Describe How The Specific Counseling Theory Is Applied In A Group Setting To Guide Interventions

  • Describe how the specific counseling theory is applied in a group setting to guide interventions.
  • What evidence is provided in the article to support the effectiveness of the approach for the selected population and focus of the group?

Adlerian-Based Positive Group Counseling Interventions w ith Emotionally Troubled Youth

J. Steve Hamm, Jon Carlson, and Bengu Erguner-Tekinalp


The focus o f Adlerian therapy is to help individuals discover their resources and strengths, and to help them to be more encouraged in reaching their goals in a more functioning way. Recently, the positive psychology movement has become the ma­ jo r focus for researchers and mental health providers. Adlerian theory and ensuing humanistic approaches have been considered as the basis of positive psychology. Positive psychology— like Adlerian theory— calls for looking at individual strengths, virtues, and areas of well-being. This article describes an Adlerian-based group coun­ seling program which integrated positive psychology interventions with youth in a residential treatment center. This article describes how Adlerian theory aligns with the positive psychology interventions, along w ith recommendations for practitioners.

Keywords: Individual Psychology, positive psychology, strength-based, resilience, well-being, encouragement, posttraumatic growth

There has been an increasing interest in focusing on strengths, solutions, resilience, and thriving of individuals even after traumatic experiences. Alfred Adler has been considered as the forefather of such strength-based approaches (Erguner-Tekinalp, 2016; Carlson, Watts, & Maniacci, 2006). Within the last two decades, an interest has grown in studies and interven­ tions examining human strengths, virtues, and well-being with the increas­ ing popularity of the positive psychology movement (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). Positive psychology is defined as the scientific study of optimal human functioning (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). The goal of this alternative movement is to understand well-being rather than dis­ order, and not only how people recover or cope but also how individuals and communities thrive and flourish (Seligman, 2011). An effort has been made to change the focus of mental health professionals from focusing on what has been harmful in problematic and traumatic events to how individu­ als cope with, develop resilient capacities for, and even in some cases thrive through these negative experiences. The focus is more on what goes well with individuals rather than what goes wrong (Carlson, Watts, & Maniacci, 2006). This approach to helping is more complete as it identifies not only

The Journal o f Individual Psychology, Vol. 72, No. 4, W inter 2016 ©2016 by the University o f Texas Press

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the negative impact but also the individuals’ striving to overcome. It is very common for individuals to discover their strengths, gifts, and many posi­ tive traits through experiencing problems (Saleebey, 1992; 2000). As Adler repeatedly pointed out Individual Psychology as the “psychology of use” (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956), it is not about what a person has, but more about how a person uses what they have. Adlerian theory emphasizes that nature or nurture is inadequate in explaining the development of problems or coping. Rather, there is an emphasis on one’s ability to influence, inter­ pret, and create events as people have the capacity to transform the events and determine their own destinies (Adler, 1931; Corey, 2016). Therefore, in Adlerian therapy, just like in positive psychology, the focus is on how individuals overcome difficulties and what they gain out of such challenges. Although the traditional diagnostic lens stresses only what is wrong or harm­ ful, clients become more encouraged, empowered, and resilient when they realize skills, positive traits, and strengths they have. It is also important for clinicians to understand hardiness, resilience, and posttraumatic growth or thriving experiences of their clients (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 2013).

lust as Adlerians perceive their clients as discouraged individuals who have the inner strength and potential to overcome, strive from felt minus to felt plus, positive psychology calls for looking at individual strengths, virtues, and areas of well-being rather than focusing solely on pathology, weakness, and deficits. Current research in this area supports what Adler realized a century ago, that one of the best ways to remedy problems is to focus on identifying and developing client strengths, rather than focusing exclusively on their pathology. Positive psychology is a study of strengths and recogniz­ ing that pathology and weakness can be reduced by identifying, develop­ ing, and strengthening an individual’s positive qualities (Harris, Thoresen, & Lopez, 2007; Seligman, 2011; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). A wellness model to counseling which emphasizes prevention over remedia­ tion (Myers, 1992) has been adopted by Adlerians and became popular with the positive psychology movement. During the past twenty years, promising applications of positive psychology have supported increased confidence in the potential for interventions that focus on strengths to produce measurable change (Anderson & Lopez-Baez, 2008; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996). This new research in positive psychology provides evidence of Adlerian prin­ ciples in therapy.

