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Positive coaching psychology: A case study in the hybridisation of positive psychology

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Positive psychology has fruitfully interacted with numerous other disciplines, creating new hybrid paradigms. One such instance involves coaching and coaching psychology, which share the field's focus on enhancing wellbeing and performance across life domains. As a result, there is an emergent interest in exploring their interaction with positive psychology, and developing frameworks for their integration. To shed further light on their relationship, this paper explores four perspectives on the intersections between these emerging fields, including (a) the fields as essentially coterminous; (b) positive psychology encompassing coaching psychology; (c) coaching psychology encompassing positive psychology; and (d) the fields as overlapping but not coterminous (the author's preferred perspective). More generally, the paper offers suggestions for how positive psychology can integrate with the various kinship fields in these processes of hybridisation.
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Running head: POSITIVE COACHING PSYCHOLOGY
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Positive coaching psychology: A case study in the hybridisation of positive psychology
Abstract
Positive psychology has fruitfully interacted with numerous other disciplines, creating new
hybrid paradigms. One such instance involves coaching and coaching psychology, which
share the field’s focus on enhancing wellbeing and performance across life domains. As a
result, there is an emergent interest in exploring their interaction with positive psychology,
and developing frameworks for their integration. To shed further light on their relationship,
this paper explores four perspectives on the intersections between these emerging fields,
including (a) the fields as essentially coterminous; (b) positive psychology encompassing
coaching psychology; (c) coaching psychology encompassing positive psychology; and (d)
the fields as overlapping but not coterminous (the authors preferred perspective). More
generally, the paper offers suggestions for how positive psychology can integrate with the
various kinship fields in these processes of hybridisation.
Keywords: positive psychology; coaching psychology; theory
Acknowledgements: Thank you to students and colleagues at the University of East
London, who have inspired and informed the analysis presented in this paper.
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Hybridising Positive Psychology
Since its inception, positive psychology (PP) has found itself becoming “twinned” with
myriad conceptually-similar disciplines. Such twinning is usually indicated by “positive”
being appended to the field in question. Thus, for instance, we find a panoply of hybrids such
as “positive social science” (Seligman, 1999), “positive social psychology” (Lomas, 2015b),
“positive education” (Seligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich, & Linkins, 2009), “positive health”
(Seligman, 2008), “positive health psychology” (Schmidt, Raque-Bogdan, Piontkowski, &
Schaefer, 2011), “positive neuropsychology” (Randolph, 2015), “positive psychotherapy”
(Seligman, Rashid, & Parks, 2006), “positive clinical psychology” (Wood & Tarrier, 2010),
“positive organizational scholarship” (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003), “positive
organizational behaviour” (Bakker & Schaufeli, 2008), “positive cross-cultural psychology”
(Lomas, 2015a), “positive art therapy” (Wilkinson & Chilton, 2013), “positive art” (Lomas,
2016), “positive sports psychology” (Salama-Younes, 2011), and, most relevantly here,
“positive psychology coaching” (Passmore & Oades, 2014).
How are we to regard such hybrids? One answer is that, in these cases, the prefix
“positive” serves a similar operational function as it does for PP itself. In that respect,
Pawelski (2016a, 2016b) has shed light on its functions. First, Pawelski (2016a) offers a
descriptive analysis of how the term functioned in the founding of PP, identifying five main
usages: (a) positive orientation (its basic direction, namely complementing the “negative”
focus of mainstream psychology); (b) positive topography (its main areas of study, e.g.,
strengths); (c) positive target population (its beneficiaries, mainly non-clinical populations);
(d) positive process (its approach for achieving desired outcomes, such as building good
qualities); and (e) positive aim (its ultimate purpose or goal, namely providing an empirical
vision for understanding and cultivating wellbeing) (p.343). Then, in a normative analysis,
Pawelski (2016b) suggests one inclusion criterion and five continuum criteria for identifying
something as positive. The inclusion criterion is simply preference, in that a phenomenon is
positive if its presence is preferred to its absence. The continuum criteria then indicate the
“degree” of positivity, with positivity a function of: (a) relative preference (the strength of the
preference for it over something else); (b) sustainability across time (the longer-lasting the
better); (c) sustainability across persons (the more popular the better); (d) sustainability
across effects (the more positive knock-on effects, the better); and (e) sustainability across
structures (the more scalable and transferable across contexts, the better).
The term “positive” may serve similar functions in the hybrid paradigms noted above.
