Our Field Has Been Sidetracked

In a 1998 letter to his colleagues, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychologist Association, wrote that the field had been sidetracked for fifty years.

Maybe EHS has too.

Seligman writes that before World War II, psychology had three missions: “curing mental illness, making the lives of all people more fulfilling, and identifying and nurturing high talent.” Then the Veterans Administration and National Institute of Mental Health were created and psychologists found access to grants to study illness. The focus then became (nearly exclusively) mental illness. Fulfillment and high talent were forgotten.

We became a victimology. Human beings were seen as passive foci…Viewing the human being as essentially passive, psychologists treated mental illness within a theoretical framework of repairing damaged habits, damaged drives, damaged childhoods, and damaged brains…I want to remind our field that it has been sidetracked. Psychology is not just the study of weakness and damage, it is also the study of strength and virtue. Treatment is not just fixing what is broken, it is nurturing what is best within ourselves…Fifty years of working in a medical model of personal weakness and on the damaged brain has left the mental health professionals ill equipped to do effective prevention. We need massive research…We need practitioners to recognize that much of the best work they do is amplifying the strengths rather than repairing…weaknesses.”*

What about EHS?

Do we focus on the negative while neglecting the positive?

Do we choose cost reduction instead of production enhancements?

Are we filling the bucket or plugging the holes?

Is EHS sidetracked too?

*Seligman, M., “Building human strength: psychology’s forgotten mission,” in APA Monitor, January 1998, p. 2.

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