The purpose of this article is to describe an Adlerian-based group coun­ seling utilizing positive psychology interventions with emotionally troubled youth in a residential treatment center. The interventions are applicable to various age groups and treatment foci, therefore can be used in various set­ tings. This article presents how these specific positive interventions converge with Adlerian therapy.



256 J. Steve Hamm , Jon Carlson, and Bengu Erguner-Tekinalp

Adlerian Theory as a Positive Therapy

Although not given credit by positive psychology researchers, Individual Psychology as the original positive psychology has been discussed by Adlerians (Erguner-Tekinalp, 2016; Carlson, Watts, & Maniacci, 2006; Watts, 2015) and by some constructivist humanistic authors within the context of positive psychology (Higgins & Gallagher, 2009). The positive psychol­ ogy movement has shifted psychology’s focus from understanding disease, weakness, and damage to understanding virtues and strengths, as well as from curing the suffering to building on well-being (Seligman, 2002).

There have been various criticisms of the positive psychology movement: (a) being an American lifestyle, specifically white-middle-class-centered and elitist (Christopher & Hickinbottom, 2008; Fernandez-Rios & Novo, 2012; Miller, 2008; Perez-Alvarez, 2016); (b) ignoring the previous psychological and philosophical context (Cowen & Kilmer, 2002); (c) ignoring the social, cultural, and environmental context of the concepts that are being studied (Fernandez-Rfos & Novo, 2012; McNulty & Fincham, 2012); and (d) lacking an overarching theoretical framework (Cowen & Kilmer, 2002). In this sense, as a holistic, strength-based, humanistic approach which focuses on indi­ viduals’ innate capacity to solve their problems through contributing to oth­ ers and emphasizes understanding the social cultural context of individuals, Adlerian theory presents itself as a unique approach that can provide a theo­ retical framework to the positive psychology movement. Adlerian theory’s general framework is closely related to positive psychology in general, and research and interventions in particular.

Adlerian-Based Positive Group Counseling

The following section describes a group counseling model which in­ tegrated Adlerian theory with positive psychology interventions. Group counseling was implemented with a group of male teenagers in a residen­ tial treatment center. In addition to their usual group and individual coun­ seling, these individuals volunteered to participate in a 12-week group counseling program.

The structure of the group closely followed an outline of group sessions and included interventions derived from a 14-session positive psychotherapy curriculum outlined in Magyar-Moe (2009). These interventions were empir­ ically validated (Seligman et al., 2005). Two interventions (intimate relation­ ships and family strengths) were not included as they contradicted with this particular population.

Adlerian-based positive group counseling aims to increase positive emo­ tion, engagement, and meaning by emphasizing individual strengths. The purpose is to teach participants specific skills to identify character strengths,



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and use them effectively w ith an overarching goal of reducing problems in behavior, emotions, and cognition. The interventions were designed to intentionally target aspects of the clients’ character in the areas of pleasure, engagement, and meaning (Seligman et al., 2005; Rashid, 2008). The group counseling process implemented follow ing Adlerian theoretical framework to understand the members and guide the sessions. Sessions were connected by giving homework and all homework was reviewed in the beginning of each session in terms of their applicability, ease of practice, and barriers in practicing the skills. As an Adlerian-based group counseling, the group’s process was seen as a psychoeducational process helping participants de­ velop awareness and meet life’s tasks in better ways, emphasizing a growth mindset, personal responsibility, equality, encouragement, and social inter­ est. Positive psychology interventions fit w ell w ith the Adlerian-based group counseling, as Adlerian theory emphasizes respectful, egalitarian, and op­ tim istic relationships understanding clients’ assets, abilities, personal re­ sources, and contributions (Watts, 2015).