That is, fields such as education may have been encouraged by PP to develop a more positive
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orientation within their own context. However, that would not make the paradigms “true”
hybrids, but rather just parallel fields that have evolved towards a comparable ethos (their
own “version” of PP). In that case, for instance, “positive education” would not mean that
education has incorporated elements of PP, but rather has simply followed its example in
also developing a positive orientation within its own parameters. That might mean
encouraging students to prioritise their academic strengths and skills, say, rather than fixing
their academic weaknesses. We might call such examples “nominal hybrids.” Conversely,
though, some fields may be genuine hybrids, in that a given field has a meaningful
relationship with PP drawing on ideas, theories, and practices that specifically pertain to
PP, from resilience to gratitude. Thus, in that sense, “positive education” might include
helping students to cultivate resilience and gratitude within an educational context (L.
Waters, 2014). In contrast to nominal hybrids, these genuine pairings could be referred to as
“substantive hybrids.” In these instances, rather than the prefix simply being “positive,” one
could argue that the prefix is actually “positive psychology,” but that labels for the fields are
being elided so that “psychology” has been concealed (thus “positive psychology education,”
say, is simply rendered as “positive education”).
Questions around hybridisation are particularly intriguing where PP shares close
conceptual and practical affinities with the field with which it is being paired. This is
particularly the case with the intersection between PP and coaching (C) and coaching
psychology (CP), where numerous scholars have noted their convergences (e.g., Biswas-
Diener, 2010; Kauffman, 2006; Linley & Harrington, 2007; Oades & Passmore, 2014). For
instance, Linley and Harrington (2007) suggest that both PP and C/CP: (1) are focused on
improving performance and well-being (as per Pawelski’s (2016a) “positive orientation” and
“positive aim”); (2) assume that optimal conditions can/do promote flourishing; and (c) are
concerned with developing strengths and fostering their effects across all domains of life.
Such are the convergences that the conjoining of these fields as per emergent paradigms
such as “positive psychology coaching(Passmore & Oades, 2014, p.68) constitutes a
particularly interesting instance of hybridisation. However, the nature of their intersection
remains a matter of debate. As such, exploring this intersection represents a fascinating case
study for interrogating the hybridisation phenomenon more generally. Before considering the
interaction between PP and C/CP though, it will help to consider the disciplines separately.
For there is on-going debate as to what these fields are in themselves, which complicates the
issue of understanding their interaction.
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Positive Psychology
The status and identity of PP has always been somewhat opaque and contested. The field was
initiated in the late 1990s as a way of redressing a perceived “negative bias” in mainstream
psychology (conceptualised by Pawelski (2016a) as PP’s foundational “positive orientation”).
Psychology as a whole was appraised as focusing primarily on disorder and dysfunction, with
little attention paid outside pockets of scholarship, likw humanistic psychology (Waterman,
2013) to more “positive” aspects of human functioning, from flourishing to fulfilment.
Hence the value of redressing that imbalance, legitimising and encouraging the exploration of
these more “positive” phenomena (the “positive topography” in Pawelski’s (2016a) analysis).
For many people attracted to PP though, it was not a new field or speciality per se, but a
collective identity unifying researchers interested in the brighter sides of human nature
(Linley & Joseph, 2004, p.4). According to that dominant perspective, PP is more an ethos, a
way of leaning towards positive topics that is open to scholars and practitioners in
established psychological fields, from clinical psychologists (e.g., Wood & Tarrier, 2010) to
neuroscientists (e.g., Urry et al., 2004). Alignment to this mind-set and identity-narrative
served to unify disparate scholars already working on topics now regarded as falling within
the purview of PP, such as positive emotions or psychological development.
More recently though, there have also been efforts to delineate PP as a specific
discipline, endowing it with a distinct professional identity along the lines of specialities such
as health or clinical psychology (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2016a). Part of the impetus for this move
comes from the community of postgraduate PP courses, whose numbers have greatly
expanded in recent years, organically leading to some graduates and scholars self-identifying
as “positive psychologists (even if the label is contentious, not least since “psychologist” is
usually a protected title). Two contrasting perspectives on the nature of PP are thus emerging.
The “ethos” perspective states that PP is potentially open to, and conducted by, scholars
across all and any areas of psychology (and other academic and professional fields, such as
social work or nursing). For instance, a clinical psychologist interested in theories and
practices pertaining to flourishing could be said to be aligned or engaged with PP, as for
elucidated by Wood and Tarrier (2010) in their notion of “positive clinical psychology.”
Conversely, the “discipline” perspective views PP more as a speciality, an identifiable branch
of psychology equivalent to clinical or counselling psychology, say whereby a scholar
can specialise in PP (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2016a). Of course, these two perspectives are not
mutually exclusive. It is feasible for one scholar from a distinct branch of psychology to take
a keen interest in PP, and so affiliate to it from an ethos perspective, and for another scholar
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to primarily view themselves as situated within PP, and so self-identify with it from a
discipline perspective.
