Psychology, Buddhism and neglect of positive emotions

Apologies for the hap-haphazardness of this post but i am rushing on train and I am going through material so fast that if i don’t post this now I will never catch up…

http://www.buddhanet.net/compassion.htm

After reading the article above I have to comment on what I think about the associations made between psychology and the recognition of positive emotions and Buddhist practices.

Firstly, the article suggests that throughout western psychology, in both research and treatment the focus is primarily on the role of negative emotions, which I agree with. Although psychology bases a lot of its findings on a lack of compassion, hope, happiness, kindness, these are not the emotions that are dealt with on a daily basis. Research, be it physiological or behavior-based is concerned with identifying root causes of negative emotions,such as anxiety, depression, and psychological treatments are based around the correction of these. The article suggests that this is due to the ‘disease model’ that western society has created.
However, I disagree that modern psychology has neglected the role of positive emotions entirely. Although research and behavior is often diagnosed and treated in accordance with these, there has been a vast amount of success seen in the recovery of patients who are taught techniques to enhance or control their use of empathy, compassion etc. Consequently, to say that all therapy is based upon the reversal of negative emotions would be narrow.
Especially within the treatment sector, much focus within the last 5 years has been surrounding self-help and improvement. This involves using patients existing positive emotions of compassion, happiness, love, kindness and building on them to encourage growth and renewal. Many therapists now offer sessions for those that are under no mental or emotional strain but wish to improve upon the quality of their well-being. This has also stemmed to treatment for those with anxiety, depression, low-self esteem as therapists have found successful methods of building on the positive emotions they already hold.
As well as seeping into treatment, the role of positive emotions has been addressed by multiple bodies of research including their impact on intelligence, creativity, and success.
When it comes to the specific views the article expresses toward compassion and empathy in line with the Buddhist faith, I am in total agreement. Although we look at the roles of positive emotions and their impact on our everyday behaviors, opinions, in western culture it is true that we forget that a state of happiness is also resultant of a psychological process. It is also true that we fail to distinguish a gradient between higher levels of compassion and a general concern for another being. In this sense, psychology, especially in the west is arguably concerned with diagnosis and treatment rather than allowing patients to explore their own emotions, which will often result in happiness as they learn to understand what makes them happy, when outside influences such as work, money, fame, popularity are taken out of the equation.
After reading around the topic my knowledge on both Buddhism and the role of the self in psychology has significantly increased. I’m still deciding if I think incorporating religious ideas within research and treatment is a good move as psychology is first and foremost recognized as a science, but perhaps this calls for a more distinguishing line between psychology as a science and psychology as influential in methods of treatment.

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