

Positive psychology may seem similar to the Humanistic theories of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, which focus on positive growth and development, and striving for self-actualization. One difference is that Humanistic theory has long been considered a viable, but non-scientific approach, as many of its premises are philosophical, and are not objectively observable or falsifiable. Empirical evidence for the theories of positive psychology enhance its credibility as a specialty in psychology.

Positive psychologists may work in a variety of clinical settings. They may work with patients in custodial settings, and other individuals on an out-patient basis. Their primary responsibility is to maximize the good in their patients’ lives. Positive psychologists may also conduct therapy with groups and families.

The eventual goal of positive psychology is to end treatment after the patient has acquired the skills necessary to live a meaningful and joyful life.

What are the Degree Requirements to Become a Positive Psychologist?

Positive Psychologist Degrees

Licensed psychologist typically need a doctoral degree in psychology. After first obtaining an undergraduate degree, graduate students must study theories of personality, motivation, child development, self-efficacy, and much more. Additional educational emphasis may be placed on spirituality.

Graduate students in a positive psychology major learn the reasons why individual people and whole societies prosper and succeed. Students learn how to interpret these reasons and how the concepts and conclusions drawn from their research can be applied personally and professionally to cultures found around the world.

Work Experience Requirements

Those interested in becoming a licensed positive psychologist must undergo a internship process. Generally, students are required to work under a licensed clinical supervisor. Internships for positive psychology are usually conducted in school based clinics and in private practices. Students may find opportunities to work as positive psychologists in other state-run in-patient facilities.

Licensure Requirements

Psychologist licensure requirements vary from state to state. However, in general, a doctoral degree (APA accredited) is required for a psychologist licensure. Furthermore, all states require psychologists to complete a specified number of supervised hours of practice (under a licensed psychologist) in order to obtain psychologist licensure.

Board certification can be obtained from The American Board of Professional Psychology. Board certification generally asks that those applying have post-doctoral experience.

What Skills and Qualities are Needed for a Positive Psychologist?

There are a wide variety of personal skills required to become a positive psychologist. Firstly, one must have a clear sense of boundaries, and an inspiring personality. Positive psychologists are generally charismatic, supportive, empathetic, focused, and persuasive. They must be able and willing to see the best characteristic in even the most difficult of patients. Positive psychologists must be intensely interested in human relationships, and must be generally optimistic.

In addition to an optimistic personality, they should have working knowledge of various supplementary therapeutic techniques like Bamboo breathing. Successful positive psychologists have successfully undergone their own process in individual therapy. Additionally, positive psychologists must be kind, patient, unwavering in their support, non-judgmental, and predictable.

Where Does a Positive Psychologist Work?

Positive psychologists generally work in the following environments:

  • Academic institutes
  • Research firms
  • Human resource departments
  • Government agencies
  • Healthcare facilities
  • Life coaching
  • Guidance and career counseling departments (schools, colleges, and universities)

What is the Salary for a Positive Psychologist?

While there is no clear data relating only to positive psychologists, ZipRecruiter indicates that the average yearly salary for a counseling psychologist was $83,804 in February 2024, with top earners (90th percentile) earning over $124,000 per year. The financial yearly salary of positive psychologists (and all psychologists) is largely influenced by the amount of education obtained by the clinician.

If you would like to join the ranks of the highest earning psychologists in your field, it is recommended that you pursue and eventually obtain a doctoral degree, as well as various other specialty certifications.

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