The issue of what PP is, exactly, nonetheless remains open. Beyond generalities such
as focusing on the brighter sides of human nature (Linley & Joseph, 2004, p.4), what are its
defining characteristics? Various definitions of PP have been advanced over the years. For
instance, Linley and Harrington (2007) define it as “the scientific study of optimal
functioning, focusing on aspects of the human condition that lead to happiness, fulfilment,
and flourishing (p.13). A broader definition is offered by Lomas, Hefferon, and Ivtzan
(2015), who position PP as the “science and practice of improving wellbeing (p.1347). This
latter definition aligns with Pawelski’s (2016a) analysis of PP’s “positive aim,” in which he
identifies its “ultimate goal” as “providing an empirical vision for understanding and
cultivating wellbeing” (p.343). In these operationalisations, wellbeing is an all-encompassing
term, enfolding the various components identified by Linley and Harrington (2007) (e.g.,
optimal functioning, happiness, fulfilment, and flourishing). Indeed, wellbeing is increasingly
favoured in academia as an overarching, multidimensional term, incorporating all the ways a
person might hope to do or be well (de Chavez, Backett-Milburn, Parry, & Platt, 2005),
including physical health (Larson, 1999), social relationships (Bourdieu, 1986), cognitive
performance (Tang et al., 2007), and positive affect (Diener, 2000). For instance, Pollard and
Davidson (2001) define wellbeing as a state of successful performance across the life course
integrating physical, cognitive and social-emotional function (p.10).
That said, in identifying PP as being focused on wellbeing, it is worth noting that
wellbeing can be appraised in either deficit-based negative terms, or asset-based positive
terms. With the former, wellbeing consists in the absence of some undesirable quality or
process, whereas in the latter it means the presence of some desirable quality or process. An
absence of a deficit does not necessarily entail the presence of an asset (i.e., that people are
“flourishing”). One of PP’s foundational metaphors is a continuum, from a nominal minus
10, through zero and up to plus 10 (Keyes, 2002). On that metaphor, ameliorating deficits
such as mental disorder constitutes bringing people up to “zero.” That is hugely beneficial, as
far as it goes. But one can still aim to move people into the positive integers, and it is that
which PP primarily focuses on, rather than ameliorating deficits. The metaphor is not perfect;
for instance, people can be simultaneously situated both in negative territory (e.g., diagnosed
with mental illness) and positive territory (e.g., excelling in certain aspects of living) (Keyes,
2002). On the whole though, it is a useful schema for how PP sits in relation to other fields
that are also concerned with wellbeing (but may do so from more deficit-based perspectives).
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As a final point, one prominent aspect of PP is the development of positive psychology
interventions”to improve wellbeing, such as gratitude exercises (Emmons & McCullough,
2003), as well as applied initiatives geared towards the same end, such as public policy
(Lomas, 2015b). Such activities are known under the generic rubric of “applied positive
psychology” (APP). Collectively, PP and APP will be referred to here using the acronym
(A)PP.
Coaching and Coaching Psychology
The roots of coaching stretch back at least as far as classical Greece, where elite athletes were
coached by professional trainers (Allen, 2016). This foundational association with sporting
endeavour continues to the present (Palmer & Whybrow, 2014), and constituted one of the
first instances of coaching being studied academically context with the work of Griffith
(1926), a sports psychologist. Rather than viewing sports coaching as simply a form of
instruction (i.e., regarding physical skills), Griffith viewed the coach also as a “teacher,”
whose duties included motivating and ministering to the psychological needs of athletes. In
the following decades, this notion of coaching was embraced in other areas of activity, most
notably business. Following work by scholars such as Gorby (1937), who suggested that
coaching techniques could improve productivity and profitability, the 1940s onwards saw a
burgeoning movement in occupational settings to hire coaches to get the best out of
employees. In the early years, such coaching often simply took the form of informal
conversations, later followed by more systematically-organised and model-driven forms of
coaching interaction (Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson, 2001). This focus on business and
occupational settings dominated the theory and practice of coaching for much of the 20th
century. Then, in more recent decades, coaching has begun to be studied and deployed across
myriad settings, outcomes, and endeavours, from health behaviours (Young et al., 2014) to
family dynamics (Allen & Huff, 2014).
Meanwhile, as those developments were taking place, the related concept of coaching
psychology (CP) began to be identified, and to be differentiated from coaching. Back in the
1950s, Lawther (1951) wrote about the “psychology of coaching,” and by the 1960s, the
phrase “coaching psychology” had begun to appear in the literature (e.g., Gaylord, 1967).