Session 1: Lack of Positive Resources Maintains Psychopathology. The first session began w ith the facilitator providing an overview of group ex­ pectations and goals of group counseling. After introductions, participants were given a list of 24 signature strengths and were asked to identify five strengths. These “character strengths” (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004) were discussed in terms of their practical use in their relationships and inter­ actions (Rashid, 2008; Magyar-Moe, 2009). Signature strengths are a co l­ laborative, cross-cultural long-term effort that are described in six virtues, core characteristics— courage, justice, humanity, temperance, wisdom, and transcendence. These are assumed to be universally valued. The charac­ teristics associated w ith these virtues are identified as signature strengths. Emphasizing psychology of use, participants were encouraged to set goals that included using and enhancing their signature strengths through real-life exercises. As a holistic approach, Adlerian theory emphasizes not only fo­ cusing on the weaknesses of the individuals, but also on their strengths, con­ tributions, and creativity in solving their problems. Identifying and setting specific goals to effectively use the strengths aligns well w ith Adlerian theory.

Session 2; Identifying Signature Strengths. In the second session par­ ticipants were provided a copy of the Positive Psychotherapy Inventory- Children’s Version (Magyar-Moe, 2009) which provides scores in the areas of pleasure, engagement, and meaning, and— when added together— establishes an overall happiness score. Scores were interpreted for the group participants, and they were asked to identify areas that need additional at­ tention for increased happiness.

The participants then completed the VIA Strengths Survey for Children, which determined their top five signature strengths based on survey



258 J. Steve Hamm, Jon Carlson, and Bengu Erguner-Tekinalp

responses. These strengths identified through assessment were referenced in different contexts throughout the group w ith a goal of being able to assign meaning. The character strengths were discussed as intrinsic capacities and how finding ways to use identified strengths to express and accept encour­ agement, respect, and social interest help us feel fu lfille d and optim istic. The signature strengths were discussed in the context of striving to move from felt minus to felt plus. In addition, effective use of signature strengths was presented as a means to move from being self-centered to increased social interest, as well as moving from discouragement to encouragement. Since self-concept is defined as “the sum total of all the beliefs about who I am” (Carlson, Watts, & M aniacci, 2006, p. 56), it is important to explore the strengths of individuals to develop a holistic awareness of themselves as w ell as helping them change their problem-saturated, self-related lifestyle convictions. As individuals constantly strive for significance, completion, and perfection (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956), identifying their strengths w ill help them to strive in positive ways and for positive goals (Carlson & Englar-Carlson, 2016). In addition, helping individuals identify and use their strengths is a process of encouragement.

Session 3: Cultivation of Signature Strengths and Positive Experiences. The third session focused on form ulating specific, concrete, and achievable goals using one’s signature strengths. Focusing on goal development using strengths reminds participants about the “creative power of the self” (Watts, 2015), a reminder that they can create their own destinies.

In this session, the role of positive emotions in well-being was also dis­ cussed. Negativity bias is a tendency to focus on and remember the nega­ tive w hile overlooking the positive (Lopez & Snyder, 2009). The participants were encouraged to recognize positive experiences and cultivate the benefits from such positive experiences by simply remembering and m indfully pay­ ing attention to them.

At the end of this session the participants were provided journals to start a gratitude journal. They were instructed to identify three good things that happened during the day (big or small), and w rite them down, along w ith a description of the context in which they happened. The participants were asked to continue recording three positives each day throughout the dura­ tion of the group. This activity was presented as a way to m indfully combat negativity bias.

Session 4: Cood versus Bad Memories. This session began w ith a dis­ cussion of the gratitude journal assignment. The participants were asked if they had experienced any difficulty recalling specific good events, and were provided an opportunity to share their positive experiences w ith others. Next the facilitator introduced the topic of memories. The role of both good and bad memories was discussed— how they affect the present in terms of



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their maintenance of the symptoms of depression. “Adler emphasized the importance of not only recognizing the comforts of one’s life, but also the discomforts” (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956, p. 136). Recognizing that ad­ versity is unavoidable, participants were encouraged to express feelings of anger and bitterness. Then the effect of such feelings on depression and w e ll­ being were discussed.

Sessions three and four addressed the Adlerian notion of focusing on efforts to compensate for their self-perceived inferiority to others. These exer­ cises are designed to target the feelings of inferiority that may manifest from memories of one’s position in the fam ily constellation, especially given the population addressed, and the likelihood of past traumatic experiences.

