According to a report published in December 2009 in the APA Monitor, Seligman believes that positive thinking methods taught to schoolchildren who "were [conditioned] to think more realistically and flexibly about the problems they encounter every day" can also be taught to Army soldiers and the results will be the same.
Seligman said he is basing his theory on a series of 19 studies he conducted, which found that teachers who "emphasized the importance of slowing the problem-solving process down by helping students identify their goals, gather information and develop several possible ways to achieve those goals," increased students' optimism levels over the course of two years "and their risk for depression was cut in half."
But unlike studies conducted on schoolchildren, there is no research that exists that shows applying those same conditioning methods to the Army's active-duty soldiers will reduce PTSD. Seligman, however, seems to be aware that is the case. That may explain why he has referred to Army soldiers as his personal guinea pigs.
"This is the largest study - 1.1 million soldiers - psychology has ever been involved in and it will yield definitive data about whether or not [resiliency and psychological fitness training] works," Seligman said about the CSF program.
"We're after creating an indomitable Army," Seligman said.
Positive Psychology's Critics
While positive psychology, a term coined by Seligman, has its supporters who swear by its benefits, the movement also has its fair share of critics. Bryant Welch, who also served as APA president, said, "personally, I have not been able to find a meaningful distinction between [positive psychology] and Norman Vincent Peale's Power of Positive Thinking. Both emphasize substituting positive thoughts for unhappy or negative ones."
"And yet the US military has bought into this untested notion to the tune of [$125] million," Welch said. "This money, of course, could have been used to provide real mental health care to our troops. Instead, it is being used to tell military personnel that they can (and, thus, presumably should) overcome whatever happens to them on the battlefield with the dubious tools of Positive Psychology."
PTSD "is is not a mental state that can be treated by suggesting to the patient that he or she simply re-frame how they think about the situation, as Dr. Seligman suggests," Welch added.
Other notable critics include authors Chris Hedges and Barbara Ehrenreich, both of who say the practice has thrived in the corporate world where the refusal to consider negative outcomes resulted in the current economic crisis.
Hedges, author of the book "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle," wrote, "positive psychology, which claims to be able to engineer happiness and provides the psychological tools for enforcing corporate conformity, is to the corporate state what eugenics was to the Nazis."
"Positive psychology is a quack science that throws a smoke screen over corporate domination, abuse and greed," Hedges said. "Those who fail to exhibit positive attitudes, no matter the external reality, are seen as maladjusted and in need of assistance. Their attitudes need correction."
Hedges added that "academics who preach [the benefits of positive psychology] are awash in corporate grants."
Indeed, Seligman's CV shows he has received tens of millions of dollars in foundation cash to conduct positive psychology research.
According to a report published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "People credit a large part of positive psychology's success to the solid reputations of the field's leaders - and Seligman's ability to get science-supporting agencies interested."
"The National Institute of Mental Health has given more than $226-million in grants to positive-psychology researchers in the past 10 years, beginning with just under $4-million in 1999 and reaching more than nine times that amount in 2008," according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.