Have you ever experienced a coincidence in life that leaves you feeling as though you are on the right path? Geelong local psychologist Chris Mackey (of Chris Mackey and Associates psychology group) certainly has, and here he shares his personal journey from suffering depression, to making a career out of assisting others through positive psychology, a TV show and, most recently, a pod cast series.
We can all relate to life events that have the potential to shape the person we become, and Chris is an example of someone who spiralled up and out of the darkness to a happier place, where he can now make a positive difference to the lives of others.
“The most influential personal experiences were going through two bouts of severe depression in my early adult life, the first occurring before I started working in the mental health field. On each occasion I was very fortunate to have been helped by a very understanding and capable therapist. That led me to more fully appreciate what a positive impact a psychotherapist could have on people’s lives and to recognize the privilege that goes with being entrusted by people who are at a point of being so vulnerable.
As a clinical psychologist, I’m most drawn to helping people to face the darker or most challenging aspects of their personal experience, but to do so in an optimistic way. I sometimes describe this goal as helping people to transform psychological problems into personal growth. This often involves exploring our ‘shadow side’, or less acceptable aspects of ourselves, whilst drawing on our positive attributes and desire for wholeness.”
Chris explains his current practice has been influenced by other life experiences that he articulates as being best described by two famous fields of thought; synchronicity and positive psychology.
“My further personal inspiration has come from the frequent experience of synchronicity, or powerfully meaningful coincidences, from early adult life onwards. I find synchronicity can be powerfully motivating in suggesting that the path we are on is “meant to be”.
Professionally, I’ve been inspired by the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, who coined the terms, “shadow side” and “synchronicity” as well as by the clinical psychologist, Martin Seligman, who founded the field of positive psychology. Positive psychology aims to help us develop our personal strengths over and above alleviating our difficulties.”
To better understand what Chris means by ‘synchronicity’ he recalls for us a significant moment in his career.
“After 25 years of working as a psychologist in Geelong I wanted to mark the occasion in some way. I decided I would deliver a one-hour public talk in which I would sum up the most useful things I’d learnt in 25 years. Of that time, I spent 20 minutes talking about Martin Seligman and positive psychology, a new field that I thought would be one of the few new innovative areas in psychology and would still be around in 100 years’ time. I spent another 10 minutes talking about Carl Jung and synchronicity, or meaningful coincidences. Not long after, I learnt that Seligman, a prominent American psychologist based in Philadelphia, would be bringing his whole team to Geelong, living in Geelong for six months himself, to introduce the world’s largest organization-wide positive psychology program to date. They did this at Geelong Grammar, which enabled me to meet with Seligman and his colleagues on numerous occasions. This was a most unlikely coincidence, bolstering both my belief in synchronicity as well as my interest in further applying positive psychology.”
Since then, Chris has continued to find inspiration by being a part of the positive change in people’s lives.
“Combining the depth psychology of Carl Jung with the optimism of positive psychology, (amongst various other appropriate therapy approaches), can be a powerful way of helping people work through difficulties such as depression and trauma reactions. It often happens that people work through these problems coming out the other side with much gained from the experience. This might include further self-understanding, personal meaning, hope and/or resilience. It’s very uplifting to be a part of this process, even if it can be very difficult along the way. Even when people can’t fully overcome certain problems, it’s inspiring to see the dignified way in which people might accept them and adapt in various ways.”
Chris agrees that here in Geelong, we are a community with great initiatives and strong support to improve our mental health and wellbeing.
“Geelong is well placed to be a leading community in promoting an optimistic outlook with great benefits for physical and mental health and wellbeing. Several great initiatives have come out of Geelong, including the birth of the field of positive education, now taught at thousands of schools internationally. Another initiative was the Destination Happiness TV show on Channel 9, produced and hosted over three seasons by Angie Hilton, for which I was the resident psychologist.
Apart from my book, The Positive Psychology of Synchronicity: Enhance your mental health with the power of coincidence, our own practice has developed a lot of freely available mental health and positive psychology resources including tip sheets, clinical handouts, articles and videos (see https://www.chrismackey.com.au/resources/).
Most recently, this includes a positive psychology podcast with my son, Rowan, called Lockdown: Character strengths and silver linings: your guide to applying positive psychology in seclusion (at https://www.chrismackey.com.au/podcast-2/). Various episodes spell out strategies for dealing with anxiety, depression and trauma reactions with relevant links attached.”
We thank Chris for telling his story at this time when many of us might be thinking we could do with some positive psychology, and may indeed see that reading this article was a meaningful coincidence.
Story: Sarah Treacy. Photo: Supplied