Exploring what it is to be ‘well’

I just discovered the term ‘salutogenesis‘. It’s a term introduced by Prof. Aaron Antonovsky, a medical sociologist. In general terms, it means focusing on factors that promote health and well-being, rather than focusing on factors that lead to illness, disease and poor well-being. This might sound rather obvious, but it’s more than just looking on the bright-side. In medicine and indeed clinical psychology, and probably many other health-related disciplines, we’re often very focused on treating illness. How we can predict illness and when it occurs, how we can identify and treat it. It’s pathocentric. Research focuses on looking at the ‘ill’. However, we have a massive, often un-tapped into population of people who are well. Instead of being so focused on illness, could we change to thinking about what factors have kept these people well? In twin studies that look at genetic links for psychiatric illness and lot of focus is put onto how one twin could have developed the illness, isn’t it just as interesting, if not more so, to think about what helped the other NOT to become ill? There’s some overlap with positive psychology here, we spend so much time focusing on the negative states, depression, anxiety, suffering, but what do we really know about happiness, calm, relaxation and contentment? If we can understand the factors that help people to be resilient, satisfied , to survive and adapt to big life stressors, this could enrich our understanding of psychiatric illness and how it might be prevented. To me this idea idea seems so positive and exciting and really introduces some interesting ideas that research can follow.


I’m aware I’ve used the word ‘illness’ a lot here, it isn’t that I subscribe to a purely medical view of mental health problems, but I’ve used it as I’m talking about research and treatment in the health context, where ‘illness’ is comonly used in the place of ‘problem’, ‘condition’ or ‘reaction’.

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