Session 5: Forgiveness as an Expression of Social Interest. Forgiveness is viewed as a process that transforms anger and bitterness into feelings of neutrality or even into positive emotions (Enright & Coyle, 1998; Rashid, 2008; Magyar-Moe, 2009; W orthington, 2001). Social interest is an integral element of forgiving, as forgiveness is a process of replacing relationship- destructive responses w ith relationship-appropriate prosocial responses (McCullough, Root, Tabak, & W itvliet, 2009). Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, condoning, pardoning, or excusing the transgression; and the goal of forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation (Enright, 2001; Erguner- Tekinalp, 2007; W orthington, 2001). Factors which motivate forgiveness were described as careworthiness of the transgressor, expected value, sense of safety, and personality characteristics. In this sense, it can be assumed that both social interest and lifestyle are major antecedents of forgiveness. In this session, forgiveness was used to process participants’ efforts to compensate for their self-perceived inferiority to others. The forgiveness exercise was de­ signed to help clients regain a sense of superiority over the transgression, by allow ing themselves to let go of the unhealthy feelings they harbor.

Adler was a forerunner of a subjective approach to psychology that em­ phasizes the internal determinants of behavior such as values, beliefs, and attitudes. The forgiveness exercise was centered on encouraging participants to question the mistaken belief systems they hold onto that maintain their perception of inferiority to their transgressor. The participants were informed about what forgiveness is and is not, and the benefits of forgiveness. The participants were asked to think of a person against whom they are holding a grudge or w ith whom they have been in conflict. They then answered the fo llo w in g questions: “Flow is the grudge affecting you? Flow is the grudge affecting the other person?”

Participants were asked to w rite a letter in which they describe a trans­ gression that has been com m itted against them and the emotions related to the transgression. Then the participants were asked to process how it w ould be to forgive the transgressor (if appropriate). It is important to note that the



260 J. Steve Hamm, Jon Carlson, and Bengu Erguner-Tekinalp

purpose was not to send or discuss the contents of the letter with the trans­ gressor (Rashid, 2008; Magyar-Moe, 2009); rather it was starting a process of letting go. Adler claimed that social interest is required for healthy function­ ing, and the absence of social interest results in self-absorption, egocentric- ity, and an overidentification with the self (Leak & Leak, 2006). Forgiveness in this sense can be considered as an expression of social interest (McBrien, 2004). The importance of developing empathy— understanding the fragility and humanity of the offender (Worthington, 2001)— can be strengthened by developing social interest (McBrien, 2004), as social interest is character­ ized by not only focusing on self but also on the interest of others (Leak & Williams, 1989). Forgiveness allows development of compassion, empathy (McBrien, 2004), and understanding human beings as imperfect. Forgiveness allows creating a new meaning of a situation, the first step in encouragement (Eckstein, 1997). Forgiveness is an expression of social interest in both an in­ terpersonal and cosmic social feeling (McBrien, 2004) and a process that fa­ cilitates more encouraging interpersonal relationships. Social interest that is generated in the group setting was assumed to facilitate the forgiveness pro­ cess, and experiencing forgiveness would in return promote social interest.

Session 6: Gratitude: Enduring Thankfulness. In order to link the session with learning in previous sessions, gratitude was discussed in relation to good and bad memories (Rashid, 2008; Magyar-Moe, 2009). For individu­ als who are not satisfied with the past, gratitude may be the key to getting unstuck from past grudges or bitterness. Gratitude, in Adlerian theory, can be conceptualized as expressing and accepting encouragement, respect, and social interest, which in turn leads to fulfillment and optimism.

