Mappsterview No. 8: Please stand up for Dan Tomasulo

Dan TomasuloPlease introduce yourself briefly

I’m Dan Tomasulo, MAPP 7. Since graduation in 2012 I’ve worked as an assistant instructor for Marty Seligman and James Pawelski. I’m also core faculty for the “Spirituality Mind Body Institute” at Teachers College, Columbia University in NYC where I’ve designed and teach the Optimal Well-Being concentration. I also direct the Open Center’s New York Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (NYCAPP).

What did you do before joining the MAPP program at Penn?

Hmmm. Depends on how far back we are willing to look. 🙂 I’m a licensed psychologist and psychodrama trainer and work in private practice and consulting. I also have an MFA in writing and a few books under my belt. I have a daily blog called Ask the therapist at Psychcentral.com and write for Psychology Today as well.

What got you interested in Positive Psychology in the first place?

I went through a personal crisis and got depressed. There is nothing worse than a depressed psychologist. People would tell me what was bothering them – and I thought, Huh – you think THAT’S bad…wait until I tell you what happened to me. (I never actually said that out loud.) My best friend took me to the first International Positive Psychology Conference and I was hooked. I started doing things that made me feel better and despite all my years of training nothing seemed to be so directly helpful. That was when I decided to go to MAPP.

While googling you, I found a NYT article from 1983(!) stating you used to be a stand-up comedian. Can you tell us more about that?

Damn, I told you not to tell! 🙂 Yep, for a couple of years I was on the circuit. If you are a fan – this was back in the time of Andy Kaufman. I was mostly at the Improv in Hells Kitchen. But it was the same time I was finishing my Ph.D. I had to choose between comedy and psychology and that’s when psychodrama came along. I realized I could blend the two into a therapeutic form. Ultimately, I became a trauma expert using psychodrama to help people unlock the part of their soul that had shut down. Being able to use humor in the right amounts at the right time was part of the gift that stand-up gave me. It helps the healing when people have to touch some dark feelings.

(There is a wonderful story I will write about one day about the night Andy Kaufman told us of how “foreign man’s” “Thank you berry much.” Came about—but that’s a tale for another time.)

As stated above, among other many things, you facilitate and teach Psychodrama. What is that all about?

It is an action-oriented for of psychotherapy where we use role-playing to understand a situation, activate emotions, and correct them. In a group we will use auxiliaries to play the different roles the protagonist is talking about. If you are angry at your mother you would choose a person to play your mother and we would enact the scenes related to the issue. We use a variety of techniques to amplify and explore the emotions. We have people take on the role of someone’s feelings, their ambivalence, their compassion, or anger. It is more than simple role-playing however. The training is long (my post-doctoral training program was 13 years!) and you learn to manage dramas at an individual level, group level, and the community level. At one point I was hired by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to use a special type of psychodrama to heal unrest in a community. It was amazing to see large groups of people respond to large-scale group dynamics with a healing result.

And how does Psychodrama tie in with Positive Psychology? Are there any parallels?

Just as psychology focused on the negative aspects and developed tools to alleviate suffering, psychodrama followed suit. Most of the training and the work was targeted at relieving pain. But the tools are so powerful that it seems the methods of psychodrama could be used to activate positive emotions in a way that strengthens and integrates.

This past summer at the IPPA conference in Montreal I was given the Avant-Garde Clinical Intervention award for the development of the Virtual Gratitude Visit (VGV). This technique builds on the original gratitude letter Marty researched. He asked students to deliver a letter of gratitude to someone they felt they needed to thank. This was one of the first pieces of research to show that the use of a positive intervention could improve well-being while stablizing depression for a period of time. In the virtual gratitude visit we use an empty chair to have the protagonist deliver a feeling of gratitude. They then reverse roles, become the person and answer, then reverse back. This is typically a very powerful and moving experience. People can do this with those that have passed on – as well as those they are no longer in touch with. Technically, with negative emotions you get a catharsis that acts like a purging. But with positive emotions you get a catharsis of integration. The expression of the positive emotions pulls together a miriad of feelings and integrates them. This creates a feeling of wholness.

I’ve developed several other experiential methods for use in exploring character strengths, forgiveness, resilience, best possible self, self compassion, etc. Each does a similar thing in using the psychodramatic methods to integrate emotions.

It seems like being a story-teller is an overarching theme in your life. Over the upcoming weeks, your memoir called American Snake Pit will be published. Here´s your space for some unbridled adulation.

American Snakepit - Dan TomasuloI am very excited that in April George Mason’s Stillhouse press will release my memoir, “American Snake Pit: Hope Grit, and Resilience in the Wake of Willowbrook.” This will be my second memoir and it tells the story of moving a group of very challenging people into the community. It gives a voice to those who could not advocate for themselves.

