Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Wellness: A Review of Theory and Measurement for Counselors

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Wellness: A Review of Theory and Measurement for Counselors

Article excerpt

Although the concept of wellness is central to the flourishing current positive psychology movement (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005), it has a long history in counseling. Myers (1991, 1992) viewed wellness as the central paradigm for counseling and development. Furthermore, several theories or models of wellness (Adams, Bezner, & Steinhardt, 1997; Greenberg, 1985; Hettler, 1980; Lafferty, 1979; Renger et al., 2000) and wellness instruments (e.g., Optimal Living Profile, Renger et al., 2000; Perceived Wellness Survey, Adams et al., 1997) have been developed. Despite significant attention to wellness in the literature, there is surprisingly little consensus on the definition of the construct.

Although several authors have proposed definitions (Ardell, 1977; Clark, 1996; Dunn, 1977; Edlin, 1988; Greenberg, 1985; Jensen & Allen, 1994; Lafferty, 1979), the models contain different dimensions of wellness (focuses and number of dimensions), and an integrated definition has not been created. Clarifying the definition of wellness is difficult because of the subjective nature of the construct (Kelly, 2000) and because of the inherent value judgment about what wellness is and what it is not, and the implication that one can be either well or not well (Sarason, 2000).

There is some alignment, however, on the nature of wellness. Most authors generally agree that wellness is a multidimensional, synergistic construct (Adams et al., 1997; Ardell, 1977; Dunn, 1977; Hettler, 1980) that is represented on a continuum, not as an end state (Clark, 1996; Dunn, 1977; Lafferty, 1979; Lotion, 2000; Sarason, 2000; Sechrist, 1979; Teague, 1987). Most definitions also include the assumption that wellness is not just the absence of illness (Ardell, 1977; Edlin, 1988; Lafferty, 1979; Teague, 1987). Although there is some consensus on the nature of wellness, further progress needs to be made to better elucidate a comprehensive definition.

Considering the increased interest and emphasis on wellness in counseling, it is first necessary to review the literature to come to an agreement on the definition, conceptualization, and preferred means of assessing wellness. Increased conceptual clarity will facilitate the creation of better measures of wellness. Current wellness assessment instruments can only be as good as the conceptual frameworks upon which they are based. New wellness assessments need to reflect a comprehensive conceptualization of the construct. In this article, I review wellness theory, definitions, and assessment measures and synthesize the research into an integrated, comprehensive definition of wellness that can be the foundation of new wellness assessment measures.

* Wellness

Attempts to define wellness often begin with references to the World Health Organization's (1967) definition of wellness being not just the absence of illness but a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. Many conceptualizations of wellness include the central tenet that wellness is not just the absence of disease (Adams et al., 1997; Dunn, 1977; Edlin, 1988). Dunn, for example, emphasized wellness as a positive state, one that is beyond simply nonsickness. He defined high-level wellness as "an integrated method of functioning, which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable. It requires that the individual maintain a continuum of balance and purposeful direction within the environment where he is functioning" (Dunn, 1977, p. 4).

Beyond the absence of illness, wellness conceptualizations focus on areas of health or strength. Egbert (1980) outlined the focal areas of wellness as being an integrated personality with a clear sense of identity, a reality oriented perspective, and a clear meaning and purpose in life. Furthermore, he described wellness as including the recognition of a unifying force in one's life, the ability to cope creatively and to be inspired by hope, and the capability of creative, open relationships. …

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