However, not until the 1990s did CP as a distinct sub-discipline began to emerge, principally
through initiatives such as the foundation of the Coaching Psychology Unit at the University
of Sydney and the subsequent establishment of a similar unit at City University London. The
emergence of CP was further strengthened through the launch of specialist journals, such as
the International Coaching Psychology Review. As part of this emergence, scholars have
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sought to differentiate CP from coaching per se (Passmore & Theeboom, 2016). One popular
way to do so is to present coaching as an applied activity, and CP as the psychological
science of this activity. Thus, for instance, the International Coach Federation defines
coaching a “partnering with clients in a thought provoking and creative process that inspires
them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” As an activity, this need make
no explicit reference or recourse to psychological research or theory although of course the
coach may well choose to but is in essence an interaction between coach and client. CP
might then be viewed as the scientific study and understanding of this process. In that sense,
the domains of psychology which can inform this endeavour is broad from psychodynamic
theories and methodology, to psychological perspectives on personality disorders. Here we
can thus see a parallel with PP and APP, in that coaching can be regarded as equivalent to
APP, and CP to PP. Collectively, both coaching and CP will be referred here to using the
acronym C(P).
In understanding CP as the science of coaching, however, this raises the questions (a)
what is the scope and remit of C(P), and (b), how do these differ from (A)PP? First, the
nature of C(P) remains a matter of some debate. For instance, Passmore and Theeboom
(2016, p.30) discuss attempts to fashion a working definition of coaching during a workshop
in 2002 at the annual conference of the counselling psychology division of the British
Psychological Society. Initially, Grant and Palmer (2002) proposed that coaching is focused
on “enhancing performance in work and personal life domains with normal, non-clinical
populations, underpinned by models of coaching in established therapeutic approaches.”
However, various critiques were made of that formulation, including in relation to the focus
on “normal, non-clinical populations,” since coaching techniques were starting to be offered
in clinical domains, and also regarding the assumption that coaching only draws on
therapeutic models. Consequently, an amended definition was proposed, stating that
coaching is concerned with “enhancing wellbeing and performance in personal life and work
domains, underpinned by models of coaching in established adult learning or psychological
approaches.” What is particularly interesting about this definition is that, apart from the
reference to “models of coaching,” it is highly similar to definitions of PP. So too are other
definitions of C(P), such as Spence’s (2007) explanation that coaching is “primarily
concerned with human growth and change (p.256). Thus, even while the nature of (A)PP
and C(P) themselves remains a matter of debate, the fields share significant intersections.
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Intersections and Overlaps
(A)PP and C(P) evidently have numerous features in common (Linley & Harrington, 2007),
an overlap which has been highlighted in numerous papers (e.g., Castiello D'Antonio, 2018)
and books (e.g., Corrie, 2009). These include: (1) an applied focus on improving wellbeing
and performance (per Pawelski’s (2016a) positive orientation and “positive aim”); (2) an
interest in engendering change across life settings; (3) a humanistic emphasis on facilitating
development, and helping people fulfil their potential (per Pawelski’s positive process);
and (4) an emphasis (albeit non-exclusively) on working with “normal” (i.e., non-clinical)
populations (per Pawelski’s positive target population”). So, what are the differences
between (A)PP and C(P)? Whenever this question is posed, it is usually in terms of
comparing PP (rather than (A)PP more broadly) with coaching (rather than C(P) more
broadly). In that respect, many scholars depict their interaction as a mutually beneficial
partnership, in which each brings different strengths to the table. In short, PP is often viewed
as bringing scientific theory and empirical rigour, and coaching as bringing applied practices
and proficiencies (Grant & Cavanagh, 2007). For instance, Kauffman (2006) describes PP as
the “science at the heart of coaching” (p.219), while Biswas-Diener (2010) celebrates
coaching as the natural choice for being the applied arm of positive psychology (p.5). As
such, the relationship is often framed in terms of how PP can further the evidence base and
theoretical underpinning that coaching may lack (Oades & Passmore, 2014).
However, this formulation would seem to challenge the role of CP as the science of
coaching, and also to neglect the emergent praxis of APP. After all, describing PP as the
“science at the heart of coaching” would appear to supplant the function of CP in this role.
Yet there is evidently a flourishing paradigm of CP, as illustrated above. Likewise, PP also
has its own applied dimension in the form of APP. In this sense, the relationship between
(A)PP and C(P) is presently unclear. For instance, is coaching itself an example of APP? And
if so, arguably both PP and CP seek to scientifically study the process of effective coaching.
