Carrying Light into Darkness
Inspiring Confidence to Flourish


Glossary of Terms

Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of optimal behavior and of people at their best. It's an empirically based approach used to help clients flourish. Applied widely in both coaching and psychotherapy, positive psychology helps people achieve greater understanding of their life circumstances and choices; embrace attitudes that make life more satisfying; and make changes that will bring ever-closer the fulfillment they desire.

A strength-based system, Positive Psychology rests on the principle that recognizing and promoting what’s right with people is the optimal means of assuring success in reaching goals. It does not negate or ignore “negative” emotions or experiences, but uses science to determine how things “go right” and how to elicit more positive emotional states — so that those sets of thinking, behaviors, and choices can be cultivated and designed into a program for change. When clients focus on how they function at their best, and capitalize on their discoveries, they thrive.

Joan’s coaching and psychotherapy work are both grounded in Positive Psychology principles. Her work with clients is informed and renewed by appreciative inquiry about clients’ life stories, and by research results that lead to real-world conversations and strategies for new possibilities. A positivist approach accomplishes the essential task: opening our minds and hearts to kindle our inherent curiosity, creativity, receptivity, and vitality.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a scientific and creative approach to behavior change that is values-oriented and based in mindfulness skills development. ACT and Positive Psychology share important common methods, including goal setting, psychological strengths, making positive changes, and clarification of values and life purpose.

Narrative and Constructivist Approaches to Psychotherapy

“Narrative” and “constructivist” are not precisely the same, but together capture two important strands of Joan’s clinical methodology within an overall Positive Psychology framework. “Narrative” connotes the centrality of “story” in therapy — an appreciation of the significance of a client’s life story; of how that story, or narrative, is revealed; and of the experience and meaning a client makes of the story of his/her life. A narrative approach also creates a particular quality of healing environment: one that is less driven by standard diagnostic assessment and intervention, but is, instead, psychologically more spacious and respectful of client strengths and wisdom.

“Constructivist” approaches point toward how we humans make meaning, understand psychological distress, and achieve change. Constructivism posits that people function on the basis of symbolic or linguistic constructs — “units” of meaning — that help them navigate the world, have a coherent sense of their past, present, and future, and live their lives meaningfully. It also suggests that our meaning-making can be relatively fluid, and that there are potentially multiple meanings to be derived from any experience. Constructivist engagement and conversation investigate how stories and their meanings may benefit from reconsideration, and help clients reweave the narrative threads into a consonant life story that both explains clients powerfully to themselves, and helps them understand others.

Joan has developed and uses modes of inquiry and reflection based on narrative and constructive concepts; these include Appreciative Inquiry, questionnaires, exercises, and Life Story Interview methods.

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry is a collaborative, dynamic approach to growth, development, and problem solving. The Appreciative Inquiry process engages participants through unconditionally positive questions and conversations. The focus on their success experiences, their demonstrated strengths, and the values that animate them promotes a deeper and more positive understanding of self and family, the co-creation of an inspiring-yet-achievable vision of an optimal future, and launching of practical actions to bring this vision into being.

Behavioral Economics and Finance

Behavioral Economics and Finance is a subfield of economics that integrates insights from psychology into the exploration and understanding of people’s financial behaviors. It posits that aspects of psychological functioning influence — and sometimes drive — financial behaviors, including investment decision making.

Financial Therapy and Financial Psychology

Financial Psychology is the discipline that deals with the psychological bases of people’s relationships with money, and the behavioral expressions of beliefs, thoughts, and emotions related to money. Unexamined, an individual’s financial psychology operates largely out of conscious awareness; nevertheless, it drives behaviors such as saving, spending, and investing. It can also have important impacts on physical and mental health, self-esteem, identity, relationships, effectiveness in work, and sense of purpose in life.

Financial Therapy is psychotherapy that helps clients resolve dysfunctional money-related beliefs typically generated during life’s formative years. These beliefs — “money scripts” — are often generational. They can cause enormous stress internally, within families, in relationships, and sometimes, in professional or business life, and can have real consequences for clients’ abilities to live the lives they genuinely desire.

