Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pivotal Forces in Personal Development

One of the more significant central themes to my life has been an intense curiosity to understand purpose of existence and a meaning to human life.  Because of this curiosity and drive, I am drawn to include, at least in part, the existential approach in my personal counseling theory.  Although initially driven by personal inclinations, I have found research suggesting that my curiosity, drive, and interest in the relationship between psychological health and a sense of purpose, contentment, and well-being is scientifically supported.  Ryff and Singer (1998) correlated purpose and meaning to contentment and well-being.  Brassai, Piko, & Steger (2011) found that meaning in life is relevant and is directly correlated with well-being and purpose in life.  Chamberlain and Zika (1998) found an inverse relationship between individuals who expressed having a sense of meaning and purpose in life and psychological health.  Steger, Oishi, & Kashdan (2009), Steger et al. (2010), and Wadsworth & Baker (1976) all found a similar connection between mental health and developing purpose in individuals’ personal life.

Neuroticism and other negative personality traits have been found inversely related to having deeper life experiences and meaning (Steger 1998).  Consequently, the foundations of my personal theory are predicated on the notion that others like me are compelled, whether consciously or otherwise, to gravitate toward maintaining or revitalizing an intrinsic sense of purpose and meaning.  I believe, then, that finding meaning and purpose in life is central to psychological health and must be a definitive component in healing.

I have always found value in human connection, especially during stressful experiences and significant loss or challenge.  Corey (2010) states that a caring and responsive counseling relationship gives clients a safety zone within which they feel free to self-explore and develop self-understanding and self-appreciation.  I do, however, see the importance of borrowing techniques from other approaches and perspectives, such as the emphasis of cognitive awareness in the cognitive behavioral approach, or exploring the interconnectedness of family members in family systems therapy.  After watching Perls in the Gloria videos at the Houston residency, I have even considered the value of the intensity and confrontation of Gestalt therapy.  All in all, though, considering my personal beliefs and values, I found great pleasure in Diener and Seligman’s (2004) findings.  They found that individuals who, through deep self-reflection and self-understanding, believe their own life matters, have a stronger and better defined sense of well-being.        

Rethinking Maslow’s hierarchy, my personal belief is that we all seek to fulfill basic human drives - not necessarily Freud’s darker, sexually, or mortally driven drives, but simply an intrinsic resonance to something less linear than the common physicality of human life.  Some people are able to progress via healthy internally driven responses, others must rely on maladapted ones that work as self-preserving mechanisms to move the Self forward to an often subconscious or unconscious goal.   I agree with Maslow, though, as he believed that humans strive for self-actualization or some personal translation of that goal. 

Ultimately, I find personal and professional support in Steger’s (1998) suggestion that "valuing one’s life, having a sense of direction and purpose, and being able to comprehend one’s experience seem contradictory to many manifestations of psychological distress" (p. 9).

Brassai, L., Piko, B. F., & Steger, M. F. (2011). Meaning in Life: Is It a Protective Factor for adolescents’ psychological health? International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 18, 44-  51. doi: 10.1007/s12529-010-9089-6

Chamberlain, K., & Zika, S. (1988). Religiosity, life meaning, and wellbeing: Some relationships in a sample of women. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 27, 411-420.

Corey, G. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson Brooks/Cole.

Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5, 1-31.

Steger, M. F. (1998). Experiencing meaning in life: Optimal functioning at the nexus of well-being, psychopathology, and spirituality. In The human quest for meaning: A handbook of psychological research and clinical applications (2nd ed., pp. 1-19). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Steger, M., Oishi, S., & Kashdan, T. (2009). Meaning in life across the life span: Levels and correlates of meaning in life from emerging adulthood to older adulthood. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(1), 43-52. doi: 10.1080/17439760802303127

Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (1998). The contours of positive human health. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 1-28.

Wadsworth, A. P., & Barker, H. R., Jr. (1976). A comparison of two treatments for depression: The antidepressive program vs. traditional therapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 32, 445-449.

Because I have recently been contacted by university instructors regarding their student's plagiarism of my work, I feel compelled to remind readers that using someone else's work is common (and good) practice, but please don't forget to give credit where credit is due.  If you use portions of my work, please reference it.  This blogsite comes up in plagiarism programs such as Turnitin, so for your own protection, please don't plagiarize!  This warning is, of course, for the very few individuals who have no interest in authentic scholarship.  Sadly, I must include this notice with every post.  

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