In that case, a range of options for the interaction of (A)PP and C(P) suggest themselves, as
articulated below in the section on “relationship configurations.” Further complicating this
picture is the trend towards exploring a closer integration between (A)PP and C(P) (van
Nieuwerburgh & Tunariu, 2013). Thus we have seen the emergence of paradigms like
“positive psychology coaching” (PPC). Passmore and Oades (2014) describe this as
“coaching approaches that seek to improve short term well-being (i.e. hedonic well-being)
and sustainable well-being (i.e. eudaimonic wellbeing) using evidence-based approaches
from positive psychology and the science of well-being and enable the person to do this in an
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ongoing manner after coaching has completed” (p. 68). They propose that PPC is
underpinned by four key theories often regarded as the province of PP (cf. Pawelski’s
(2016a) positive topography): strengths (Proctor, Maltby, & Linley, 2011); broaden and
build (Fredrickson, 2009), self-determination (Ryan & Deci, 2000); and wellbeing (Seligman,
2012).
As such, given these complexities of the potential relationship between (A)PP and
C(P), further deliberation is needed to help us better understand the interaction between
(A)PP and C(P), thereby also facilitating more integrative approaches. Such forms of enquiry
are particularly relevant given the emergence of courses such as the MSc in Applied Positive
Psychology and Coaching Psychology at the University of East London, which is becoming a
high-profile leader in the field. With this, and other similar initiatives, scholars and students
in both arenas (A)PP and C(P) are beginning to look meaningfully at their interaction, and
in the process help both fields develop and progress. To that end, this paper offers several
possible ways of conceptualizing their interaction.
Querying Ownership
The conventional view is that (A)PP brings theoretical models and empirical research to the
relationship, while C(P) offers practical expertise and skills. However, for this view to hold, it
would mean that PP has exclusive access to, or ownership of, scientific theory and research,
which CP itself cannot lay claim to. Similarly, it would mean that coaching has exclusive
access to, or ownership of, specific applied practices that “belong” to coaching, and to which
APP cannot lay claim. However, neither argument can be supported. First, it is not that
specific theories “belong” to PP. Consider the theory of self-determination (Ryan & Deci,
2000). This is often cited as being among the trove of theoretical insights that PP brings to the
interaction with coaching (Passmore & Oades, 2014). However, Deci and Ryan (1980) had
been developing this theory for decades before PP emerged on the scene. Moreover, Deci and
Ryan themselves do not appear to strongly align with PP; at most they imply that PP would
benefit from fully incorporating their theory (Deci & Vansteenkiste, 2004). As such, it would
be overweening for PP to claim self-determination theory as “one of its own.” While PP has
whole-heartedly embraced the theory (Ryan, Huta, & Deci, 2013), that is not the same as
“owning” it. Indeed, CP has likewise embraced the theory to its benefit (Spence & Oades,
2011). Thus, self-determination is not owned by PP, nor by CP, but is harnessed by both.
Similarly, nor do specific practices “belong” to coaching, thus constituting the corpus
of applied techniques that it supposedly brings to the (A)PP C(P) intersection. Take the
practice of mindfulness for instance as a skill/quality potentially both manifested by a coach
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and encouraged in their client. One might consider this an example of an applied technique
that has been utilized within coaching (Passmore & Marianetti, 2007). However, mindfulness
was first harnessed in the West within clinical settings as a treatment for chronic pain (Kabat-
Zinn, 1982). And it was initially developed as a psychospiritual practice in Buddhism around
2,500 years ago (Lomas, 2017). Thus, by no stretch of the imagination does mindfulness
“belong” to coaching. Likewise, mindfulness has been harnessed by APP in applied settings
that could not be construed as pertaining to coaching per se, such as in educational contexts
(Ivtzan & Lomas, 2016a). Again though, there is no way mindfulness could be regarded as a
“positive psychology intervention.” Thus, as with self-determination theory, mindfulness is
an applied practice (together with concomitant theoretical perspectives) that belongs neither
to APP nor C, but has been profitably harnessed by both.
Relationship Configurations
As such, we have a vast corpus of theories, evidence-bases, and applied practices developed
across psychology, and other allied disciplines that belong neither to (A)PP nor C(P), but
can be harnessed by both. Thus, both (A)PP and C(P) have theoretical/empirical dimensions
(i.e., PP and CP), and both have a realm of applied practice (i.e., APP and C). If that is the
case, then how can we appraise the intersection between (A)PP and C(P)? It seems that this
relationship can be configured in one of four main ways, depending on how generously and
expansively one defines the fields.
The first way views (A)PP and C(P) as fundamentally coterminous, covering the same
territory, as outlined in figure 1 below. From that stance, there is essentially nothing in C(P)
that does not also pertain to (A)PP, and vice versa. That is, zA)PP and C(P) share numerous
aims and concerns, including promoting wellbeing and performance, and facilitating the
fulfilment of potential. In that respect, both PP and CP can draw on an equally wide range of
theory and research, while at the same time, APP is regarded as synonymous with coaching.
