When you meet Margarita Tarragona, what you notice first is her warm and compassionate presence. She is quietly humble, elegant, and a wonderful communicator with a lifelong passion for learning.
As a professional, Margarita wears many hats: clinician, coach, writer, university professor. However, teaching positive psychology is her Ravel’s “Bolero”—her signature strength, you might say. She was the recipient of the 2021 IPPA (International Positive Psychology Association) Outstanding Practitioner Award at the 7th World Congress, for the “most outstanding excellence and impact in advancing positive psychology in ethical and evidence-based ways.”
Margarita sees this as a highlight of her career. “I identify myself as a clinician and educator, not a researcher,” she says. “So this award is particularly meaningful and has helped me own who I am and changed my narrative. I am a pracademic—practitioner and academic!”
Margarita is a psychologist who holds a PhD from the University of Chicago. She has rich positive psychology roots: In the 1980s, as a student of the late Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, she envisioned the applications of flow to the therapy process. Her love of learning then took her to the University of Pennsylvania MAPP (Master of Applied Positive Psychology) program, the first in the world to offer a degree in the field. Here, under the leadership of Martin Seligman, known as the father of positive psychology, she began exploring how concepts like wholebeing and flourishing could be grafted onto many different types of therapy.
After graduating from MAPP, Margarita enrolled in WBI’s Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology, and eventually became a WBI faculty member. Today she lectures on positive psychology at Penn and at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México. She is also the founder of PositivaMente, applying positive psychology in coaching, consulting and therapy—based on dialogue and collaboration rather than the traditionally hierarchical structures of therapy.
Along with positive psychology, Margarita has integrated narrative concepts, experiences, and exercises into her teaching and practice, exploring the idea that people create meaning in their lives that shows up in the stories they tell. Her book Positive Identities: Positive Psychology and Narrative Practices was one of the first to examine the integration of positive psychology and narrative into clinical practice.
“Personal narrative can be used as a powerful tool in therapy, education, coaching, and consulting,” she says. “We are all storytellers, and narrative practices are natural ways of working with people to help find alternate stories, rather than stories that are restrictive and limiting.” She sees people’s stories as “precious gifts” that practitioners need to handle with respect, curiosity, and care.
Narrative practice, perspective taking (“This too shall pass”), and best-self stories can be particularly supportive during challenging times, Margarita says, such as those we’ve experienced over the last two years. If you are a member of IPPA, you can join Margarita’s monthly clinical supervision group, in which an international group of clinicians share their best practices and offer support to each other. The group has experienced the COVID shifts together, reassessing their practices as therapy went online. Relationships, resilience, spiritual values, and loss have been some of the many topics of discussion. Margarita also created a series of mini podcasts offering positive psychology tools.
Gratitude is another positive psychology tool that has carried Margarita and her family through these past months. “Both of my adult sons were living at home, and I made gratitude jars for everyone,” she says. “The jars filled up—mostly with my little slips of paper! We would read them to each other and it was so joyful to share and savor the stories.”
Nancy Kirsner, PhD, TEP, OTR, has been in private practice, teaching, and consulting for 45 years. A graduate of WBI’s Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology, she loves translating positive psychology principles and research into applied practice, utilizing experiential learning. Nancy is co-author, with Phoebe Atkinson, of a chapter of the book Action Explorations: Using Psychodramatic Methods in Non-Therapeutic Settings. She is past president of the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama (ASGPP), and has been the editor of the ASGPP’s Psychodrama Network News since 2018.
Dr. Margarita Tarragona is the creator of the course Your Best You: Crafting Positive Life Stories at Wholebeing Institute. She is a psychologist who specializes in personal and relational transformation. As a clinician, coach, and organizational consultant, she incorporates scientific findings on flourishing from positive psychology with conversational and narrative ways of working with clients, with the goals of generating dialogue and expanding their life stories. Margarita is the author of Positive Identities: Positive Psychology and Narrative Practices.