Diversity and Social Justice

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Character Strengths & Virtues in Context

Research in the field of positive psychology has often taken a universal or etic approach to constructs like character strengths and virtues. However, virtue ethics traditions tend to emphasize ways character strengths and virtues are shaped by particular cultural, religious, and philosophical traditions. Thus, we believe it is crucial to value and explore diverse understandings of character strengths and virtues and ways these constructs need to be nuanced and adapted across differing contexts. We find it helpful to utilize a dialectical approach to research using both etic and emic approaches to investigate generalizable patterns and exceptions to those patterns that are unique to particular persons and contexts. Our team includes scholars who experts in integrating research and practice on strengths and virtues with diversity awareness and cultural and religious contextualization.

Social Justice & Positive Psychology

There are important questions to ask about systemic justice and social power in relation to positive psychological functioning. We are encouraged by emerging efforts to bring positive psychology into conversation with critical psychology, multicultural psychology, and indigenous forms of psychology. Certain character strengths and virtues (e.g., hope, humility) have been found to be positively related to commitments to social justice, yet it is also important to better understand ways forces of social oppression tax human resilience and can compromise the expression of certain strengths and virtues. While the cultivation of healthy virtues often leads to flourishing, we are also listening to scholars who have noted the “burdened virtues” (Tessman, 2005) of some oppressed groups who have necessarily developed certain strengths for survival rather than well-being.

Diversity & Flourishing

Human flourishing also needs to be further investigated with (a) attention to diverse understandings of flourishing and (b) consideration of systemic and sociocultural factors that impact differences in flourishing. Holistic and communal forms of well-being represent mental health goals that better fit the cultural worldviews and values of many clients than does the disease model focus on symptom alleviation that dominates mental healthcare in the United States (US). Therefore, we are conducting clinical studies that assess holistic forms of well-being and flourishing as both processes and outcomes in various approaches to treatment while also tracking reductions in symptoms. Dismantling the mental health consequences of white supremacy, systemic racism, and other forms of oppression in the US also requires clinical research and practice that (a) examines pathways to flourishing for all people, not just dominant group members, and (b) interrogates organizational dynamics in mental healthcare that  perpetuate prejudice and inequities in flourishing. We are investigating the thesis that respecting and valuing human diversity is a vital aspect of positive mental health and flourishing in our contemporary world.