In the interests of openness, this is not my view, with my preferred configuration being the
fourth, in which (A)PP and C(P) are overlapping but non-identical. Nevertheless, logically,
regarding (A)PP and C(P) as coterminous is one model of their interaction, to which some
scholars and practitioners may be drawn. For instance, one could imagine this configuration
appealing to someone who defines C(P) rather broadly (so that every form of interaction in
APP could be deemed a type of coaching, for instance), while also defining (A)PP somewhat
narrowly (so that it excludes interactions that cannot be seen through a coaching prism, such
as more systematic initiatives).
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Figure 1. Interaction # 1 = (A)PP & C(P) as coterminous
(A)PP & C(P)
The second perspective takes a more expansive view of (A)PP, and positions C(P) as its
subset, as outlined in figure 2 below. From that stance, although (A)PP and C(P) share
numerous aims and concerns (e.g., promoting wellbeing and performance), C(P) is not the
only means by which these can be achieved. Other examples include macro-level initiatives
such as the formation of public policy to promote wellbeing (Lomas, 2015). Thus, on this
view, C(P) could be regarded as a subset of the broader field of (A)PP. Again, this is not my
preferred configuration, but may appeal to some. For instance, one could envisage its appeal
to people who primarily affiliate to (A)PP, and have an expansive appreciation for the scope
of the field, drawing its boundaries widely so that it intersects with fields ranging from
nursing to politics. Then, if such people viewed all coaching as pertaining to wellbeing in
some way, one could understand how they might position C(P) as just one element of a much
broader field of (A)PP.
Figure 2. Interaction # 2: (A)PP as encompassing C(P)
A(PP) C(P)
Conversely, the third perspective reverses the scope of the fields in the second perspective,
taking a more expansive view of C(P), and positioning (A)PP as its subset, as outlined in
figure 3 below. For instance, whereas C(P) could be regarded as focusing on improving all
aspects of life, (A)PP could be deemed as focusing on wellbeing in particular. Thus, on this
view, (A)PP could be deemed a subset of the broader field of C(P). In a mirror image of the
second perspective, one could envisage this configuration appealing to those who primarily
affiliate to (C)P, and have an expansive appreciation for the scope of the field, drawing its
boundaries widely so that it not only pertains to wellbeing, but all aspects of functioning.
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Then, if such people have a relatively narrow view of (A)PP conceptualising it as just
involving theories and interventions relating to positive emotions, for instance then one
could see how this might be situated as one aspect of a wider paradigm of C(P).
Figure 3. Interaction # 2: C(P) as encompassing (A)PP
C(P) (A)PP
Finally, the relationship may be configured whereby (A)PP and C(P) constitute overlapping
but not coterminous fields. Here, both (A)PP and C(P) have theoretical/empirical and applied
dimensions in common, but also aspects which pertain to only one of them. If, for example,
one defines PP as the “science and practice of improving wellbeing” (Lomas et al., 2015,
p.1347), then one might point to forms of coaching that do not directly pertain to wellbeing,
but just to performance, such as management training. While this activity may of course
pertain to wellbeing, it does not necessarily do so. One might conceivably imagine a person
improving while deriving no wellbeing benefits such as experiences of pleasure, or health
improvements from doing so. In that respect, (A)PP and C(P) constitute an overlapping
Venn diagram, as shown in figure 4 below.
Figure 4. Interaction # 4: (A)PP & C(P) as overlapping
(A)PP PCP C(P)
Identifying Territorial Claims
As alluded to above, this fourth configuration is the one preferred by the author. So, staying
with this perspective for a moment, figure 5 offers a flow chart for identifying whether a
given theory or practice pertains to either (A)PP, C(P), neither, or both with the latter an
integrative paradigm referred to here as positive coaching psychology (PCP). (The latter
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formulation could equally be referred to as “positive psychology coaching” (PPC), as per
Passmore and Oades (2014).) The first question is whether “it” – empirical outcomes,
theoretical models, or applied practice in question directly pertains to wellbeing (per
Pawelski’s (2016a) ultimate “positive aim” of PP). The qualifier “directly” is important here,
albeit one that is difficult to definitively judge. That is, it is helpful to differentiate between
phenomena that directly and indirectly pertain to wellbeing. After all, just about anything
could be said to “indirectly” pertain to wellbeing, inasmuch as it is hard to conceive of
something that does not affect wellbeing, however obliquely. To give a random example,
honing one’s memory skills through mnemonic techniques indirectly impacts wellbeing in
various ways, from improved memory facilitating educational and occupational success, to
being better able to recall positive experiences (T. Waters, 2014). As such, if we were to
consider phenomena that indirectly affect wellbeing, then all human endeavour might be
regarded as within the purview of (A)PP. Thus, it is prudent to at least attempt to only focus
on phenomena that directly pertain to wellbeing, even if differentiating between direct and
indirect interactions is difficult in practice. This differentiation also means one can identify
forms of C(P) that do not overlap with (A)PP, as alluded to above (e.g., forms of coaching
that do not directly focus on enhancing wellbeing).
