Positive Psychology & Solution-Focused Strategies to Help Clients Survive and Thrive
Reviewer Beth Glanville
I was apprehensive upon picking up Bannink’s latest book, Post Traumatic Success: Positive Psychology and Solution-Focused Strategies to Help Clients Survive and Thrive, due to the incorporation of ‘Positive Psychology’ in the sub-title. The term is guaranteed to send a shiver down my spine, due to my biased misinterpretation of Positive Psychology as being all about ‘looking on the bright side’; ‘zipping it up’ or ‘just pasting on a smile’.
Reading through the preface quickly forced me to confront my prejudice, as Bannink’s rationale for writing the book – “to help individuals…transform what happened to them in the past to make them better instead of bitter” (p.xi) – and her focus on changing the focus of therapy from what is wrong with the client to what is right and working for them, resonated with me. In this way therapy can better help clients to thrive rather than solely survive: “treatment is not just fixing what is wrong;” writes Bannink, “it also is building what is right” (p.5).
The book is succinctly broken down into three components: ‘Theory’, ‘Applications’, and ‘Social Resilience’, while appendices consist of treatment protocols and resources that can be drawn on during therapy. Throughout the text Bannink incorporates over 100 exercises, more than 30 cases, and 40 stories to help develop the reader’s understanding of the topic, and provide support and ideas for better success when working from the standpoint of post-traumatic growth (PTG).
In Part I Bannink introduces the idea of PTG, and raises the notion that experiencing a traumatic event could “also [have] served as stimuli for developing personal and interpersonal skills and gaining new insights and a deeper meaning to life” (p.6). She talks about how increasing positive affect – through identifying resources and re-framing situations in a more positive light, for example – can help with the management of depression, and looks at the differences between a homeostatic notion of coping – or surviving – and growth that can occur in the wake of trauma, under the premise that “…getting rid of unhappiness is not the same thing as achieving happiness” (p.43). However, Bannink takes pains to stress that “A focus on growth should not come at the expense of empathy for pain and suffering,” (p.28) and that PTG cannot occur without “the trauma itself, which is not good in any way and undesirable” (p.28). Throughout Part I it becomes apparent that this book is not about denying or minimising the effects and impact of trauma, but about what positives can come out of trauma and how we can help clients move forward to realise the future that they truly want.
Part II looks at ways to apply post-traumatic success techniques in the therapy room, including when working with children. Bannink takes us through formulation, goal setting, progression, homework and follow-up sessions. She stresses the importance of the therapeutic relationship, addresses issues around resistance and looks at forward projections. She incorporates approach goals, self-compassion, and mindfulness techniques. Bannink stresses again the difference between purely reducing negative emotions, versus developing positive ones, citing a quote by Seligman (2011, p.54) that highlights this stance, and certainly struck a poignant chord with me: “As a therapist, once in a while I would help a patient get rid of all of his anger and anxiety and sadness. I thought I would then get a happy patient. But I never did, I got an empty patient” (p. 174).
In Part III Bannink considers working with couples, groups and teams, and advocates the “primary protective factor of PTSD [as] having relationships that provide care and support, create love and trust, and offer encouragement, both within and outside the family” (p.284). Bannink also talks of the need for further research and training in working in a solution-focused way, that centres on post-traumatic success and growth, in order for us to move beyond pathology and towards the future.
Post Traumatic Success is an engaging read that encouraged me to consider new ways of working that have, partly deliberately and partly inadvertently, already crept into my practice. Whether an initial sceptic like myself, or already an advocate of working with Positive Psychology and Solution-Focused approaches, Bannink’s book will help initiate, develop, and consolidate both established and fresh ways of working for both new and experienced therapists alike.
Beth Glanville is an Integrative Counsellor, working in private practice in Queens Park. She also works as a Counselling Assessor for Mind, and as a counsellor/trauma specialist with Transport for London.