Gratitude is the willingness to perceive a positive outcome from an­ other person or a moral agent (Peizhen, FHongyan, Minyi, & Feifei, 2014). Individuals experience the emotion of gratitude when they affirm that some­ thing positive happened, and when they recognize someone else is largely responsible for this outcome (Watkins, Woodward, Stone, & Kolts, 2003). Gratitude therefore is an interpersonal process. Gratitude has also been de­ scribed as a trait, a tendency to recognize the contributions of others and respond with grateful emotions (McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002). In both of these conceptualizations, social interest seems to be the key for gratitude. When an individual’s basic movement is toward others, it would be easier for them to recognize the contributions of others. Gratitude is con­ ceived as a “moral barometer.” Someone (a “moral motivator”) benefited the individual, which encourages prosocial behavior and acts as a “moral reinforcer”— showing gratitude w ill increase the likelihood of the positive actions (McCullough, Kilpatrick, Emmons, & Larson, 2001). As a higher- level trait, gratitude is linked to having a higher sense of abundance and a tendency to notice and appreciate the contributions of others, as well as a



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tendency to savor small pleasures (Watkins et al., 2003). Gratitude is gener­ ated through noticing positive experiences and recognizing the source of positive experiences as outside of the self (Emmons & Stern, 2013). High levels of social interest, therefore, seem to be a factor in facilitating a grate­ ful outlook. The relationship between gratitude and social interest seems to be cyclical. Gratitude as an interpersonal process, appreciating the positive impact of others, is facilitated by social interest. As a process that encourages prosocial behaviors, gratitude then influences social interest.

Adlerians stress that helping others and expressing generosity is the path to mental health (Carlson, Englar-Carlson, & Emavardhana 2011). Since for­ giveness is a more d ifficu lt process than gratitude, an exercise that combines the principles of both gratitude and forgiveness was conducted. Fhrticipants were asked to think about a person they are holding a grudge against, and then recall and w rite as many things as they can about that person for which they are grateful. The goal was to help group members view the person in his or her entirety, and recalling gratitude w ill loosen the grudge and allow the process of forgiveness to occur.

The participants were additionally asked to think of a person w ho has made a difference, large or small, that they have not properly acknow l­ edged. For homework, participants were asked to w rite and present a letter of gratitude to someone, perhaps a staff member, who had never heard them express their gratitude. Both w riting and behavioral expressions of gratitude have been found effective in alleviating stress and promoting w ell-being (Isik & Erguner-Tekinalp, 2016; Emmons & M cCullough, 2003; Oguz-Duran & Tan, 2013; Watkins, et al., 2003).

Session 7: “Mid-Therapy Check.” This session was an overview of previ­ ous sessions, revisiting strategies learned and used, and also what barriers participants were facing transferring learning in the group to their daily lives. The importance of the cultivation of positive emotions was discussed in the group. The goals regarding using signature strengths were reviewed.

Session 8: Satisficing Instead of Maximizing. Participants were pre­ sented tw o processes in decision-making styles: being a satisficer or a maxi­ mizer (Schwartz, 2004). Satisficers set the criteria and they make a decision or take action as soon as the criteria are met. Maximizers, on the other hand, always try for the optimal decision, by making a decision after care­ fu lly examining every possibility to make sure they’re making the best pos­ sible choice (Schwartz, 2004). Participants were encouraged to think about the uncomfortable feelings associated w ith yearning for something beyond reach, in contrast to being appreciative and satisfied w ith what is attain­ able. Adlerians are concerned w ith understanding the private beliefs and strategies that each individual creates in childhood. This thought process and lifestyle serve as the individual’s reference for attitudes, behaviors, and



262 J. Steve Hamm, Jon Carlson, and Bengu Erguner-Tekinalp

their view of self, others, and the world. Having choices is important to well-being; however, too much choice actually can get in the way. This is especially true if you are a person w ho is often looking to get the best or to maximize (Magyar-Moe, 2009; Schwartz, 2004). The process of knowing all the possibilities, and pursuing all the possible alternatives when mak­ ing a choice or a decision is exhausting. The group members were encour­ aged to satisfice, or make a “good enough” choice or decision by searching through the alternatives until one is found that meets their needs. Individual Psychology purports change is possible. We are not stuck in our present situ­ ation, as our mind and perceptions can always change (Carlson et al., 2011). Adler suggests that a person’s subjective experience has strength over one’s true experience. This exercise aimed to encourage participants to consider that by changing their perception of their social experience, they can also change the quality of their experiences.