“Money scripts” are not necessarily about money, per se, but are about our relationships with money, the meaning(s) of money in our lives and to our identities, and our beliefs as they’re expressed in our financial behaviors. Once made overt, these scripts can be understood, appreciated, and evaluated with current, mature sensibilities. The process of Financial Therapy helps clients recognize the impacts of their entrenched money scripts and financial behavior patterns, identify and mobilize strengths, and take action to effect positive change in their relationships to money and financial well-being.

DSM V: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the U.S. It is used by clinicians — psychotherapists, psychiatrist, physicians, social workers, and other health and mental health practitioners — in many settings. The DSM provides full descriptions and criteria used in the diagnosis of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Eating Disorder Prevention

Joan is an experienced, comprehensive Eating Disorders specialist and consultant who currently works with clients who are either free of acute symptoms or have been in recovery for a minimum of 6 months. [Comprehensive descriptions and diagnostic criteria for disordered eating are available in the DSM V. For information on referrals for treatment of eating disorders in the acute stages, please visit the Multi-service Eating Disorders Association (MEDA) website:]

Joan is particularly adept at helping clients develop a comprehensive treatment plan, sort out what the current treatment priorities are, and determine what adjunctive modalities — such as relaxation or meditation training, relapse prevention, treatment for symptoms of depression or anxiety, exercise psychology, etc. — may be useful. A treatment plan might also include referrals to practitioners of other specialties, such as Integrated Medicine, pharmacology, or nutrition.

Clients find that Joan works collaboratively with them to create a strong new vision for the future and an integrative plan for achieving that vision. Her recent work with clients has included attention to longer-term issues and goals, including increased clarity about patterns of disordered eating states, identity, social relationships, financial belief systems, and related behaviors. When recovery is well established, other opportunities and modalities may be selectively recommended to benefit Joan’s clients.

Joan offers consultation and education on the treatment of eating disorders to medical and other professionals. She also provides brief treatment and therapeutic consultation to families of eating disordered clients. Families and significant friends are important potential sources of support for clients and, of course, are affected by a loved one’s disordered eating. They also often benefit from the support, new insights, and psychoeducation that Joan provides.

Mindful Awareness Practice

The “mindfulness” concept refers to the notion of moment-by-moment awareness; to a methodical turning of one’s attention to present experiencing; and to a meditative practice that engenders peacefulness, ease, and insight. The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society calls mindfulness “a basic human quality, a way of learning to pay wise attention to whatever is happening in your life that allows you a greater sense of connection to your life inwardly and outwardly.”

The approach is one that cultivates “enhanced attention” and helps us better understand the myriad and layered interactions between mind and body. It brings the practitioner greater clarity, equilibrium, appreciation, and perspective in the face of challenges or stressors, and can be applied to any human endeavor.

Mindfulness refers to something quite specific: a kind of “inner listening,” with an attitude of “friendliness” and nonjudgment toward one’s present experience. This is a particularly effective tool in the treatment of depression and anxiety; such “friendly” inner listening would ask a client to turn toward experience rather than away from it, in service of shifting the relationship with difficult feelings toward one of kind acceptance.

Mindful awareness skills can be taught to clients who learn and use these attentional and listening skills to experience multiple benefits, including greater ability to relax, more energy and enthusiasm for life, improved coping with challenges, decreased levels of stress, and effective pain management.

Joan offers mindful awareness training to both her coaching and psychotherapy clients. Practicing these skills cultivates enhanced attention and friendliness towards the present moment.

Self-Compassion and Mindfulness

Self-compassion addresses how we regard ourselves both generally and in specific moments of difficulty, perceived “imperfection,” or failure. It is both an attitude and a skill — and includes the practices of self-kindness and self-forgiveness — that can be learned and utilized.

