Course Guide

What is Positive Psychology Coaching?

Positive psychology coaching occurs at the intersection of traditional psychology, positive psychology and coaching. Findings from these three areas of academic research inform contemporary coaching practice.  

The evidence for coaching from a positive psychology perspective can be attributed to the two fathers of this field of research - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Martin Seligman. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyia contemporary psychologist, is considered to be the founding father of positive psychology. In the late 1900s, he began researching in areas that were outside the fields of traditional psychology – areas related to happiness and creativity, optimal experience, and the evolving ‘self’. He is best known for his concept of ‘flow’. He developed this concept from his observations of artists, whom he noticed fell into a particular state of mind while they were working. This state of mind was characterised by a particularly intense focus and great concentration on the task at hand, to the point of losing track of time for hours on end. As he gathered more descriptions of this phenomenon, he observed six factors that characterise what he called a ‘flow’ experience: 

  • Being present ‘in the moment’ 
  • The merging of action and awareness –being fully present in the task at hand 
  • A lack of attention to the self such as not stopping to eat or sleep 
  • A sense of personal control in the situation 
  • A distorted sense of time passing and 
  • Experiencing the activity as intrinsically rewarding. 

 However, it is Martin Seligman who is considered to be the father of contemporary positive psychology. Seligman grew frustrated with traditional psychology’s overly narrow focus on the negative. So much attention was paid to mental illness, abnormal psychology, trauma, suffering and pain, and relatively little attention was dedicated to happiness, well-being, exceptionalism, strengths, and what he called ‘flourishing’. When he was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1998, Seligman jumped at the opportunity to alter the direction of the field from such an influential position. He proposed a new branch of psychology with a focus on what is life-giving rather than life-taking. In 2000, he and Csikszentmihalyi co-authored the first introductory text on Positive Psychology.  

Seligman’s other published works address pivotal areas such as: 

  • Learned helplessness, which is a state in which an individual fails to act because of prior negative experiences - which we can relate to today in situations such as exam anxiety, reluctance to apply for promotion after unsuccessful experiences, and instances of domestic violence. Individuals just ‘give up’ and accept the situation. 
  • His second major contribution was in explicating the difference between pessimism and optimism. Seligman proposed that when we are unhappy, we ask ourselves three critical questions relating to permanence, pervasiveness and personalisation. 
  • The third concept that Seligman is noted for is that of authentic happiness, which he described using the acronym PERMA which stands for: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement. 

Positive psychology Coaches work with coachees to encourage them to have a positive attitude toward life, take responsibility for their actions, accept support when needed, and make a positive contribution to those around them. If you would like to learn more about coaching from a positive psychology perspective, visit to download information on the Diploma qualifications we offer. Then contact us to learn more.