Session 9: Optimism and Hope. The aim of this session was defining the terms optimism and hope and showing the links between optimism and happiness. It is important to recognize that optimism does not entail simply thinking positively to reach goals, but noticing strengths and taking action to reach goals. Optim ism is having positive expectations in one’s life (Carver, Scheier, M iller, & Fulford, 2009). Optim ism is best explained by expectancy value theories, which presume behaviors are a reflection of goals that are pursued so an individual’s behaviors fit what is desirable to them (Carver & Scheier, 1998). O ptim istic or pessimistic explanatory style describes indi­ viduals’ habitual ways of explaining events in their lives (Peterson & Steen, 2009). In this sense, individuals’ private logic, lifestyle convictions, and mis­ taken beliefs are highly related w ith the explanatory styles, and therefore individuals’ level of optimism. Optim ism brings confidence and persistence when challenges are present (Carver et al., 2009). Optim ism in this sense can be explained by having a socially useful lifestyle (Mosak & Maniacci, 1999; Carlson & Englar-Carlson, 2016) rather than avoiding, getting, or ruling styles. O ptim istic lifestyle therefore can be conceptualized as moving toward the goals instead of against or away from them. Optimists not only expect positive outcomes but also actively work on gaining them. As Adlerian theory empha­ sizes individuals’ actions rather than passivity, the Adlerian group counseling combined w ith optimism activities aimed to help participants w ork toward reaching their goals. Optim ism is also highly relevant w ith Adlerian under­ standing of courage, which is described as having an optim istic outcome expectancy in terms of a risky situation and having the self-confidence to cope if the outcome is not positive (Dinkmeyer & Dreikurs, 2000).

Hope theory explains how individuals move closer to their goals by (a) having a perception that goals can be achieved, (b) generating pathways to achieve the goals, and (c) having the motivation to use the pathways to



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achieve the goals (Rand & Cheavens, 2009; Snyder, 2000). From this model, hope is a process of moving from felt minus to felt plus. Adlerian theory focuses on actions of the individual, therefore pathways as in psychol­ ogy of movement and agency as in courage to keep going fit well with an Adlerian framework.

Participants were asked to recall times in their lives when they lost out on something, a plan fell through, or they felt rejection, only to find out later that it provided new opportunities (Rashid, 2008). Participants filled out a “One Door Closes, Another Door Opens” worksheet (Magyar-Moe, 2009) and shared their responses with the group. Questions such as “H ow long after these doors closed were you able to see the doors that were opened? What, if anything, tends to get in the way of your ability to see the open doors? What can you do in the future when doors close on you, to more readily find the open doors?” were asked to process the activity.

It is important to recognize that optimism is not simply thinking positive. Adlerians identify optimism and hope as a future-oriented striving toward a goal of significance, superiority, or success. The integration of optimism and hope is a socially useful means to attain significance or superiority over gen­ eral difficulties and promote mental health. Social interest has been found to be significantly related to hope and optimism (Barlow, Tobin, & Schmidt, 2009). As a positive, action-oriented approach, the Adlerian therapy process is a process of creating actionable hope (Main & Boughner, 2011).

Session 10: Savoring. The session began with defining the term savoring as giving special attention to mindfully connect with and fully enjoy some­ thing (Bryant & Veroff, 2007). This calls for blocking out distractions and being present in the moment with the event or activity. Pleasurable activi­ ties enhance positive emotions (Rashid, 2008; Magyar-Moe, 2009). Through sharing and discussion, participants were able to identify strategies for sa­ voring. Attention was given to the benefits of sharing the experience with others: tell others about the pleasurable experience before it takes place, engage in the experience with others, if possible, and reminisce about the positive experience with others after it is over.

The broaden-and-build theory proposes that positive emotions, in real time or savoring the past, broaden individuals’ momentary awareness and bring out novelty and creativity, increasing thought-action repertoire. The broadened repertoire over time helps building new skills, intellectual, social, and psychological resources, and therefore one’s resilience (Fredrickson, 2004). Savoring positive experiences therefore helps individuals mindfully build on their psychological resources.

