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UEL positive psychology symposium attracts huge audience

School of Psychology hosts world experts, celebrates 20 years of coaching psychology programme

The University of East London’s inaugural online positive psychology and coaching psychology symposium, featuring some of the world’s leading experts, reached a 1,000-strong audience. 

Organised by the programme team of the MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology (MAPPCP) at the University of East London, the Rethinking Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology virtual symposium was held over three days in July.

Dr Andrea Giraldez-Hayes, programme leader of the MAPPCP in the School of Psychology and chair of the symposium, said the success of the series is testament to the importance of the field in these challenging times. 

“In times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, as we are living in now with this pandemic, we all need to stop and reconsider who we are, how can we look after ourselves and others and, ultimately, establish the purpose and meaning of our lives,” she said. 

“This seems to be the right time to look back and acknowledge achievements in the field, and to look forward and envision the future together.” 

Professor Aneta Tunariu, dean of the School of Psychology (pictured), said the symposium demonstrated the increasing interest in the application of positive psychology and coaching psychology. 

“Academics, practitioners and students from across the globe united to partake in this landmark School of Psychology-led event, which provided an ideal platform to share our world-class research, provoke stimulating discussions and mark the 20th anniversary of our coaching psychology programme.”

Professor Tunariu and Professor Ilona Boniwell, founder of the first master’s degree in applied positive psychology in Europe (at the University of East London), delivered keynote speeches on leadership in uncertain times, focusing on positive and existential approaches to building employees’ agility and resilience.

Professor Tunariu told the audience the uncertainty we currently face globally invites us to look inside and understand that what we encounter, includes angst about our existential condition and things we cannot avoid.

“An existential leader will have to do more than acquire skills, techniques and tools, and use attractive and inspiring language. They also need to adopt a way of being, whereby the way they live their lives and the way they lead their teams are in line with the same values,” she said.

Professor Boniwell highlighted that human connection and relationships, motivation, and employee engagement are more important than ever when leading teams working remotely. 

Dr Robert Biswas-Diener joined Professor Christian van Nieuwerburgh, professor of coaching and positive psychology at UEL, to deliver their keynote on ‘being a positive psychology coach’. Dr Biswas-Diener is widely known as the ‘Indiana Jones of positive psychology’ as he has researched happiness with groups such as the Amish, the Inuit, and the Maasai.

In a recent interview with the Metro, Professor van Nieuwerburgh advised that it is crucial to ‘focus on enjoyable things that you can do under the current restrictions, rather than ruminate about pleasurable things that you cannot do.’ 

He advised the audience that coaches should also prioritise their own well-being if they want to help others. “If we are encouraging people to be active in thinking about and investing in their well-being, as coaches we should be role-modelling the balance between achieving things and well-being,” he said.

Dr Tim Lomas, senior lecturer in positive psychology at UEL, talked about his positive lexicography project, an evolving index of ‘untranslatable’ words related to well-being from across the world’s language. 

As part of the same workshop, Dr Kirsty Gardiner, lecturer in positive psychology at UEL, discussed her research into the impact of meaningful conversations on well-being. Dr Suzy Green, honorary professor at UEL, echoed that in her keynote, which examined how research has demonstrated the benefits of positivity on our well-being. 

Ana Nacif, lecturer in coaching psychology at UEL, discussed coaching in groups. Also, Dr Andrea Giraldez-Hayes and Julia Papworth, lecturer in coaching psychology, looked at ways to rethink coaching supervision, presenting plans for the new postgraduate certificate in coaching psychology supervision, which will start in September 2020.

In his keynote, Professor Ciaran O’Boyle of the Centre for Positive Psychology and Health at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RSCI), which created a range of resources for coping during Covid-19, talked about positive psychology and health. 

Max Eames, senior lecturer in counselling and psychotherapy at UEL, discussed building resilience and the School of Psychology’s plans for the new postgraduate certificate in strengths-based CBT (subject to validation) in September.

Prospective students heard from notable alumni of the MAPP and MAPPCP programmes, including Ruth Cooper-Dickinson, founder and managing director of Champs, which promotes positive well-being and engagement at work.