on 11 September 2007
Until this book, there was not an accessible source to which the coaching psychologist with an interest in applying positive psychology in their coaching practice can readily turn. And what might coaching psychologists be looking for in a book that purports to do this? An understanding of the scientific backbone of positive psychology? Ready applications to coaching psychology practice? Top tips and recommendations for applying positive psychology in the coaching psychology engagement to leverage strengths, enhance well-being, and drive performance? Or all of the above?
The coaching psychology community is fortunate to count Robert Biswas-Diener and Ben Dean amongst its numbers. For not only have they created and delivered a book that ticks all of these boxes, they have done so in a way that makes it a joy to read and an education in itself. They are uniquely qualified to do so. Robert has literally traveled to the furthest corners of the globe in his quest to understand subjective well-being and character strengths across hugely diverse cultures, including Greenland (where he worked with traditional hunters), Calcutta (where he worked with prostitutes), Israel (where he studied empathy in the West Bank), Kenya (where he worked with Maasai tribal people), and the American heartland (where he worked with the Amish). Ben developed and delivered the hugely successful Authentic Happiness Coaching program with positive psychology founder Martin E. P. Seligman, as well as running his own coach training organisation, MentorCoach, for over a decade. Their combined experience, expertise, and insight are apparent throughout the book.
Positive Psychology Coaching begins by taking a look at the coaching paradox (coaching has not yet reached its own full potential, despite helping others to achieve theirs) and the positive psychology solution (positive psychology can provide more of the theoretical, empirical, and conceptual maps that it is argued coaching needs to achieve its potential). It then explores happiness, positioning it as the goal that we rarely talk about but the pursuit of which we all engage in. The next two sections examine the two major foundations of positive psychology coaching: happiness and character strengths. Chapters three and four examine the core factors that influence happiness, as well as what we can do to cultivate them more, before considering specific tried-and-tested happiness interventions that readily lend themselves to the coaching psychology engagement. Chapters five, six and seven examine the application and use of strengths within coaching, dividing the focus between social strengths (fairness, social intelligence) and personal strengths (curiosity, optimism, creativity). The closing two chapters dive down into focusing on how coaches can help clients craft a perfect job before taking a bird's eye view of what the future of positive psychology coaching might hold.
Throughout, the book is replete with gems and insights that any coaching psychologist could use on any day of the week in any coaching psychology assignment. One of my favourites is reframing the family / work / exercise trade-off (i.e., I find it difficult to exercise because it takes time out of being with family or being at work) to a family / work / health trade-off (i.e., exercise enhances health, and health means we are better with our families and at work), making them complementary rather than competitive. On a personal level, that one really worked for me!
Positive Psychology Coaching is also seeded with the experiences and perspectives of positive psychology authorities from around the world, with the authors selecting key quotes from interviews conducted with these people to enhance the reader's understanding of what positive psychology coaching is all about and why it works. And periodically throughout, we are offered boxed review points for easy reference, and top tips for applications in our coaching work. This makes the book a valuable quick reference resource while preparing for a coaching session, as much as a volume to be read through. The appendix sets out a variety of ideas and offerings that can be tailored to individual coaching psychologists' needs and preferences for designing and delivering positive psychology coaching sessions, including strengths-based conversations, appreciative questioning, and the use of positive psychology assessments.
While ten positive psychologists would likely provide ten different answers as to what should be included in a consideration of positive psychology and coaching psychology, it would be churlish to criticise the book on these grounds. It doesn't include a section on flow, but it does address time orientation. It doesn't examine wisdom, but it does explore savouring. What is most important though, is how Biswas-Diener and Dean weave such a smooth narrative from the first page to the last. When starting reading, one is left feeling as if you are joining Robert on one of his famous journeys, and by the conclusion we not only arrive where we set out to be, but we have seen some fantastic things - and learned some important lessons - along the way. Positive Psychology Coaching is simply the best resource for coaching psychologists who want to introduce more of the positive into their practice. This review was published in the International Coaching Psychology Review (March 2007).