What does it mean to flourish in life and relationships? Is that distinct from just feeling less depressed or anxious?
Over 25% of adults in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental disorder, making mental illness one of the most common health conditions, a leading cause of years of life lost due to disability, and a significant cost driver (roughly $2.5 trillion dollars annually). The disease model prominent within mental healthcare tends to view humans as “clusters of symptoms” with a primary focus on reducing these symptoms, rather than prioritizing a holistic sense of well-being, purpose, and flourishing.
There is growing interest in the principles of flourishing and character strengths in psychotherapy, yet these constructs are not well-integrated in everyday mental healthcare practice. Further, little is known about intervening mechanisms of change, as well as the potential contribution of therapist flourishing effects. Numerous models of psychotherapy emphasize interventions for the regulation of negative affect (e.g., anxiety, depression), however, we propose that affect regulation can also involve the up-regulation of positive affect (e.g., enjoyment, curiosity) that promotes psychosocial functioning.
Our three-year research project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, brings together four research centers across the United States to empirically examine the virtue ethics framework articulated by many cultural, philosophical, and religious traditions. Across diverse treatment approaches, we empirically test a shared conceptual model of gratitude, humility, and forgiveness in real-world settings, proposing that:
Growth in these relational virtues will facilitate both increased flourishing and reduced mental health symptoms.
Improved affect regulation will emerge as a mechanism of change by which growth in relational virtues impacts functioning.
Rather than developing a new standalone treatment, our team infuses a focus on virtues and flourishing into existent psychotherapy approaches for which there is already solid empirical evidence. Research sites will also explore patient engagement with strengths and skill development, enhanced capacities for savoring, mentalization, and the therapeutic alliance. Our end goal is to provide mental healthcare practitioners with a richer understanding of the human person and develop clinical treatment tools that include a robust focus on positive growth, not simply reduction of symptomatology.
Test the hypothesis that growth in relational virtues will predict growth in flourishing over time among patients in psychotherapy.
Investigate improvements in affect regulation as a transdiagnostic and transtheoretical mechanism of change linking relational virtues and flourishing.
Utilize researcher-clinician collaboration to evaluate innovative clinical tools related to virtue and flourishing and develop effective implementation strategies in real-world clinical settings.