My memoir is in the spirit of “One Flew Over the CooKoo’s Nest”, “Awakenings”, and “Girl Interrupted”. It challenges the perception of mental illness and is the first memoir of its kind concerning the treatment of intellectually disabled and mentally ill patients coming from the infamous Willowbrook, a hell on earth Bobby Kennedy called a “snake pit.” But it is much more than a depiction of the horrors of the institution. It is the story of patients not just surviving, but flourishing for the first time in their lives, proving the resilience and hope of the human spirit. Their story is about what happens when intentional well-being replaces indifference.

American Snake Pit is the story of the disregarded souls who ended up in my care; of the eccentric, resilient staff who helped make such a momentous success possible; and about a blind spot in American history. Because of the success and the progress made by the inmates in group homes like these, mental health became a civil right in the United States. The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) of 1980, affects all Americans. It is particularly important now as the right to quality healthcare treatment, and access is so politically charged. This is the story of how it all began.

Martin Seligman receives APA‘s Award for Lifetime Contributions to Psychology

I haven’t posted something new on Mappalicious for quite some time – but this is a piece of great news: Martin Seligman, co-founder and spiritus rector of Positive Psychology, has recently been awarded with the American Psychological Association’s “Award for Lifetime Contributions to Psychology”, APA’s highest award – joining luminaries such as Daniel Kahneman and Albert Bandura. Congratulations, Marty!

Want to study Positive Psychology at Penn? This way please…

Martin Seligman & Nico RoseI spent the last weekend in Philadelphia at the Penn MAPP Alumni Meeting 2016 and the annual MAPP Summit. It´s always a great pleasure to meet my former classmates, or to get to know the current cohort of Mappsters, or some my of my predecessors.

If you are thinking about studying Positive Psychology at Penn, I urge you to visit this website: www.pennpositivepsych.org. It contains all the information on the program, e.g., the prerequisites, the schedule, and how to apply. You will also find some alumni stories (including mine).

If you´d like to know more about the study program: There´s an information session on campus on Nov. 10 and a virtual information session on Dec. 8.

Otherwise, the entries in this blog from day one all the way up to August 2014 serve as a documentation of my year in the MAPP 9 cohort (2013/2014). You can basically follow me an look over my shoulder while working towards that photo you see on the right (graduation day with Martin Seligman).

Enjoy – and maybe, we´ll meet one day at some future MAPP summit…

Where can I get a University Degree in Positive Psychology?

Nico Rose - Martin SeligmanIf you have been following Mappalicious in the past, you´ll know that I was part of the 9th cohort of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology Program (MAPP) at University of Pennsylvania. To my knowledge, this program has been the first to offer a full-blown master´s degree in this specific area of psychology. And I guess it is save to say that – to this date – it is also the most renowned one, being (in part) taught by Marty Seligman himself, together with some of his closest co-workers.

Ever since running this blog, people have approached me to get info on alternative educational opportunities in the field of Positive Psychology. Accordingly, below you´ll find a list of university-based programs that offer an “official” degree (such as a Master´s) in or closely related to Positive Psychology.

If you are interested in obtaining additional information on alternative learning opportunities, I highly encourage you to visit Seph Fontane Pennock´s site. There, you´ll find a multitude of other programs, such as summer schools, graduate courses, certificates offered by private institutions, and online courses.

Positive Psychology Programs

Master of Positive Psychology at Aarhus University, Denmark: The information given is available in Danish only.

MSc in Applied Positive Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University: You’ll be introduced to research and interventions around topics like positive and negative emotions, character strengths, motivation, resilience, creativity, wisdom and other conditions shown to make a difference to the lives of individuals, groups and organisations. You’ll constantly test your skills and apply them to real-life situations, coming to understand which tools and strategies to use in delivering meaningful, high-impact interventions. The course is taught in Cambridge and Paris. The program is offered as a full-time program (12-15 months); or part-time (28-33 months).

MSc in Applied Positive Psychology at Bucks New University, Buckinghamshire (UK): The course will be of interest to individuals in a range of professions and occupational roles that include (but not limited to): teachers, human resources, organizational development, coaches in different disciplines (such as management or sports), psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, and medical professionals. It´s a full MSc and can completed part-time over two years, though you may choose to study over three years and devote your final year to your dissertation.

M.A. Positive Developmental Psychology/M.A. Positive Organizational Psychology at Claremont Graduate University, California: Claremont offers several concentrations focusing on Positive Psychology as part of their M.A. program in psychology. For more info, please follow the link.

MSc in Applied Positive Psychology & Coaching Psychology at University of East London: The program fully integrates positive psychology and coaching psychology to create an innovative training programme for those promoting wellbeing. From the point of view of positive psychology, the course will have a strong foundation in cutting-edge theory and research relating to wellbeing. The coaching element will feature advanced training in working with clients and groups in professional capacities. The program is offered as a full-time program in one year; or part-time in two years.

Executive Master in Positive Leadership and Strategy at Instituto de Empresa (IE), Madrid: This program is designed for experienced executives interested in achieving outstanding business results via the proven, hands-on methods of positive leadership. By gaining a deep understanding of the hard science of positive psychology and human behavior, participants learn how to optimize overall strategy and business functions, architect new work processes, and design organizational structures to achieve optimal performance in themselves and the people they lead. The program is offered part-time over 13 months.

