Last month, IPPA’s Positive Clinical Psychology Division saw the first pilot for its virtual peer consultation group. Led by Jennifer Brownstein, Psy.D., Margarita Tarragona, Ph.D., and Tayyab Rashid, Ph.D., the group provides a platform through which practitioners can discuss and share how they use positive psychology with their clients. The group aims to provide a supportive, safe environment that inspires collaboration and innovation, and is consistent with the American Psychological Association (APA)’s ethical code. A positive psychological approach underlies the process of the group, with a focus on members’ strengths and the encouragement to share both successes and challenges.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Brownstein and Dr. Tarragona about their motivations for the pilot and its broader application to positive clinical psychology.
What was your primary motivation for launching this group, and what do you hope group members get out of it?
Jennifer Brownstein: I did my doctorate in psychology in Boston and I’ve always had a passion for positive psychology. Throughout my doctoral degree I really wanted to create a sense of a positive psychology community, and I started a group because I felt that there wasn’t enough education for doctoral students about positive psychology, if that wasn’t your specific focus. I decided that I wanted to change the group as it developed to a peer consultation group. There wasn’t enough of a community that I was looking for just in my doctoral program, so I wanted to open it up to a larger community. I was attending a lot of conferences, and I met Margarita at the Canadian Conference on Positive Psychology. We teamed up together and decided that it would be great to start this group.
Margarita Tarragona: I really feel that as a practitioner, it’s important to have a community. In my experience as a therapist for many years, I had a group of colleagues that became good friends and we would get together weekly and have these conversations about what we were doing, and it was really stimulating, supportive, and hope-generating. I wanted to create something similar for the positive psychology community. Your skills [as a practitioner] are also something that you need to keep alive and keep developing in your interactions with others.
Jennifer Brownstein: Being a psychologist can also at times feel isolating, so the idea of having a community, especially a positive psychology community, is so beneficial to all of us because not everyone shares this perspective of looking at the whole person and looking at strengths. [We also wanted] to really bring theory into practice. I know Tayyab is working on a positive psychotherapy book, and I feel that the field is moving in this direction, and we’re moving with the direction of the field.
What do you hope this group might contribute to the field of positive psychology?
Margarita Tarragona: A sense of community for practitioners who are interested in bringing positive psychology into their work; a way of strengthening the theoretical and empirical understanding of how one can use positive psychology in one’s work; and giving shape to an emerging field.
Jennifer Brownstein: I think Margarita summarized it nicely. I find it really interesting how around the world we’re all working on the same thing, and I’m also curious to bring more groups in person and create communities within each city, so that way it’d be like looking at a larger picture.
What are some common challenges that people face when applying positive psychology to clinical settings that the group hopes to address?
Margarita Tarragona: Often times clinicians who read the research may find that there’s so much that it’s hard to conceptualize how to bring it into their practice. Others may not read the research itself and think about it as [merely] interventions. Of course those are important, but they’re not enough. It’s more than just interventions; it’s a philosophy about life and about therapy; a way of asking questions; and a way of putting positive psychology findings on the table for therapeutic conversation.
Jennifer Brownstein: What comes to mind is bringing theory into practice. Also the field of positive psychology is so new that there are so many interventions just yet to be created. [Making sure that] we remain scientific and evidence-based [is important], and also creating awareness in the psychology community in general.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a similar group?
Margarita Tarragona: Make sure that people have [the right] credentials and are licensed to practice [in their jurisdiction]. [Make sure that] people abide by professional ethical guidelines and protect confidentiality. Make clear what the group is and what it is not – it’s not group therapy for the participants, it’s not supervision. It’s a place where peers and colleagues can talk about their work, get ideas, and share resources. Provide a trusting environment of psychological safety where participants can feel that they can share their successes and the times when things didn’t go well, and that they won’t be judged or criticized. There is a certain vulnerability with sharing your work that should be honored. Ask what the participants want from the group, and to the extent that that’s possible, try to fulfill those wishes. Have a certain structure for the group; an agreement among the people who are going to participate about how the groups are going to run.
Jennifer Brownstein: We also provide guidelines about how the group is going to flow and to have a common language amongst us. It allows the group to take on an identity of its own because [it facilitates] an agreement about how we want to meet together as a group.
Anything else you want IPPA members to know?
Jennifer Brownstein: Encouraging them to reach out to us! We’re an open, welcoming community and are really looking forward to connecting with IPPA members and hearing about what they do in their practice, whether they have time to be in our group or not.