Figure 5. Flow chart for differentiating between fields
Does it directly
pertain to wellbeing?
Does it involve a
coaching relationship?
Does it involve a
coaching relationship?
C(P)
(A)PP
PCP
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
Running head: POSITIVE COACHING PSYCHOLOGY
14
If a given phenomenon (e.g., theory, applied practice) does not directly pertain to wellbeing,
then it may be deemed not “within the scope” of (A)PP. The phrase “within the scope” is
felicitous here, and preferable to formulations such as “belonging to.” As elucidated above, it
is not that particular theories, concepts, or practices “belong” to (A)PP, nor indeed to any
other academic field.) That being the case, one can then ask whether the phenomenon
involves a coaching relationship. Of course, there may be variation in how one defines such a
relationship, with the possibility of doing so more narrowly (e.g., only where participants
self-identify as coach and client), or more widely (e.g., all variations on that theme, such as
mentoring or teaching). If the phenomenon does not involve such a relationship, then it falls
within the scope of neither (A)PP, C(P), nor PCP. If it does, then it may represent a case of
C(P) alone (i.e., an instance of C(P) that does not overlap with (A)PP). If the phenomenon
does directly pertain to wellbeing, then once again, one can ask whether it features a coaching
relationship. If not, then it falls within the scope of (A)PP alone (i.e., an instance of (A)PP
that does not overlap with C(P)), whereas if yes, then it represents an instance of PCP (i.e.,
where (A)PP and C(P) intersect). Thus, this flow chart offers an initial way of appraising the
ways (A)PP and C(P) overlap yet also differ, and will hopefully be useful to proponents of
(A)PP and C(P) who are interested in exploring their integration over the coming years.
Relevance to Hybridisation
Moreover, this analysis may have broader relevance beyond the specific interaction of (A)PP
and C(P). One aim here was for this enquiry to be a case study for the myriad other hybrids,
from “positive education” (Seligman et al., 2009) to “positive clinical psychology” (Wood &
Tarrier, 2010). That is not to suggest that in every hybrid, the dynamics will be the same as
those identified here. Indeed, there may well be different forms of hybridisation. For instance,
a distinction was made above between “nominal” and “substantive” hybrids. The former is
when another field simply harnesses the prefix positive,’ thereby developing a positive
orientation within its own context. The latter is when a field has genuinely sought meaningful
integration with (A)PP (e.g., incorporating theories closely associated with PP). That said,
this distinction does not mean one can definitively pigeon-hole the various hybrids: rather
than being exclusive categories, it is perhaps more useful to see them as a continuum,
involving greater or lesser degrees of integration with (A)PP. In any case, people may view a
given paradigm in different ways, and even if there is general agreement over the type of
hybrid, there may be differences of opinion regarding its nature. Thus, the specifics of the
analysis above may not generalise to other hybrids. However, the principles of the analysis
here may have broader relevance. In that sense, with any hybrid, one might usefully look at:
Running head: POSITIVE COACHING PSYCHOLOGY
15
(a) ideological diversity; (b) different relationship configurations; (c) issues of ownership;
and (d) schematics for identifying territorial claims.
With (a), this refers to the likelihood that within any given paradigm, there will be
diverse perspectives with regard to how it intersects with (A)PP. For instance, in discussing
“positive clinical psychology,” Wood and Tarrier (2010) recommend that clinical psychology
brings on board the commitment to positivity fostered by PP, while maintaining its concern
with “negative” phenomena (i.e., mental illness), thus “integrat[ing] the study and fostering
of positive and negative characteristics equally (p.820); however, they also note that their
colleagues may not be uniformly in favour of such integration, with some holding the view
that “positive topics are not within the remit of clinical psychology.” Such ideological
diversity is to be expected, and even encouraged (on the view, as per Haidt, Rosenberg, and
Hom (2003), that viewpoint diversity enriches fields and organisations). Thus, where hybrid
paradigms do exist, it would be worth identifying varying perspectives on the nature of the
integration. This could be through analyses like the one conducted here, or a myriad of other
ways, from in-depth interviews with practitioners and stakeholders (see Bas and Firat (2017)
in relation to “positive education”), to more extensive surveys of the field.
