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Sunday 14 February 2016

EMPOWERING NEW MINDSETS IN YOUNG PEOPLE – A trilogy of hopeful constructs. A new opinion piece by Dave Traxson, Educational Psychologist U.K.

EMPOWERING NEW MINDSETS – A trilogy of hopeful constructs.

“Self should not be the harsh dictator within but rather the gentle facilitator for controlling all the responses to the forces without.”     Dave Traxson  2016

We, humanistic psychologists, look to harness the inner potentials that all human beings possess as we are often all too aware that they are being under utilised. I feel there are three key psychological constructs that help us to understand these fulfilling processes better.


“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Viktor E. Frankl, in ‘ Man's Search for Meaning.’

No one should know better than Frankl the importance of choice as a human construct as he witnessed many examples in the darkest depths of man’s inhumanity to man, the concentration camps, where individuals made small but very significant choices that helped to keep them alive mentally and physically in some cases. The sense of personal power this gave them helped them to deal to some degree with the overwhelming hostility and to be better placed to show resilience and thus survive longer term. Choosing when to eat a crust of stale bread, who to share it with and what to maintain of some chosen relationships with those around you in any place. These all demonstrated the essential resilience building power of choice and self-efficacy. Frankl again:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

So what of the here and now, we also are empowered by exercising many choices personal, family, community and democratic. We all must have sensed at some point the rush of energy that this gives and the new mind-set that this facilitates which can last for extended periods.

As Madiba said so wisely,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. 
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves,                                                                                     
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented,fabulous?                                                                
Who am I not to be?” 


“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ― Marcus Aurelius, ‘Meditations.’

A metaphor, ‘A Car for Life,’  that we have successfully used with many young people may give us a useful insight here. Their ‘engine’ is their wants, needs of all types and their ambitions and when sitting in the ‘driving seat’ they can control their front wheels of ‘thoughts’ and ‘actions’ but it is harder to control their fixed back wheels of ‘physiology’ ( including genes) and ‘feelings.’ They have a real choice to ‘accelerate’ on various courses of action or to ‘apply the brakes’ hence showing some early stages of Self-Control or indeed 'learning to drive more carefully’ and find ‘safe roads’ and interesting ‘laybys’ or resting places. What we have demonstrated conclusively is that when a young person learns to use these metaphorical pedals judiciously then that gives them amazing personal power that can be generalized to other key areas of their future life. So learning to ‘put the brakes on’ in terms of using more acceptable language, for example or more powerfully reducing their levels of physical aggression with others in a range of settings then this can be generalized to controlling drinking behaviour or a range of other self-harming behaviours etc. etc. 

These methods are loosely classified as Cognitive Behavioural Techniques. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy’s efficacy has been endorsed on grounds of evidence based practice by the National Institute of health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the medical professionals regulating body for drugs and interventions.

“He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.”  Lao Tzu
“Ultimately, the only power to which person should aspire is that which they exercise over themself.”  Elie Wiesel


Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among Humanistic Psychologists, it is defined as the feeling that wells up when another’s suffering or difficulties are shared and one feels motivated to help to resolve the situation.

Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are intertwined. While    empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of        another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to directly help the other human being. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, very selfless behaviour often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it.

We usually think of the focus of compassion being to others, as above, and there is another equally important form of compassion to oneself which we call developing a 'Kind Mind,' to one's actions, thoughts and feelings. It is fundamentally about being reasonable to oneself as well as to others both in terms of expectations, deeds and 'positive self-talk.'
“Take positive care of your mind, and it would surely take positive care of your life.”  Edmond Mbiaka

We have to been kind and tolerant about the unique characteristics of ourself in order to be able to be giving and successful in our interactions with others. So developing a 'kind mind' to ourselves develops a reservoir of positive energy that we can use rather than having it all leach away through the unproductive mental processes of shame and guilt.
While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or irrational, scientists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting its deep evolutionary purpose. This research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down and we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin.

So this important positive trilogy of humanistic constructs are pivotal to assessing if interventions are likely to  be effective for individuals young the people specifically and all human beings generally. Basically will the proposed strategy increase the client’s feelings of having more choice and self-efficacy, increase their ability to use their internal locus of control and also to behave in a compassionate way to the individual.

So a personalized blend of these three humanistic constructs may indeed be able to maximize a sense of empowerment and increase the longer term possibilities of personal growth and hopefully eventual transformation.

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