In a series of research articles published in the Journal Psychotherapy Research and Practice Richard Corriere and his colleagues Joseph Hart, Werner Karle, and Judy Klein argued that the psychological concepts of being “sick” and “getting well” through therapy were not particularly useful in motivating the majority of people who would never have the money and time to see a professional therapist.
In the article the researchers found that as subjects learned new skills through life coaching they scored better on two traditional psychological tests The Personal Orientation Inventory and The Eysenck Personality Inventory.
The Personal Orientation Inventory measures a subjects self-actualization which is a positive measurement of state of well-being while the Eysenck Personality Inventory measures introversion/neuroticism vs. extraversion/well-being.
The researchers found that as subjects mastered practical life skills their self-actualization scores as measured by the Personal Orientation Inventory dramatically improved. Self-actualization is a positive measure of how effectively a person is moving toward a true sense of life competency and achievement. Conversely, the researchers found that as subjects learned new skills they showed decreased scores in neuroticism as measured by the Eysenck Personality Inventory. Additionally, subjects were found to increase their extraversion scores as their self-actualization increased and their neuroticism decreased.
MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO LEARN: Corriere and his co-researches then asked what is the most effective way of learning skills. They found the answer in the research of the highly regarded educator Benjamin Bloom.
Dr. Bloom’s research conclusively showed that people learn by practice and mastery. Perhaps the most powerful finding was that any student can reach the top 20% of the class through learning. Bloom’s ideas were completely counter to traditional thinking in education and psychology. Instead of focusing on what a student doesn’t know, Bloom showed that teaching was about mastering one thing at a time and then moving to the next progressive step.
Based on Bloom’s research, Corriere concluded that much of time psychologist spent “talking to” their patients failed to follow an effective learning model. It was not that what was said was incorrect, it was just not systematic and often failed to use mastery of a new skills as an essential component of the therapy. He then wondered if these ineffective methods could be replaced by teaching/coaching the s patients to learn new skills.
COACHING VS. THERAPY: Corriere and his co-workers developed coaching methods which they detailed in the book Psychological Fitness. Coaching uses a common sense and direct feedback approach. The “sick patient” is replaced with the aspiring life athlete. Corriere made sure to point out that there are a small percentage of people who display significant mental health issues and they need medication and often long term institutional treatment and that the coaching program would not work for them.
Much of the work in Psychological Fitness was modeled after the legendary UCLA Basketball coach John Wooden. Wooden won ten national NCAA basketball championships by having his players focus on what they did the best. Corriere translated Wooden’s concept by focusing on “you as your best” as the personal and internal guide a person can use to direct his/her own life.
THE GOAL: Corriere’s work reflects the influence of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Abraham Maslow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described in his extensive research a self-guiding experience when a person was performing at his or her very best. He called this experience – flow. When a person learns skills and masters them that person will enter into a high performance state which he or she describes as effortless. Abram Maslow developed the concept of self-actualization which is the natural tendency to work toward one’s highest potential.
Each of these influences focus on a positive sense of self, self-directed living, and learning skills. Feeling good was no longer limited to an absence of problems but a determined sense of well-being driven by competence.
COST VS. POLITICS. Corriere and his co-workers in addressing the high cost of traditional therapy developed a program which enabled people to redefine their problems in terms of what skills they needed to learn. Skills which could be taught by peers and non-professionals. This movement toward self-help and co-therapy brought down the wrath of traditional mental health professionals because they were Teaching Peers to help each other. The clash of ideology resulted in revocation of their standing as licensed psychologists.
In what now is see as a politically and financially motivated attack traditional psychologists viewed the work of Corriere and his co-workers as threatening their hold on traditional therapy and profits. Instead of being restricted to professional therapist, people could get coaching from peers all of their lives.
BOOKS: These research findings were later expanded in three books: Psychological Fitness; Going Sane; Life Zones. These books argue that people who have developed life skills feel and perform better than those who do not possess the same skills. When a person does not have basic life skills they manifest what traditional psychology refers to as symptoms. Symptoms are directly reflective of a lack of skills. What is troubling for a person is that given the same situation with the same skills they repeat unproductive behavior. The good news is that with new life skills given the same situation they change their behavior and derive desired outcomes.