Podium Presentation 6th World Congress on Positive Psychology 2019

Do The Principles Of ‘PERMA’ Transcend Cultural Boundaries?  Lessons In Adapting Positive Psychology Programs With First Nations People. (#122)

Brad Desmond 1
  1. Brad Desmond & Associates, Melbourne, VICTORIA, Australia

A persistent criticism of positive psychology is that it is founded on Western assumptions of individualism and self‐efficacy, thus focusing too narrowly to benefit other cultures.

This presentation describes a new PERMA based program, initially designed for use in Victorian prisons, modified as a culturally appropriate program for Aboriginal men serving community corrections orders. 

The central consideration in this transition was the construct of Individualism vs Collectivism.  This construct characterizes Western cultures as focusing on personal happiness, individual strengths and personal accomplishment etc, whereas First Nations People emphasise their community’s well-being as a whole.  (Beckstein, 2014) (Christopher & Hickinbottom, 2008). 

Modifications to the program were made in collaboration with Aboriginal clinicians and elders.  However, the eventual changes related, not to the elements of the program itself, but to the process of delivery.  For example, gratitude exercises were retained, but with an emphasis on rejoicing in the fortunes of kin.  Strengths identification was facilitated through group discussions, not individual surveys.  Goal setting emphasized ‘otherness’ rather than personal ambition.  

These changes support the view that PERMA principles may be universal, in that, they transcend cultural boundaries and require only subtle changes in emphasis and delivery to be meaningful to First Nations People.