Learned Hopefulness – review of ‘The Hope Circuit’ by Martin Seligman
The autobiography of one of the most important psychologists of our time is a great read for anyone who is committed to encouraging individuals or populations to flourish. Building on his earliest work on ‘learned helplessness’, this far reaching and inspirational book tells the story of the author’s role in transforming psychology over the last 50 years, culminating in the most recent discoveries of positive psychology: that we don’t learn helplessness in the face of defeat, we actually learn hope in early life given the right opportunities.
Martin Seligman rocked my world in 1992: his first pop psychology book ‘Learned Optimism’ was essential reading in the first ‘positive psychology’ module in the UK which I studied as part of my own intercalated degree in psychology. Along with Maslow and Csikszentmihalyi, he shaped my own career, leading me to Public Health, and then to work as an Executive Coach developing leaders and professionals in their careers using positive psychology theory.
‘The Hope Circuit’ paints a deeply personal and political journey of a globally significant academic and leadership career. The warring factions between scientists and practitioners, behaviourists and cognitivists, pharma, government, US military, and philanthropic funders are exposed, with a mixture of good humour and also a real vulnerability to exposing the distress which certain events caused the author.
Along with many highlights relating to the evolution of this branch of science, there are some poignant insights. Clinical psychology did not exist as a discipline, and in order to test the application of academic psychology to real people, a new role was created for the author as ‘Visiting Associate Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry’. Later on, as President of the American Psychological Association, in order to bring together warring factions, Seligman was tasked with being a transformational leader. The child of Jewish refugees, a moving statement that the ‘US army stood between my family and the Holocaust’ explains why he wanted to work with the army to use his skills to support the wellbeing of US soldiers post 9/11; however his career was severely marred as a consequence due to allegations that he colluded in psychological aspects of torture, which were never confirmed and which he strongly denies.
Whether you’ve been engrossed in the transformation of the discipline of psychology from disease to wellbeing over the last 50 years or you are interested in the concept of ‘positive psychology’, the activation of ‘the hope circuit’ in the brain is crucial to future wellbeing. I am confident that many clinicians, leaders and professionals will find something of interest in this substantial autobiography of a world class scientist.
Dr Fiona Day (MBChB, FFPH, Dip Occ Med, ILM 7 Executive Coaching and Mentoring) is a Leadership and Career Coach and helps Doctors and Healthcare Professionals to succeed as Leaders and to improve their careers and working lives, using evidence based psychological theory and behaviour change science. Download a free career planning workbook and find out more at www.fionadayconsulting.co.uk; to explore working with Fiona please book a confidential half hour Career Consultation here.
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