I’ve read a few books on positive psychology in the past year and the one thing I’ve realised is that there a massive amount of literature on something so new in such a short period of time. The kind of interest positive psychology has garnered is testament to the kind of pragmatism and energy it endorses. I won’t go into details but describe the effects I have observed and continue to observe daily in my work environment.
In the past few months, I have been working with clients that deal with mental health illnesses ranging from social anxiety to schizophrenia. Working with them, out in the community, I have learnt so much more about them than their psychiatrists and nurses ever will. They have opened up to me in ways that say, “I trust you to treat my fears and delights with respect.” It has become a relationship based on understanding and gratitude, hope and positivity, respect and kindness. Being a Mental Health Support Worker, I support them to get back into the community, to keep at bay discrimination and to ensure that they can learn to stand up for themselves once again. My job doesn’t require me to be a counsellor or a therapist or even an important part of their life. Even so, when I do extend my parameters just a little more, and lend a listening ear, a caring heart and an open mind, not only does it make my clients smile, it makes me feel good too.
Without indulging too much information about the people I work with, I would like to present examples of some work I’ve done with them and the changes I have observed.
One of my clients, say, J., has been a painter almost her entire life. She took an eight year involuntary hiatus from art as her illness wouldn’t allow her to continue. I started working with her about 3 months ago and since I am interested in art, we started having conversations about it. When she talked about painting, her face would light up and she would have so much to say. It became a growing and learning experience for both of us. She would tell me of techniques and artists and recommend me books. I would encourage her to start painting again and she would inspire me to pick up the brushes from where I had left them 5 months ago. It was a feeling of compassion that we both developed, arising from a common thread of art and creativity. Over time, I completed the painting that I had been putting aside for the fear of ruining it and she asked me if she could do my portrait.
She would pack her material and set it up at the work place, looking forward to a couple of hours of painting. I would sit for her and she would draw in absolute focus. The voices had disappeared and the eyes were once again bright with hope. I observed her invested in her activity and it gave me a chance to see flow in action. She forgot all that was around her, stepping back to squint at the picture to make out the tones. Such was her dedication that I could see how she loved what she was doing. The painting was in its third day, when one of my colleagues, passing by, did not respond to my client’s greeting and smile. This was a contrast to all the people passing by before, who stopped and chatted with my client, complimented her painting and so on. The reaction was at once both fascinating and frightening. My client was responding to voices once again for the next minute, consoling herself that everything was alright.
The positivity in the workplace, everybody’s happy faces was what had drawn my client to paint there in the first place. She felt safe and got some of her courage back, to venture out into the world of art again. A glimmer of negativity brought it down with itself, but only for a few minutes. Then she was back again. After the completion of the painting, she thanked me profusely for a “morale boost, motivation and giving her something to do with her free time.”
Having that kind of effect on someone’s life makes me feel like I can change anything I want to, as long as I have the power of motivation, happiness, positivity and kindness with me. I support clients daily, to make their own decisions by believing in themselves and their capacity to do the things they want to do. My clients who deal with social anxiety have trouble going into grocery stores themselves. I help them discover the power in themselves by showing them that they can do anything they want, whenever they want. It takes courage on their part to leave that dark side behind but I have seen the effects of positive thinking and I abide by them daily- in one way or another.
Positive psychology and art therapy in a manner of speaking are two of my favourite areas of study and they both have so much tapped and untapped potential to make people’s lives better. I am lucky to have found a place where I can see them both in action by applying it myself and to the others around me.