Can standing like a superhero make you feel like a superhero? It’s an intriguing idea and one social psychologist Amy Cuddy spoke about in her widely-viewed 2012 TED Talk. In that talk, Cuddy revealed that her research showed adopting powerful postures, rather than powerless postures, can make us feel more powerful and be more successful.1
It was an exciting finding. But the story of power posing didn’t end with Cuddy’s TED Talk. In the following years, a number of other social psychologists labeled Cuddy’s work “pseudoscience” and wanted to discredit it entirely. In response, Cuddy returned to the topic and accumulated the research of multiple other scientists to show that, despite the criticisms, there was ample, scientifically sound evidence that our body posture can, indeed, affect our mood.2
If you’re a mental health counselor or are planning to start a career as a mental health professional, you should feel confident in using the concepts of power posing in your treatment of patients. But given the controversy around the idea, you need to have a good understanding of what power posing is and how it works to help mood.
Power posing is adopting powerful, expansive body language. For example, a Wonder Woman stance—legs wide, hands on hips, chin raised—is a powerful posture and assuming it can make us feel more confident and can even help us perform better. On the other hand, powerless, contractive body language—such as self-hugging—can make us feel less confident and can negatively affect performance.
Cuddy’s research found that powerful postures have a much more direct and positive effect on mood than does spoken self-affirmation. She theorizes this is because posture is much more primal and thus more directly linked to mood. Additionally, when we adopt a powerful posture—e.g. hands planted on a table, body leaning forward—others are far more likely to see us as strong and confident and respond in ways that reinforce our sense of confidence.
The fact that a powerful posture can affect how people respond to you is partly why Cuddy now prefers to call the phenomenon “postural feedback effect” rather than “power posing.”3 But regardless of how it’s referred to in the social psychology community, the practice of adopting powerful postures can positively affect our cognition, behaviors, and psychology, improving our executive functions, elevating our optimism, expanding our creativity, and making us more confident in ourselves.
In her initial research, Cuddy found that power posing can change body chemistry, increasing testosterone and decreasing cortisol levels. However, further research has struggled to duplicate these results, leaving Cuddy and others to believe the hormonal effect of power posing is, at best, complex and difficult to measure.
Without good evidence of hormonal changes, scientists who study the social and psychological effects of body language can only tell us that powerful postures do improve mood in most people. And this is true whether we adopt a powerful pose in private before a meeting or contest and/or if we adopt a powerful pose during a meeting or contest. The mechanisms behind this may turn out to be chemical in nature but, for now, the exact mechanisms at work remain uncertain.
If you want to help people overcome confidence issues and other mental health struggles, one of the best choices you can make is to earn an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Through a clinical mental health master’s program, you can gain the critical thinking skills needed to help clients cope with daily life and overcome their greatest challenges. A master’s program in clinical health counseling can also help you gain the qualifications you’ll need to become a licensed clinical mental health counselor.
Clearly, earning a master’s level mental health degree can be a great choice if you want to be a successful mental health professional. And the good news is, earning a degree is more convenient than you might think. Thanks to online education, you can now earn a master’s degree right from home. Plus, clinical mental health counseling online programs offer flexible scheduling, which gives you the power to choose when in the day you attend class. This level of convenience is why online learning is so popular among working professionals.
Power posing is just one of the many techniques people with confidence and/or other mental health issues can use to improve their lives. And, when you earn the proper mental health degree online, you can become qualified to teach these techniques and help in numerous ways.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.