by Phoebe Atkinson

In one of WBI’s first iterations of the Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology (CiPP), Tal Ben-Shahar described coaching as “a natural home for positive psychology.” This suggests that coaching is an ideal vehicle through which the science of positive psychology can be applied. In other words, coaching and positive psychology go together like … chocolate and peanut butter.

Drawing on that understanding, WBI’s coaching courses apply foundational positive psychology concepts and build on core competencies from the field of coaching. Over the past years since graduating CiWPP, I’ve been adapting strategies and exploring the intersections of coaching and positive psychology. This makes sense since I work in the roles of both coach and psychotherapist.

Bringing New Methodologies into Coaching and Positive Psychology

Formally speaking, a goal is a desired future state. Therapists, coaches, educators, and trainers can learn how to incorporate experiential methods from psychodrama and sociodrama to help their clients actualize their goals.

By adding action methods such as psychodrama to the wisdom of coaching and therapy, practitioners can open up possibilities and expand their toolkit. Hence, they’re able to adapt and design powerful strategies to help improve client outcomes. And, at the same time, they’re increasing their own engagement and inspiration.

Enhancing Positive Visions and Experiences

Positive Psychology Coaches use a variety of methods to increase positive affect in a session. And they have regular strengths-based conversations to energize and activate creativity.

Coaches work with a client to plan and schedule positive experiences and create a positive vision for the client’s life. Research shows that these micro-practices are energizing and can boost mood. Positive emotions also help the client create a real and meaningful sense of their life.

Experiential Action as a Natural Partner to Coaching and Positive Psychology

As people move from “talking about something” into action, they experience the relevant dimensions of change. A century ago, psychologist William James said that, if you want to cultivate a quality, “you need to act as if you already possess that quality.”

In his book The As If Principle, author Richard Wise lays out the scientific research that elucidates James’ quote. Namely, the most effective way to change one’s thinking and feeling is to change one’s actions.

Action methods tap into the multiple intelligences available to a client as they work to uncover an approach to a preferred outcome. And neuroscience shows that emotions are central to motivation. When a client moves into experiential learning, their spontaneity is activated. Hence, this increases access to their intuition.

Action methods, combined with evidence-based positive psychology interventions such as generating positive emotions, ignite the broaden-and-build phenomenon. In turn, our creativity increases and our resources are optimized. Using a variety of such experiential tools, a coach can help clients overcome potential obstacles on the road to obtaining a desired behavioral change.

Multiple Selves/Parts Work

The Oscar-winning Pixar film Inside Out explored the concept of multiplicity, literally animating our different inner voices. Scientists from the field of positive psychology collaborated with the filmmakers for three years. They worked together to ensure an accurate portrayal of emotional science as expressed by the main character, Riley.

Coaches are trained to listen and to help their clients glean the wisdom from each different voice within. In psychodrama, we encourage working with different “parts” of the self, and use action to concretize these parts. We call this externalizing (inside out) as clients take on and expand into these roles.

Interpersonal Neurobiology, Coaching and Positive Psychology

Interpersonal neurobiology also works with parts. Its founder, Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, says that integration of these parts of self is at the core of well-being. Dr. Siegel emphasizes that we need to differentiate to integrate.

This involves recognizing the different components of the internal system of the psyche (thoughts, feelings, body sensations) as we work towards integration. “Separating to integrate” is indeed what we do with action methods, whether we are working in the frame of coaching or therapy. We meet the parts separately on the road to increased integration and well-being.

Future Projection and Visioning the Best Possible Future Self

The field of Positive Psychology Coaching draws from the the literature on multiple selves. And it taps into the “as if” phenomenon as related to psychological time travel. Positive Psychology Coaches help clients revisit their past (“mine for gold”) and step into their future self.

The positive psychology intervention “Future Best Self” is connected to the literature on possible selves and role theory. Visioning one’s future involves a client imagining themselves in the future. Exploring one’s possible selves provides an opportunity to learn about oneself. Clients gain insight into and restructure one’s priorities, and come to better understand their motives and emotional reactions.

Psychodrama, with its action methodology, maximizes the visioning process. Through the future projection technique, coaches guide clients to physically step into their future. They have a full-bodied experience, in a safe and supportive environment, of what that would feel like. Coaching and positive psychology research shows that this technique increases optimism and supports the goal-setting process.

Get Started on the Coaching and Positive Psychology Journey

Find out about WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching Certification, which begins with Positive Psychology Coaching Fundamentals.

Phoebe Atkinson

Phoebe Atkinson, LCSW-R, faculty member for the Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology and WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching Certification, is certified as a trainer, educator, and practitioner by the American Board of Examiners in psychodrama, sociometry, and group psychotherapy. She is licensed in New York State as a clinical social worker and is a board-certified coach. Phoebe has been an executive coach with the Executive Leadership Program at Rutgers Institute for Women’s Leadership for more than a decade. As a trainer, she is known for her warmth, clarity, and capacity to design and facilitate interactive learning environments.