My response to The humanistic psychology–positive psychology divide: Contrasts in philosophical foundations.

by Alan S. Waterman
American Psychologist, Vol 68(3), Apr 2013, 124-133. doi: 10.1037/a0032168 

 
(c) Paul T.P. Wong

Introduction

I agree with Waterman’s analysis of positive psychology (PP) and humanistic psychology’s (HP) divide, but cannot concur with his conclusion that the two camps “may best be advised to pursue separately their shared desire to understand and promote human potentials and well-being” (Waterman, 2013, p. 124). I provide reasons why maintaining the schism is not in the best interest of psychology, but cooperation and integration between these two camps will benefit both psychology and society.

 The Divide is Undesirable

The divide is undesirable for the progress of scientific psychology. Future historians of psychology may judge that the schism as tribal or territorial mentality based on self-imposed “denominational dogmas”. The heated debate between the two camps reminds me of some of the older controversies such as reinforcement vs. contiguity in learning theory, situation vs. trait in personality psychology. Such controversies were eventually resolved in recognizing the important contribution of the both sides of the divide. This may well happen to the current PP and HP debate.

 

If we objectively look at many of the areas in PP, such as meaning and well-being, we have to agree that these are complex phenomena, involving different aspects of the person. It makes sense that a comprehensive understanding would need a team of experts from PP, HP, neuroscience, constructivist and indigenous psychology. Such practice of involving multi-disciples and individuals with different expertise is quite common in more mature sciences.

If PP and HP continue to go their separate ways, both may suffer. PP will continue to rehash the same old PP variables with diminishing returns. How may more studies do we need to demonstrate that happiness is good for us? Likewise, HP will continue to recycle the same ideas from the giants of HP. While separation will eventually reach a saturation point resulting in stagnation and decline, integration between PP and HP may generate fresh new ideas. As a case in point, I (Wong, in press) have presented both logic and scientific evidence that the positive psychology of meaning seeking can be greatly enriched and broadened by incorporating the profound insights of Viktor Frankl.

 

Integration between PP and HP is Both Desirable and Attainable

 

Since 1998, I have been pursuing the mission of bridge-building between these two camps international meaning conferences I have organized since 2000 (Visit www.meaning.ca to learn more about meaning conferences). I have invited leaders from both camps to these conferences to encourage dialogue and mutual understanding. To name a few, over the years I have brought C. R. Snyder, George Vanier, Chris Peterson, Robert Emmons, Laura King, Todd Kashdan, and A. S. Waterman on the PP side and Ernesto Spinelli, Emmy VanDeuzen, Kirk Schneider, Louis Hoffman, Harris Friedman, and Jonathan Raskin on the HP side. I have not been able to get them to enter into dialogue even when there were seated on the same panel. Often, I felt the same pessimism experienced by Waterman (2013) and felt that they might be better off pursuing their own path.

 

But the graduate students of the leaders from both camps were excited by being exposed to divergent views on the same issue at the Meaning Conferences. Their enthusiastic reaction reinforces my conviction that history is on the side of synthesis and integration. When the old guards are replaced by younger researchers, they would be less bound by doctrinaires and more open to integrative ways of thinking.

 

In fact, the trend towards integration is already taking place on both sides of the divide. There are hopeful signs that the second generation of positive psychologists are more open to HP (Linley & Joseph, 2004; Sheldon, Kashdan, & Steger, 2011; Kashdan & Ciarrochi, 2013) and HP is more willing to embrace PP (Robbins & Friedman, 2008; Schneider, 2011; Wong, 2009, 2011)

 

Despite the difficulty of integrating HP and PP, as recognized by Waterman (2013), there are already many cases of successful integration by researchers well versed in the literature of both camps. My two edited volumes on The Human Quest for Meaning (Wong & Fry, 1998; Wong, 2013) contain many contributions based on integrating HP ideas and PP methodology, such as C. D., Ryff & B Singer’s chapter on the human condition and R. A. Emmons, P.M. Colby, and H. A Kaiser’s chapter on meaning recovery. Most recently, Peterson (2012) presented his research on what really matter, employing both qualitative and quantitative methods, similar to Wong (1998). These successes give me hope that when researchers put aside their “denominational allegiance” and official dogmatic positions, they work together and successfully integrate HP and PP to achieve a more complete understanding.

 

The wide appeal of PP may be based on its success in tapping into the same yearning for a positively oriented psychology that once embraced HP. If we can unite the expertise of both HP and PP, it would become a greater force to benefit psychology and society than each pursing its own path. I believe that if Waterman takes a broader and longer view, as I have done here, he would have agreed that integration between HP and PP is both desirable and attainable. In fact, I would argue that the future of psychology may depend on such integration.

 

References

 

Kashdan, T. B., & Ciarrochi, J. (2013). Mindfulness, acceptance, and positive psychology: The seven foundations of well-being. Oakland, CA: Context Press.

 

Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2004). Positive psychology in practice. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

 

Peterson, C. (2012, July). Meaning and Mattering: Perspectives from Positive Psychology. Keynote speech presented at the 7th Biennial International Meaning Conference, Toronto, Canada.

 

Robbins, B. D., & Friedman, H. (2008). Positive psychology and humanistic psychology The Humanistic Psychologist, 36.

Sheldon, K., Kashdan, T.B., & Steger, M.F. (2011) (Eds.). Designing positive
psychology: Taking stock and moving forward. Oxford University Press.

Wong, P. T. P. (in press). Viktor Frankl’s Meaning-Seeking Model and Positive Psychology. In A. Batthyany & P. Russo-Netzer (Eds.), Meaning in existential and positive psychology. New York, NY: Springer. Available at http://drpaulwong.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=190:viktor-frankls-meaning-seeking-model-and-positive-psychology&catid=49:meaning-therapy&Itemid=121

 

Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology, 52(2), 69-81.

 

Wong, P. T. P. (2009). Existential positive psychology. In S. Lopez (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of positive psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 361-368). Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell.

 

Wong, P. T. P.  & Fry, P.  (Eds.). (1998). The human quest for meaning: A handbook of psychological research and clinical applications. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.