Executive Master in Applied Positive Psychology at University of Lisbon: The information given is available in Portuguese only.

Master of Applied Positive Psychology at University of Melbourne: The program will equip you to apply positive psychology principles in your professional and personal life, with a special focus on creating and evaluating positive and meaningful change, and promoting optimal leadership within organizations. Learning and assessment will take place through a range of tasks, including debates, case studies, role plays, videos, journal entries and research activities. In addition, you will be encouraged to apply positive psychology principles to your own life and to critically reflect on these experiences. The program is offered as a full-time program (12 months); part-time options are available.

Master of Arts in Positive Psychology (MAPP) at North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa: I´m not sure if the program is still offered as the link seems to be broken.

Master of Applied Positive Psychology at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia: The original, so to speak. The program was the first in the world to offer a degree in this rigorous field of study. Dr. Martin Seligman, founder of the discipline of positive psychology, created the program to educate and train students at the cutting edge of the field. The program’s hybrid model allows you to explore the theory and practice of positive psychology without relocating to Philadelphia, so you can continue working full-time. The program consists of nine courses, completed during one year of full-time study.

Specialization in Positive Psychology & Technology as part of the MsC program in psychology at University of Twente (Netherlands): The information given is available in Dutch only.

Certificate of Advanced Studies in Positive Psychology at University of Zurich, Switzerland: The information given is available in German only.

Positive Psychology and Me: Confessions of a Science Fanboy

So on most other days, I´m trying to write super-smart and meaningful stuff here, educating people about the science of Positive Psychology. This is not one these posts. The purpose of this one really is to show off. There, I said it…

I´m just beyond grateful for having had the chance to attend this year´s MAPP Summit which, at the same time, was a 10 years anniversary celebration for this special program at University of Pennsylvania. As usual, the rooms were packed with beautiful people from all walks of life who share the passion for all things Positive Psychology – and top-notch researchers in the field of Positive Psychology and adjacent.

For some folks, it´s a big thing to get a selfie with, let´s say, Beyoncé. But I´m a professing “Science Fanboy” – so the rest of the article is just a bunch of photos along the lines of “me with some super-smart/super-important person”. It´s the visual equivalent of a blog post I wrote last year when I graduated from the program: Positive Psychology and MAPP at Penn: Doing that Namedropping Thing. So if you are crazy about Positive Psychology and you feel a bit jealous after seeing this, it´s because you probably should be… 😉

Nico Rose - Martin Seligman

Seligman Selfie No. 1

Nico_Rose_Barry_Schwartz

Prof. Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore, author of “The Paradox of Choice” (among many other books)

Edward Deci and Nico Rose

Prof. Edward Deci of Rocester, Co-Founder of Self-Determination Theory

Nico Rose - MAPPsters

Sharing a laugh with past and future MAPPsters

Nico Rose - Martin Seligman

Seligman Selfie No. 2

Nico Rose - Angela Duckworth - Adam Grant

Two very brilliant and kind people: Angela Duckworth (who´s most notable for her research on Grit, and Adam Grant, author of “Give & Take”. By the way, both will have new books out in 2016.

I had to leave a bit early, therefore I didn´t get the chance to take a photo with Kelly McGonigal who also presented at the MAPP Summit – but I guess there will be a time for that in the future…

Learning about Self-Determination Theory from its Co-Founder, Edward Deci

Edward Deci and Nico RoseIf you´ve visited Mappalicious in the past, you´ll have noticed that I´m a big fan of Self-Determination Theory that was developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. It shares a lot of common ground with several areas of Positive Psychology but has developed as a stand-alone body of research since the early 1980s.

Being so enthusiastic about the topic, I was absolutely thrilled to learn that Edward Deci would be a presenter at this year´s Penn MAPP Summit. Dr. Deci was so kind to take a photo with me. I´ve twittered all throughout his lecture – so here´s a sort of best-of Self-Determination Theory in Deci´s own words and charts. Enjoy!

A Celebration in 12 Tweets: 10 Years of Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) at Penn

What a wonderful day! I haven´t been to Philadelphia ever since my graduation from Penn in August 2014. But now I´m back. This weekend, Martin Seligman´s Positive Psychology Center hosts the annual MAPP Summit. On this occasion, the current MAPP cohort gets to meet their predecessors. How? It´s a top-notch Positive Psychology conference combined with an alumni meeting of the previous MAPP cohorts.

The alumni gathering, the so-called MAPP Fete, had a special reason to celebrate. 2015 marks the year of the 10th anniversary of the MAPP program at Penn (and cohort 11 is well on it´s way). While Martin Seligman himself addressed us during the lunch hour, the greater part of the day was reserved for “Ignite Presentations”, 5-minute “Pecha Kucha”-style talks given by 17 of our distinguished alumni. Several of us tweeted using the hash tag #10YearsofMAPP. Here´s my little Twitter round-up of that beautiful day: