Story by: Julie Acres
May 2 – 8, 2016 is the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) 65th Annual Mental Health Week . ECPS has decided to #GETLOUD for the cause, and speak with one of our leading experts within the field of mental health and well-being: Dr. Rhea Owens.
What do you think is one of the biggest stigmas around mental illness?
Often perceptions of individuals with psychological disorders, particularly those with severe mental illness, are negatively skewed. Commonly, there is little interest or emphasis on their strengths and well-being; rather, there is an implicit pull to focus on their weaknesses and symptoms. Research and practice in positive psychology challenges this notion and encourages the recognition and promotion of strengths regardless of the presence of disorders. Similarly, those who work with individuals with psychological disorders are encouraged to address their clients’ strengths and weaknesses and strive to enhance their well-being while addressing areas of concern.
If you could bring awareness to one mental health issue, which would it be?
If I had to select one message I would like to share with scholars, practitioners, and the public, it would be the importance of a balanced perspective and approach to addressing mental health. Individuals, with and without psychological disorders, have both strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, people tend to focus on weaknesses, and strengths often receive less attention. In clinical practice and every day life, it is important to not only address concerns, but to also foster areas of strengths.
“…it is important to not only address concerns, but to also foster areas of strengths.”
With this in mind, my colleagues and I recently developed the Balanced Diagnostic Impressions Model, which was designed to explicitly assess and note strengths and weaknesses across multiple facets of a person’s life (Owens, Magyar-Moe, & Lopez, 2015). These include: individual strengths (e.g., creativity), individual weaknesses (e.g., impulsivity), cultural assets (e.g., privileged SES status), cultural struggles (e.g., discrimination), environmental resources (e.g., supportive family), environmental deficits (e.g., lack of employment), physical wellness (e.g., healthy diet), physical health concerns (e.g., diabetes), and potential diagnoses (e.g., Major Depressive Disorder). It is our hope practitioners and scholars will use this model to assess and conceptualize their clients to cultivate a balanced perspective and promote mental health and well-being.
How does/could your research in positive psychology affect the mental health of others?
I hope that my research inspires parents, teachers, practitioners, and scholars to focus on individuals’ strengths and promote overall well-being, regardless of the presence of a psychological disorder. As Keyes and Lopez (2002) wisely noted, the absence of mental illness does not equate the presence of mental health. In other words, someone without a disorder is not necessarily flourishing or functioning to their optimal ability. I hope my work in positive psychology, particularly related to identifying and developing strengths, can help individuals recognize the power and potential behind using their strengths to enhance their lives. From a clinical standpoint, I hope my work encourages clinicians to assess and provide treatment from a balanced perspective—focusing on the client as a whole.
“I hope my work in positive psychology, particularly related to identifying and developing strengths, can help individuals recognize the power and potential behind using their strengths to enhance their lives.”
What kind of practices would you recommend for increasing mental health and well-being?
To increase mental health and well-being in every day life, a few recommendations I’d give include:
- Identifying and developing one’s strengths
- Purposefully eliciting and savouring moments of positive emotion, which can lead to additional health and social benefits
- Embracing an attitude of gratitude
- Utilizing and enhancing one’s social support network
- Fostering hopeful thinking
From a clinical standpoint, I’d also recommend:
- Learning about positive psychological approaches to psychotherapy (e.g., Strengths-Based Counseling, Strengths-Centered Therapy, Quality of Life Therapy, Well-being Therapy, Hope Therapy, and Positive Psychotherapy) and assessment (for a list of measures see Owens, Magyar-Moe, & Lopez, 2015); there are a number of options!
- Using the technique of positive empathy
- Labelling and promoting the development of strengths
- Using people-first language (e.g., “a person with schizophrenia” not a “schizophrenic”)
Rhea L. Owens, Ph.D.
is an Assistant Professor in Counselling Psychology in the Department of Educational & Counselling Psychology, and Special Education at the University British Columbia. Dr. Owens has a clinical specialty in the treatment and assessment of children, adolescents, and their families. Her research interests include positive psychological interventions and the assessment and development of strengths in the child and youth populations.
Dr. Rhea Owens graduated from the Counselling Psychology program at the University of Kansas and completed a child clinical internship at Children’s Mercy Hospitals & Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri.