I first met Marsha Snyder, MD, MAPP, an American psychiatrist, at the Health of Health Professionals conference in Auckland, New Zealand, 2011. I have sat in on her presentations over the past three offerings of the Australasian Doctors’ Health Conference/Health of Health Professionals conference. Marsha sums up her years of work and personal experience in this book, Positive Health: Flourishing Lives, Well-Being in Doctors, published 2014 – the same year as my book, Re-humanizing Medicine. Marsha’s book adds to what I have been calling the counter-curriculum of self-care and compassion revolution in health care.
Marsha describes a curriculum that builds on positive psychology, which she studied under Dr. Martin Seligman for her Master’s degree at University of Pennsylvania. She creates an expansive curriculum of positive health and builds upon evidence-based principles of resilience and positive psychology to transform “physician ill-being” into well-being and flourishing.
Marsha describes five themes for her book:
1) The “cause of ill-being in medical students extends beyond the students, into issues with faculty and administration.”
2) Many “physicians who are troubled or burned out relate some of their difficulties to ethical issues in the system.”
3) There is a need for “understanding, defining, and teaching of resilience skills to physicians.”
4) The “creation of well-being in doctors and the rest of society by incorporating the science of positive health.”
5) Medical “training and practice must move out from an outdated pathology-based model to a health-based/prevention-based model,” (page 2).
Marsha adds in various exercises, including mindfulness, and discussion questions to the curriculum and stresses the need for “spirited multi-disciplinary teams.” She includes a chapter on “Spirituality and Well-Being,” defining spirituality as “a search for the sacred,” (240) and she reviews the links between spirituality and health. I particularly like the chapter, “Posttraumatic and Post-Ecstatic Growth in Medicine.” I was familiar with posttraumatic growth which describes the potentially transformative response to trauma, but I had not heard of “post-ecstatic growth,” which describes how highly positive experiences can also lead to transformative growth of “different areas of the self, including meaning in life, self-esteem, or social bonds,” (233).
Positive Health: Flourishing Lives, Well-Being in Doctors is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the need for self-care and personal growth in doctors and health care workers. Marsha’s focus goes way beyond limiting the negative to expanding joy and flourishing in the lives of those working in health care.