President-Elect's Column

Mindfulness, humanistic outreach and media engagement as a call to action

It is more important now than ever to understand our vital roles as humanistic psychologists, psychotherapists, educators and community outreach workers.

By Donna Rockwell, PhD

Donna Rockwell, PhDI am excited to be president-elect, working with our current president, Shawn Rubin, focusing the division's attention on issues of social justice, human dignity, compassionate inclusion and humanistic outreach. In the face of the U.S. presidential election and the ensuing polarization and fear expressed by many segments of the population, it is more important now than ever to understand our vital roles as humanistic psychologists, psychotherapists, educators and community outreach workers.

Perhaps the time is ripe to focus on the links between humanistic psychology and the new role mindfulness is playing in psychotherapy practice, the roots of which actually find their source in humanistic psychology's very foundations. This is not mindfulness as a quick fix or emotional bypass, but a mindfulness filled with the full spectrum of human concerns and potential for existential awareness. As mindfulness and its core underpinnings gain popularity and traction in mainstream heath care as a psychotherapeutic intervention, as well as a self-care component for clinicians as front-line providers (claimed thus far mostly by cognitive behavioral therapists and their decades of research studies), I hope during my term next year to reframe mindfulness as a humanistic, existentially-oriented psychotherapeutic approach. Established long ago, mindful orientations can be found in Carl Rogers's notion of “unconditional” regard; Abraham Maslow's investigation of highly functioning people in order to understand the conditions for thriving; Merleau-Ponty's exploration of sensation and embodiment; the Gestaltists' look at language and meaning, transpersonal examination of transcendence of “self”; and in constructionist theories which further inform our understanding of the building blocks of human experience, among other parallel themes.

Our foreparents took more than one page from the wisdom teachings of Buddhist psychology, which interestingly: (1) pinpointed a cause to human suffering; (2) assessed a working diagnosis of the suffering; and (3) offered up a cure. That cure was meditation and its everyday life application, mindfulness (with an ultimate goal of developing compassion for self, and others).

As humanistic psychologists and psychotherapists, we have always embraced the values of mindfulness as evidenced by Buber's I-Thou posture and the emphasis on holding a mindful (unconditional) presence in the therapy room. Mindfulness and humanistic psychology have a potent role to play in wellbeing and illness prevention in the next chapter of healthcare delivery. Examination of Husserl's lifeworld, and Heidegger's being-in-the world, ring resonantly with the mindfulness edict toward developing the capacity to “sit with what is” as a pathway to self-actualization.

Maintaining such humanistic values in an overwrought managed care system is at the core of our work. Ensuring a humanistic environment on behalf of mental health consumers is an essential ingredient of our mission as Div. 32 continues to assume firm, proactive stances, speaking out for our patients, our clients and ourselves as humanistic practitioners, academics, scholars and laypeople. Every person is unique. Can that be refuted? Every person deserves a treatment plan that is person-centered, which means particularly tailored to the specifications of the person, him- or herself. Why is it important to have suits and dresses tailored to our unique physical forms, but contemporary applications of mental healthcare ask us to accept cookie-cutter approaches to helping people face mental, emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical obstacles? As humanistic activists, we have the opportunity to hold humanistic values high in our engagement at all levels within the healthcare system and the institutions in which we work.

Aside from representing humanistic ways of being in our workplaces, I would like to present a call to action, of sorts. In an increasingly media-driven world, an extremely impactful way to make a difference in our communities is by using our professional platforms to speak out for humanistic values and approaches to mental healthcare through the media, raising public consciousness in pivotal ways. It is true that the pen has tremendous power to reach, inform and enlighten members of the communities and populations we serve. So, in the name of community outreach, I invite all Div. 32 members who are moved to, to take up pen, take to keyboard or microphone, and give voice to the knowledge and healing skills which are innate in you, sharing with those who need to hear it, a humanistic understanding of what it means to be alive, survive and thrive.

Working through the media is an innovative way to share the humanistic values and existential understanding we use every day in our offices, and comprise our syllabi. Through reaching out on traditional and social media platforms, individual actions come together and are synthesized into a greater, more holistic message that may act as a positive social change agent. As a former journalist, working for CNN and WRC-TV in Washington D.C., and as a blogger for The Huffington Post, I know the megaphone for particular concerns that media outlets can be. Div. 32, for example, played an important role in garnering national and international press attention for Society for Humanistic Psychology's (SHP) online petition highlighting critical problems with the then-proposed Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Like then, we can each man our humanistic positions, speaking through the media, nationally and locally, to uphold the core values of humanistic ways of being. Some of us contribute humanistic perspectives through publishing posts on Psychology Today, Elephant Journal, and Mad in America, among many other internet sites.

The media outreach work of two Div. 32 members comes to mind as examples and inspiration of what can be done. Please see Lisa Vallejos's recent interview in The Denver Post — “ Denver psychologist explains how to have a peaceful conversation after a divisive election” — and Jason Dias's recurring posts on the website aNewDomain highlighting his humanistic take on existentialism.

Following are some suggestions on how to become more media engaged, and contribute your hard-earned psychological treasure trove of knowledge and understanding to people who are longing to heal, and hungry to hear your words:

  • If you are in academia, please take opportunities to write and publish in professional journals as well as taking advantage of publishing opportunities geared to a more general readership, like newsletters, blogs and articles in local and neighborhood newspapers.
  • If you are comfortable using social media, create a website with information that is meaningful to you, make a Facebook page, Twitter and/or Instagram account, and post humanistically inspired content. For those who are interested, social media engagement is an opportunity to create a humanistic footprint across all platforms, not only as a group, like through the popular Div. 32 Facebook page, but individually, as well. The continued need to develop a strong voice in social media must be reckoned with if the SHP is to keep pace with our rapidly evolving world, and our message able to grow to a critical mass.
  • Don't be shy: email local radio and television stations and offer your services as an expert when they need a psychologist to comment on news stories involving the most recent study, coping strategies at the holidays, relationship tips, as well as commenting on unfolding current events. Then follow up with a telephone call to make personal contact. Feel free to send an email and call after a few weeks if you do not hear back. Persistence is necessary in communicating with fast-paced newsrooms and social media outlets.
  • Write opinion pieces and editorials, or letters to the editor, and submit them to local newspapers, online blogs and e-magazines on issues that matter to you and your clients.
  • Organize local outreach efforts to present humanistic approaches to contemporary problems at community centers, libraries, schools, town hall events, highlighting person-centered ways of coping with symptoms of depression and anxiety, parenting skills, relationship workshops, and talks and roundtables with local experts looking at effective ways of living, and dealing with life's challenges. Work with colleagues and peers to share the workload. Media organizations often love to cover such community-centered stories, so send news desks email announcements. Touching our own communities in such ways can be mutually healing.
  • If writing acts as a form of creative expression for you, put some of your thoughts into words in the form of essays. Unpack some of those ideas that keep circulating in your mind, and put them to paper. Submit these ideas and insights to the SHP newsletter to further deepen our division conversation.
  • Use all platforms available to you to be heard, and know that your opinions, wisdom and awarenesses are relevant and important.

We are a community. Let's express our unity through our diversity, offer up a multiplicity of perspectives, and answer the cry of human existential suffering the best ways we can through our continued mindful work in the therapy room, deepened involvement in influencing institutional culture, and by reaching out to the general public through media platforms and various other outreach opportunities.

Humanistic psychology is good medicine for our time.

For any questions on how to become more involved in the media, please reach out to Donna Rockwell or your newsletter editors.