February 23

On Psychological Positivism

He points out how this mechanistic approach to human beings “significantly limits what a person can do to summon his own cognitive and emotional resources to overcome obstacles and traumas.”


Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav






Cambridge 02138

Positive psychology


On Psychological Positivism–

Psychiatry has, for good or not good reasons, reduced individuals to numbers and letters: ICD-9, DSM-IV labels, CPT codes, and GAF estimates. That emphasis on diagnostic nomenclature, combined with increasingly restrictive and often counter-productive pharmaceutical treatments, stymies the potential of psychiatry to help people and impairs the ability of individuals to help themselves. As a profession, we cannot expect more from individuals than we believe is possible for them.

If psychiatry seeks to encourage the potential of the human spirit and wishes to ask individuals to become more than they ever dreamed possible, it must assert a collective consciousness of possibility. That cannot be done by diagnostic reductionism (e.g., when labeling someone as “adolescent with oppositional-defiant disorder” confers the ability to sedate a condition with medication). Neither can it be done by treatment reductionism: half-measured, myopic, and inadequate treatment (e.g., intramuscular naltrexone administered monthly to the alcoholic reduces the extent of his alcoholic drinking, rather than freeing him from the chains of alcoholism that destroy his ability to think and feel). In both cases, reducing an angry adolescent to a diagnostic label or asking less of an alcoholic man by offering him half-measured treatment shortchanges human development. Diagnostic and treatment reductionism significantly limits what a person can do to summon his own cognitive and emotional resources to overcome obstacles and traumas. That limitation, consequently, inhibits creativity, humor, love, and hope, and therefore underscores the urgent need for the message of positive psychologists to succeed.


 Stefan P. Kruszewski, M.D. ’77
Harrisburg, Pa.



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