Psychology and student counseling of all kinds have been found on college campuses for many years. Even colleges that do not have staff psychologists are likely to recommend outside practices for students experiencing mental health problems. Psychology has a lot to offer struggling students, but there is a new game in town that may work even better. Positive psychology uses many of the insights achieved over decades of psychological research, but focuses on personal strengths rather than pathology.
Pathology there may be, but focus on this is often not for the best possible benefit to students struggling with mental health. There are students who are genuinely disturbed with problems that cannot be easily remedied with therapy or medication. But for every one of these, there are many other students who are experiencing mental health difficulties for much simpler problems.
- Diet, Sleep, Exercise. Student life is demanding. Many students don’t have any money to spare. Their diet is poor. Their class and assignment schedule is demanding. If you take a sleep-deprived student with poor diet and sedentary living, you’d be surprised if you didn’t find mental health problems present. These mental health problems run rampant on college campuses. It doesn’t mean that, in every case, there is some lurking pathology that needs to be endlessly probed.
- Change. Many students are overwhelmed with sudden change. Some are homesick. Some don’t have the life skills necessary to take proper care of themselves. Many are having intense new experiences that they might not quite know how to handle. It doesn’t mean that their mental illness is chronic or needs traditional psychology beyond what is generally recommended.
However, positive psychology may offer a lot to these students. Rather than focusing on an illness, real or imagined, positive psychology tries to give the positive aspects of the students’ lives room and fuel to grow. The techniques of the positive psychologist are diverse, but always try to focus on the things in the student’s life that are already working. By giving these areas the encouragement they need to thrive, it’s much easier to prop up the areas of life that aren’t working as fluidly.
Positive psychology examples include keeping a gratitude journal. This is a discipline of mindfulness much like meditation (another example of positive psychology in action). It allows the student to take time out of their day to take thankful ownership of the things in life that are good for them. Rather than dwelling on the bad, the student can start to create a mental attitude of positivity, one much more ready to thrive in the college environment.
With the help of an experienced positive psychologist, a student who is experiencing difficulty can find an ally in life. They can learn to self-reinforce the best kind of things for their own lives. With practice, the student can even learn the skills they need to do this work on their own. It’s a much better strategy for a population of students that isn’t necessary pathological – just in need of someone to come alongside them and give them encouragement and positive skill sets.