Adlerian or metta meditation can be taught to help people to cultivate compassion and develop empathy for others, deeply recognizing their in­ ner experience. This process also creates self-control and helps to better



264 J. Steve Hamm, Jon Carlson, and Bengu Erguner-Tekinalp

understand one’s role in relationships (Carlson, 2015; Love & Carlson, 2011 ; Carlson & Englar-Carlson, 2016).

Session 11: Gift of Time. The purpose of this session was to enhance sense of meaning and purpose in life by utilizing signature strengths to serve others. Adlerians recognize that each human being has the capacity for learn­ ing to live in harmony w ith society. The gift of tim e exercise supported devel­ opment of social connectedness. Participants were instructed that although giving their tim e to help others may not seem enjoyable or comfortable on the surface, most people find a deep sense of gratification and purpose after they have given to others. Participants were asked to identify situations where they helped someone else, w ithout expectation to receive something in re­ turn. Participants shared stories of deeds they had done, and the good feel­ ings that follow ed. The group discussed ways of using signature strengths to offer the gift of tim e in serving something much larger than the self (Magyar- Moe, 2009), and how they also could benefit from their actions. Research on kindness (Otake, Shimai, Tanaka-Matsumi, Otsui, & Fredrickson, 2006) and prosocial behaviors including prosocial spending (Aknin, Dunn, & Norton, 2012) demonstrated the positive impact of good deeds on well-being.

Adlerian theory sees human virtues of love and cooperation as sources of strength that buffer against the effects o f stress on w ell-being (Leak & Leak, 2006). For homework, participants were asked to create an opportunity to give the gift of time, by doing something that requires at least an hour of their tim e and energy, and whose creation calls on signature strengths. Discussion opportunities were presented to allow participants to share ideas as to how they w ould carry out the assignment.

Session 12: Full Life. The idea of having a full life which includes plea­ sure, engagement, and meaning was presented (Rashid, 2008; Magyar-Moe, 2009). Although happiness has been understood as joy or having more positive affect than negative affect, current research presents tw o general perspectives of happiness: in the hedonic approach, w ell-being is defined as pleasure attainment and having positive emotions; in the eudaimonic approach, on the other hand, w ell-being is described as having meaning, self-realization, actualization, and being fully functioning (Ryan & Deci, 2001). In this session, having a balance between a good life (hedonia) and a meaningful life (eudaimania), therefore creating a fu ll life was discussed. The concept of the full life seems to align w ell w ith the development of social interest, which results in feelings of identification, empathy, and connected­ ness. When fully developed, these feelings extend from the fam ily unit to large groups, and eventually to all of humankind (Barlow et al., 2009).

As a last session participants were asked to reflect on the different activ­ ities they engaged in throughout the group counseling process. Therapeutic progress, gains, and maintenance were discussed.



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Indicators of Effectiveness

The overarching goal of this project was to integrate Adlerian theory with positive psychology interventions. Exploration of strengths, practicing positive interventions actively, sharing in the group, and being encouraged by the group members and the leader stimulated participants’ willingness to actively engage in activities. Services for teens are more effective if the teens find them enjoyable. This group presented a significantly different group experience. Participants were afforded an opportunity to talk with their peers about what is right and what is working, rather than focusing on what is wrong.

Positive interventions ask the question, “What are you looking for?” rather than “What are you trying to get rid of?” Focusing on strengths cul­ tivates solutions and fosters potential. The teens in the positive counseling group offered a greater response to positive interventions than with the tra­ ditional problem-focused alternative. A positive approach in a residential program created a positive climate which seemed to feel less institutional and more like a home.

Undeniably, much has been gained by looking at problems. However, much more could be gained by exploring possibilities in addition to prob­ lems (Taku, Calhoun, Cann, &Tedeschi, 2008). Strength-based interventions have been identified as having created successful outcomes (Wolff, Greene, & Ollendick, 2008), yet the mainstay of treatment interventions seems to cling to the disease model (Seligman, 2011; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Identifying and enhancing existing strengths have the poten­ tial to facilitate enduring change (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005; Seligman etal., 2005).