Such diversity then impacts upon (b), namely how the relationship between the two
fields are configured. In relation to (A)PP C(P), four alternatives were presented. It is likely
that all hybrids could similarly develop a range of configuration models, variously attracting
proponents within the paradigm. For instance, Pawelski (2016a) suggests that PP’s overall
aim is improving wellbeing. There are then interesting conceptual debates regarding the
relationship between wellbeing and similarly overarching terms, such as health. For instance,
de Chavez et al. (2005) argue that some scholars view wellbeing as a subset of a health,
whereas for others, wellbeing is the broader term, with health a subset (focused on physical
wellbeing specifically). As such, in relation to “positive health” (Seligman, 2008), one could
imagine scholars variously positioning, (1) (A)PP as a subset of the broader domain of health
(premised on wellbeing as a subset of health), (2) health as a subset of (A)PP (based on
wellbeing as the broader term), (3) forms of overlap, or (4) no overlap at all (with “positive
health” a nominal rather than substantive hybrid). Seligman himself appears to endorse a
version of (4), suggesting that “positive health” merely has “parallels” to (A)PP, in that it
focuses on “[physical] health rather than illness” (just as PP focuses on mental health rather
than mental illness) (p.3).
Third, with respect to (c), analyses of hybrid paradigms may enquire into issues
around ownership. It was argued here that particular theories and practices do not “belong” to
Running head: POSITIVE COACHING PSYCHOLOGY
16
(A)PP or C(P), but just “pertain” to them. Wood and Tarrier (2010) make a similar point with
respect to positive clinical psychology. For a start, so-called “positive characteristics,” like
resilience, are “causally implicated in the development of disorder, and buffer the impact of
life events on distress” (pp.820-821); such topics and qualities are therefore highly germane
to clinical psychology, regardless of these also being central to PP. Moreover, they argue that
“no topic can be deemed as fundamentally “positive” or “negative””, since qualities that are
deemed positive can, in their absence, be detrimental to wellbeing; thus, for instance, an
inability to forgive can be maladaptive, which then brings the topic of forgiveness within the
purview of clinical psychology. Indeed, on a similar vein of thought, proponents of so-called
“second wave” PP have suggested that it is difficult to categorically identify a given topic as
positive or negative, since such appraisals are context dependent (Lomas & Ivtzan, 2016b).
Thus, within every hybrid paradigm, debates can be had around which topics or practices
pertain to either of the partner fields.
Finally, following from issues of ownership, it may be possible to develop schematics
for identifying “territorial claims” with respect to the fields that form the hybrid. Here, a flow
chart was offered for differentiating between theories and practices that pertain to: (a) (A)PP
alone, (b) C(P) alone, (c) both (A)PP and C(P) (labelled here as PCP), and (d) neither. In that
case, the relevant questions determining the flow were “does it directly pertain to wellbeing?”
(where if not, the phenomenon is outside the purview of (A)PP), and “does it involve a
coaching relationship?” (where if not it is outside the purview of C(P)). One could imagine
similar heuristics for other hybrids. With “positive education,” for instance, the first question
would remain operative, but the second question could be “does it pertain to educational
settings?” In that case, there may be: per (a), aspects of (A)PP that are not directly relevant to
education (although that depends upon how widely one views the remit of education), such as
physical health; per (b), aspects of education that are not directly relevant to (A)PP (although
that too depends upon how widely one views the remit of (A)PP), such as examinations and
marking; per (c), topics that pertain to both (A)PP and education, and so do fall within the
remit of positive education, such as deploying the strengths paradigm in the classroom (White
& Waters, 2015); and per (d), phenomena related to neither (A)PP nor education.
Conclusion
The analysis here sheds light on the intersection between (A)PP and C(P), and moreover has
broader relevance to the various hybrid paradigms that have emerged over recent years. In
relation to the (A)PP C(P) intersection specifically, the discussion here challenged the
conventional assumption that PP brings empirical science to the partnership while coaching
Running head: POSITIVE COACHING PSYCHOLOGY
17
provides practical expertise. Rather, it was suggested that both (A)PP and C(P) draw on a
common body of theories and practice which, as such, “belong” to neither field. In that
respect, a flow-chart was created that allows one to differentiate between theories/practices
that pertain to: (a) (A)PP alone; (b) C(P) alone; (c) both (A)PP and C(P) (labelled here as
PCP); and (d) neither. It was then argued that, while other hybrid paradigms may differently
conceptualise the relationship between (A)PP and the field in question, many of the same
questions and principles applied in the analysis here will still be relevant. These include
issues around: ideological diversity; different relationship configurations; ownership; and
identifying territorial claims. It is hoped that this analysis will be useful to scholars and
practitioners in (A)PP and C(P), and in all fields with which (A)PP is entering hybrid
relationships, thereby allowing such hybridisation to further develop and prosper over the
coming years and decades.
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