‘It’s a therapeutic match made in heaven’

Caralyn Cox on life as Director of Positive Psychology within online digital mental health.

I’ve always been passionate about helping people. In the ideas from positive psychology, I see the potential to (in Martin Seligman's phrase) catalyse a change, from a preoccupation with repairing the worst things in life, to also building the best qualities in people. It gives us a toolkit which suits an online platform. That’s where Precipeace comes in.

People who access this service may simply be looking for meaning, through to those tackling depression or anxiety. We have specialist mentors trained in anything from supporting people who may have gender dysphoria right through to helping to find the motivation to succeed at goals. On a daily basis I’m looking at how we provide the best service that we can, and match mentors to clients. I enjoy researching what’s new in the ever-changing field of mental health, and what’s been proven to work.

My passion for the message of positive psychology has been my driving force. I believe in the science behind it and what it can bring to the table for people who are struggling. Using this paradigm as part of a therapy toolkit and then adding the robust input of CBT is a therapeutic match made in heaven. To have a platform such as Precipeace to promote that fusion is a fantastic way to reach many who need to access therapy quickly, rather than going on a waiting list for conventional face-to-face therapy.

MAPPing out a future
When I qualified with my MAPP (Master of Science in Applied Positive Psychology), I thought I’d carry on working as a coaching psychologist in Business. But as a fan of humanistic Psychology, it seemed a logical step to move into the Positive Psychology field, having taken a module in the subject as an undergraduate. I really felt at home with this emerging science.
I started to find myself becoming interested in online technology and what it could offer, in terms of a therapeutic solution and from the perspective of accessibility for all. Some people appear to be starting to view therapy like drive-through coffee shops, or online shopping with same day delivery. This is to be expected – we have come to be more and more technology-based in day-to-day living, so if people can access a therapist via their phone, they will find this much more convenient.

Initially my foray into technology-based therapy came about through chance. I was invited to be on an advisory board for a company called Precipeace, who were in the later stages of setting up an online provision. I enjoyed this so much, writing copy for on-boarding campaigns, checking legislation, preparing training manuals for therapists, and generally giving support where I could.

My input must have been valued – the CEO and co-founders Justin Wong and Tom Chao, who are the brains behind the technology, invited me to take my current role. I really wanted to make sure that we were punching our weight when applying the science of ‘what makes life worth living’ in a therapeutic setting. Positive Psychology doesn’t just tell people to ‘be happy’. Predominantly on our platform we’ve gone with Martin Seligman’s PERMA model, which points to five factors as leading to well-being – Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishment. This has been woven into the more conventional therapy base of CBT to tackle thoughts and feelings which may be holding clients back. We also use journaling as a means to explore feelings that can then be discussed with the therapists when a client logs on.
In my day-to-day work life I talk with the therapists or ‘mentors’, checking in to make sure that they too are feeling happy and are enjoying their work. It’s important for therapists to recognise when they need to talk. I often communicate with therapists from different time zones in the evening, so that we can talk in real time rather than playing catch up by email.

I also get to have creative input in making videos that visually enhance the service. The videos provide information on anything from the 3:1 ratio (propounded as a good way to improve relationships), through to savouring, how to flourish and goal setting. We send these to clients as emails and upload to the platform online, for those looking to learn more self-help mastery.
Many paths      
There are many careers paths emerging to accommodate the strengths of positive psychology in various and eclectic avenues of work life. I feel passionately about it, particularly having applied the strategies in my own life’s highs and lows. I guess if I was to look at challenges it would be getting the word out about what we do, which bridges a gap to access help when it’s needed.  

I remember being in a lecture on Positive Psychology a few years ago, and the suggestion was made that ‘Psychology proper’ had little time for this upstart trying to punch above its weight. I now firmly believe that Positive Psychology, in its more robust second wave, has the capacity to step up to the table and add something. Let’s talk!    

- Caralyn Cox is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. [email protected]

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