The youth in this study presented with the highest level of acuity— termed “high-end”— and were therefore placed in residential treatment pro­ grams. Youth in this level of care often have a negative worldview and either find themselves at odds with the world or they escape reality in an effort to gain superiority. Positive interventions integrated with Adlerian principles created opportunities for youth to perceive the world in a different way, thereby challenging their private logic to pave the way to build a healthier and more effective lifestyle.

Prior to participating in the group, participants’ lifestyle was character­ ized by avoiding or combating adversity rather than focusing on what works and building on their strengths. Their perspectives concentrated on eradicat­ ing the problems, resulting in mistaken beliefs about themselves, others, and the world. The group offered opportunities to learn and practice socially use­ ful ways to face and resolve problems. The sessions were designed to teach youth ways to overcome adversity by shifting attention to what is working



266 J. Steve Hamm , Jon Carlson, and Bengu Erguner-Tekinalp

rather than what is broken. Group participants were not expected to reject their problems as insignificant. Rather they were encouraged to recognize they are not just passive recipients of environmental or genetic influences. Each of them realized their power to act on these influences as they wish and choose how they w ill interact w ith the world.

Interventions were presented in a positive manner, centered on prom ot­ ing clients’ strengths, and were supportive of client engagement. Participants shared stories, offering different views on integrating the skills, supporting and encouraging one another. A critical challenge of the group was to get buy-in from participants, as youth selected were already attending 3 to 4 groups per week as part of their treatment regimen. The positive nature of the curriculum and the notion of exploring and talking about strengths pre­ vented resistance. In contrast, it was observed that the positive energy gained in the group spilled outside the group through peer interactions.

Adler described striving for superiority as a fundamental fact of life that is innate to all humans. Teens moved beyond their felt inferiority and were highly engaged in interventions that helped them rise above their troubles to promote hope and w ell-being. Positive approaches helped youth gain control by identifying their strengths and empowered them to continually recreate themselves and find new ways to reach their goals by using their strengths. All behavior is goal-directed and people strive for what they be­ lieve is significant. Teens often need support and direction to figure out what is really significant in their lives. Positive counseling interventions helped participants prioritize what is significant for them to create a better, more meaningful, and therefore a fuller life.

The sessions presented in this article are versatile and can be im ple­ mented in any order, and each activity can be spread across m ultiple ses­ sions. Each session presented a new activity, focus, and skill to prevent hedonic adaptation, also known as hedonic treadm ill (the tendency to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness set point despite posi­ tive experiences) (Diener, Lucas, & Scollon, 2006). Sessions were linked w ith homework and discussions to promote continuity. Participants were given agency by figuring out various ways to implement the skills which helped them to be more encouraged in reaching their positive goals and be more encouraging to their peers.

Positive psychology interventions integrate w ell w ith an Adlerian coun­ seling framework, therefore can be considered by Adlerian practitioners, educators, and parent educators. It is also important to note that specific Adlerian techniques must be presented to positive psychology literature. Future research can be conducted to show the effectiveness of Adlerian interventions on w ell-being of individuals, as well as how Adlerian theory can be integrated w ith the positive psychology-based interventions.



Positive Psychology Interventions 267

Author’s Note

Parts of this paper were developed as part of the first author’s Capstone Project for a doctoral degree in counselor education and supervision at Governors State University.


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J. Steve Hamm, EdD, is the Redeploy Illinois program coordinator for Kankakee and Iroquois counties, Senior Therapist at Indian Oaks Academy in Manteno, Illinois, and adjunct faculty at Governors State University. His research interests are the integration of positive psychology, Adlerian and humanistic theory, and to influence resilience and well-being in an adoles­ cent population.

Jon Carlson, PsyD, EdD, ABPP, is a distinguished professor of Adlerian psy­ chology at the Center for Adlerian Practice & Scholarship at Adler University in Chicago and a psychologist at the Wellness Clinic in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He has authored 62 books, 180 articles and book chapters, and produced over 300 professional videos.

Bengu Erguner-Tekinalp, PhD, is an associate professor and program coor­ dinator in the Leadership and Counseling Department Counselor Education Program at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Her research interests are multicultural counseling, diversity, social justice, Adlerian and humanistic theory and therapy, and positive psychology.



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