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Positive Psychology in Different Populations

written by Lisa Sansom 19 May 2014
Resilience in Africa

Lisa Sansom, MAPP '10, is the owner of LVS Consulting, an independent consulting firm that helps to build positive organizations. Lisa provide services such as individual and leadership coaching, team facilitation, effective communications training, Appreciative Inquiry and change management consulting. Full Bio.

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At the upcoming Canadian Positive Psychology conference in Ottawa this July 17-18 (preconference workshops on July 16), many different keynotes, speakers and presenters will be sharing insights into their research and application of positive psychology. Typically, we think of positive psychology as serving a non-clinical population, but these forward-thinkers are taking positive psychology to populations that may be otherwise seen as vulnerable, disadvantaged, or difficult.

Children with Chronic Health Conditions

Janette McDougall is a childhood health and disability researcher with her PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences from Western University in London, Ontario. Janette will be presenting the preliminary findings of an innovative longitudinal study currently underway that explores the personal, interpersonal, and environmental factors that may enhance over time the quality of life for youth with chronic health conditions. The study is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Findings of this study could help to justify services designed to enhance life dimensions beyond physical functioning, including emotional well-being, social support, and community participation for children and youth, as well as providing additional supports like spiritual care and self-advocacy support for children and youth and their families. The findings may also support advocates for positive societal attitudes and physically accessible environments.

Resilience in Non-Governmental Organizations in Africa

Claire Fialkov is applying the concept of resilience as it applies to NGOs in Eastern Africa, where she has done a lot of work. Different types and levels of stress, such as continuous traumatic stress, chronic traumatic stress, or continuous low levels of stress (because you never know if you will be safe and protected by law enforcement or subject to socio-political oppression) may mean that we need different models and applications of resilience. Furthermore, she will be considering what character strengths one needs to manage in these sorts of stressful situations. From the data, there are different strengths that are emerging among East African NGO workers when compared to the average North American adult population. This could mean trying to apply western models to Eastern Africa really misses the boat.

Engaging Marginalized Youth

Yoshitaka Iwasaki is conducting research about engaging marginalized youth, mostly aboriginal and immigrant youth who are disconnected from society. Yoshi has built on his own immigration experience to start the discussion on how we can more effectively support and work with this population. Yoshi’s team includes researchers, government partners, and youth agencies who work together to create a framework for youth engagement.

Previous standard frameworks were created by researchers and academics with no youth voices. One of the unique qualities of this work is that it’s youth-created, giving voices to youth and mobilizing them for positive change.

Evaluating Community Programs for Positive Youth Development

Tanya Halsall is heavily involved in positive youth development and improving life trajectories, especially with marginalized youth. Tanya does evaluation of community programs and says “I’m lucky because I’m working very close to the ground – not delivering actual interventions, but I work with the people who have that impact on people’s lives.” Tanya is just finishing data collection and says that the most striking thing in this research is that you have to be flexible. Even though you have a methodology in mind, there may be a lot of things that don’t work in reality. She looks very much forward to bringing her in-the-field findings to the conference audience.

Supporting Addiction Recovery

Constance Scharff, Ph.D. works in the field of addiction recovery and knows from her own experience that the “sick” model of treatment is debilitating to most addicts. While some like to think that they’re sick and have a disease that they can manage, for the most part, that model does not work. Constance says, “The exciting thing about addiction recovery is that it’s not the hopeless morass that many geneticists (as the predominant researchers) and treatment centers would have you believe. Addiction can be treated and overcome, and you can lead a really good life.” Constance herself is 16 years sober, and has been using different evidence-based treatments, including positive psychology, to substantially increase rates of addiction recovery.

Calling All Change Makers

As positive psychology reaches out to diverse populations, perhaps moving us towards 51% of the world flourishing by 2051, we also need to consider how to share and spread ideas and meaningful change. In order to help researchers and practitioners like those mentioned above, Megan Mcdonough will be presenting to change-makers who want to make a difference in the world.

When we come together at conferences such as this, we are in our tribe. We all know what a positivity ratio is, for example. We speak the same language, and we are within the same group. But what happens when we take our work into a new community? We don’t speak the same language any more. Megan will share a conceptual understanding of how ideas spread to leverage your ideas most efficiently. Knowing how ideas diffuse, it is possible to make more of an impact by surfing the wave instead of fighting against it. If we consider the diffusion of innovation as we grow positive psychology tools out into the world, we’ll be much more able to work cohesively together to make a difference – an entire knowledge network.

Editor’s Note: Another presentation dealing with a specific population is a symposium on the challenges of aging and caring for an aging population. One of the presenters is a PPND author, Diana Boufford, who wrote our series on emotional, physical, social, familial, and spiritual fitness of the oldest old.

Much, Much More Going on at the CPPA Conference in July

To learn more about the upcoming Canadian Positive Psychology conference, please download our preliminary program and visit our conference website. Come and be part of our emerging knowledge network and help change the world for the better.


Fialkov, C. and Haddad, D. (2014). What East African NGOs Teach Us About Organizational Development. Society for Human Resource Management.

McDougall, J. (2011). Social Support and Health in Youth: Examining Relationships. Lambert Academic Publishing.

McDougall, J., Wright, V., Schmidt, J., Miller, L., & Lowry, K. (2011). Applying the ICF Framework to study changes in quality of life for youth with chronic conditions. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 14(1), 41-53. For a link to a pre-peer-reviewed version, click here.

Tsonis, M., McDougall, J., Mandich, A., & Irwin, J. (2012). Interrelated processes toward quality of life in survivors of childhood cancer: A grounded theory. The Qualitative Report, 17, 1-18. For a link to a pre-peer-reviewed version, click here.

Taite, R. & Scharff, C. (2012). Ending Addiction for Good: The Groundbreaking, Holistic, Evidence-Based Way to Transform Your Life. Wheatmark, Inc.

Scharff, C. (2014). Mindfulness and Meditation: Helping Stressed Out Kids Cope. Psychology Today blog.

Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons license
Social life in a wheelchair courtesy of delayed gratification
Resilience in Africa courtesy of Teseum
Youth by blackboard courtesy of Reel Youth
Riding the wave courtesy of szeke

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Seph Fontane Pennock 19 May 2014 - 1:49 pm

Thanks for the article Lisa!

You’re going to bring such a wide variety of interesting speakers together, with different perspectives and applications of positive psychology, it’s simply amazing.

Talk soon,

Bec Ordish 20 May 2014 - 5:19 am

Hi Lisa

Great article and it is brilliant to see others using positive psychology in different ways. We have been using the principles of positive psychology, wellness, thriving and resilience in our work to empower girls and women in Nepal for over 13 year now. Rather than “fixing what is broken”, we identify what is working based on strengths and passions (whether on a country, village, group, individual level) and build on those. We have had some very powerful results.

They are very powerful tools which I believe can help to reshape the development industry which is broken. As there is now a movement towards positive education using these tools, I believe there needs to be a move towards positive development grounded in the same principles. Imagine the difference it would make!

Thanks for sharing what others are doing. It was very interesting and inspiring.

With gratitude

Lisa Sansom (@LVSConsulting) 22 May 2014 - 8:51 pm

Thank you both Seph and Bec for your comments – I do believe in the power of applied positive psychology to positively change the world. We’re going to be talking a lot about that at #CPPA2014. Stay tuned for more reports on what’s coming up!


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