It lurks in Van Pelt, haunts students' dreams and sometimes is hard to detect, yet depression affects approximately 10 percent of all college students.
But a new treatment method -- called positive psychology -- is currently being developed on campus, gaining recognition nationwide and garnering approval from Counseling and Psychological Services at Penn.
According to the National Institute of Mental Heath, the prevalence of depression has been growing on campuses throughout the country, impacting nearly 19 million Americans.
Typically, in order to treat depression, "psychology looks at what's wrong with people," post-doctoral fellow Tracy Steen said.
However, "this field of psychology is half baked, only studying what's wrong with people and not what's right. We are studying this other half," Steen said.
Steen's description of the "other half" refers to a recent development in the field of psychology known as positive psychology.
Martin Seligman, a Fox Leadership professor of Psychology, developed this new field, having patients cultivate their signature strengths so they can "develop natural buffers against misfortune."
Positive psychology is still in its early stages but is indeed growing in popularity. In order to expand upon this field, student researchers -- including College seniors Katrina Goyco and Ross Bruch, along with College juniors Caroline Vendel and Rebecca Beyer -- are conducting a study entitled "Strengths in Close Relationships" for Seligman's research seminar.
These four researchers, according to Goyco, "will be examining the correlations between personal strengths and close relationships between friends, family and romantic partners."
In order to accomplish this goal, the study "is an extensive survey to gain insight into one's signature strengths, [which will prove] beneficial to both our subjects and the field of positive psychology," Beyer said, noting that the survey, along with other student research, can be found on the Web site for Penn's new Positive Psychology Center.
There are a total of 24 signature strengths that have been identified by Seligman, including qualities such as creativity, open-mindedness, authenticity, playfulness and an appreciation of beauty and excellence.
In order to establish this list of signature strengths, Seligman worked with University of Michigan professor Chris Peterson.
They "looked across many cultures and saw that these items were valued in all cultures, no matter what," Bruch said.
"By finding out one's top five signature strengths, one can capitalize on them more and take part in activities that bring out such strengths," Goyco said.
While positive psychology "can't change one's chemical nature, [it provides] concrete methods to looking at lives differently [and] promoting welfare and strength to mold one's life accordingly," Vendel said.
The student research will use a sophisticated computer program to "spit out results" to study participants, Bruch said.
"Each participant will get a bar graph of his strengths, as well as the strengths of his family members, lovers or friends who also participate" in the experiment, Vendel said.
Vendel added that in addition to receiving these bar graphs, participants will get a list of activities that correspond to one's signature strengths. For example, if a couple finds that each partner has a love for beauty, they can go to a museum together, Vendel explained.
The researchers plan to submit their research to a professional publication to expand upon this new field.
While these students look to find what makes a relationship complete, Tayyab Rashid of CAPS at Penn is putting together a clinical proposal to incorporate positive psychology into the treatment of students.
According to Rashid, positive psychology can "fix deficits by enhancing strengths, but not discounting negative emotions."
Rashid proposes that students who come to CAPS to seek help will be given an option of a positive psychology treatment. This treatment will entail eight to 10 treatment sessions to assess patients' "psychopathology and strengths, [and to] determine one's five signature strengths, and then come up with eight to 10 ways to use these strengths," Rashid said.
While research is not yet complete and the proposals are still being written, researchers said that positive psychology has a hopeful future.
"What students can't stand to be a little happier?" Bruch asked.Comments powered by Disqus
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