Positive Youth Development
Applying Positive Psychology to Alcohol-Misusing Adolescents
During 2008-9 Miriam ran the UK’s first ever study of an application of positive psychology to vulnerable adolescents with issues of alcohol and drug misuse. It was an example of how positive psychology can be used to promote positive youth development with even the most disaffected of young people.
The study was hosted by In-Volve an alcohol & drug treatment service for young people and was funded by the Alcohol Education Research Council (AERC). The programme set a precedent in using a health model approach to ‘at risk’ adolescents with coaching as a tool rather than the usual treatment based on the disease model. Miriam developed a programme of 8 sessions based on the main themes from positive psychology. The young participants, most of whom were binge-drinking teenagers and NEETs (not in education, employment or training), attended a weekly session and were followed up 6 and 12 weeks after completion of the programme.
The results themselves were very positive with increases across four dimensions of well-being – hedonic, eudaimonic, physical and social-wellbeing and a significant decrease in alcohol dependence. Many of the participants described the programme as ‘life-changing’ and there was evidence of transformation both internally in mindsets and externally in circumstances. The study shows that positive psychology can be used with vulnerable and disaffected young people, who’ve moved beyond the risk into the reality of social, educational and health problems.
- Alcohol dependence fell by two-thirds.
- Drug use declined becoming a part-time rather than full-time activity. Several participants gave up altogether.
- Statistically significant increases in happiness, optimism and positive emotions.
- The development of a future goal orientation. Participants set and achieved goals, becoming optimistic about their futures.
- The ratio of positive to negative emotions increased with evidence of the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions at work. Many of the participants went into a state of flourishing.
- 80% re-engaged with education. 40% gained new jobs. 40% were re-housed into more suitable accommodation.
- Coaching with positive psychology works well with vulnerable adolescents. The coaching question of ‘what do you want’ orients young people towards their future and motivates them to take steps towards achieving their goals.
You can read the academic article based on this pioneering research in the Journal of Groupwork. If you are interested in running a programme such as this, please get in touch. The results speak for themselves!
Some of the organisations we’ve collaborated with to support Positive Youth Development.
Positive Psychology in Education
Happy children do better in school – they are more productive, creative and successful. The world of education is beginning to recognise these benefits of positive psychology in increasing well-being amongst students and staff and the advantages of enabling people to work to and develop their strengths. Positive psychology programmes have also demonstrated that learning optimism prevents depression and anxiety in children, roughly halving their incidence over the following two years.
There are positive psychology initiatives in both the state and private sectors in the UK:
- In Newham, East London a well-being curriculum is being established
- Wellington College in Berkshire has a well-being programme
- Rookesbury Park School in Hampshire is developing into a ‘school of strengths’
- The Penn Resilience Programme (PRP) is a resilience programme for children, which was created at the University of Pennsylvania. This programme is now being piloted in the UK.
Positive Psychology Training and colleagues have been involved in many of these initiatives. Our speciality is in positive youth development, in particular positive psychology for disaffected young people.