Joan's clients who learn to practice self-compassion often find that their experiences move from:

  • self-judgment to self-kindness
  • isolation to connectedness (an awareness of our common humanity)
  • over-identification (with a feeling or judgment) to greater mindfulness or mindful objectivity

Clients develop a calm, clear-sighted way of relating to themselves, even in instances of felt inadequacy; a kindly, attentive presence in the face of negative thoughts; and an evocable experience of being connected to all of humankind. The benefits include increased life satisfaction, greater social connectedness, usable emotional intelligence, enhanced emotional resilience, and improved sense of well-being.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, assess, and manage emotions. Several models of
emotional intelligence have emerged, based on the seminal work of Howard Gardner, Peter Salovey, and John Mayer. Taken together, the models include these defining features:

  • ability to know — to perceive and decipher — emotions in oneself and others; this includes the ability to recognize feelings in faces and in representations (i.e., in art)
  • understanding of emotions: comprehending emotional language and appreciating the interactive nature of emotions
  • capacity to feel empathy, to resonate with one’s experience or that of another
  • ability to manage emotions in self and others, and to use emotions to facilitate thinking and problem solving; an emotionally intelligent person can harness emotions, positive or negative, and move toward goals
  • reparation of emotional damage

Daniel Goleman added a Social Intelligence dimension to Emotional Intelligence, noting these capacities:

  • self-awareness: the ability to read one’s emotions and recognize their impact, and to use gut feelings to guide decisions
  • self-management: the ability to adapt to changing circumstances
  • social awareness: the ability to sense, understand, and react to others’ emotions while comprehending social networks
  • relationship management: the ability to inspire, influence, and assist others’ development while managing conflict.


Exercise Psychology

Though the benefits of exercise are well established, many people do not recognize the role of exercise psychology in psychotherapy and mental health. Of course, exercise provides physical benefits: improved health, stamina, strength and muscle tone, sleep, energy for living, and function of the circulatory and respiratory systems, in particular. The emotional benefits are increasingly widely known: relief of stress, cognitive clarity, heightened optimism, emotional release, and greater calm.

In addition, exercise is often indicated for treatment of depression and anxiety, in part for the above-named benefits. But there are additional demonstrated psychological benefits, such as increased sense of mastery, more-positive body image, strengthened psychological resilience, and improved self-esteem.

Joan’s use of exercise psychology comprises much more than the simple suggestion that clients “get some exercise.” In helping clients determine the appropriate type of exercise program, she considers client motivation for participation, as well as scheduling and structural issues. Joan uses kinesiologic and other assessment tools to understand:

  • the strength of client desire to reach goals
  • client attitudes and beliefs about outcomes and what she or he can accomplish
  • client beliefs about what others think (i.e., subjective norms)
  • client’s perceived behavioral control (i.e., ability to fulfill the intention)
  • internal and external resources available to the client
  • barriers to implementation of an exercise program

Designing and fine-tuning the “right” program for each client can require some experimentation and follow-through to ensure the sustainability of the plan.

Optimal Performance Coaching

Joan Carroll-Cronin offers coaching services to people who wish to maximize their performance and fulfill their potential in life, business, athletics, the arts, and creativity. Joan’s approach to coaching begins with inquiries and assessments of clients’ values and strengths, and an appreciation of their potential to create actionable steps and pathways for reaching their targeted goals and dreams successfully. A coaching relationship with Joan greatly accelerates a client's progress toward success.

Joan offers coaching and skills training to athletes; performing artists; and business professionals and public presenters. Anyone can encounter challenges in optimal functioning (e.g., blocks, performance anxiety, impaired concentration, excessive physical tension, injuries, lack of psychological skills for preparation, fear of failure, etc.). Other challenges for athletes and performing artists include the pressures involved with competition, setbacks, and the performance-related consequences of overtraining. Joan’s coaching practice is grounded in five primary principles of in-depth psychological skills training, as follows: Relaxation, Self Talk, Imagery, Goal Setting, and Concentration.

Anyone who is committed to being his or her best or who seeks to perform confidently at their highest levels can benefit from coaching. Its power to help clients excel lies in both individuals’ choices to cooperate with their own strengths, and the collaborative and inspirational nature of the coach-client relationship. Joan’s keen, engaged, and positive guidance offers coaching clients an exceptional experience.

Joan's clients reap multiple benefits as they identify aspirational goals, value their own capacities to achieve them, create doable action steps, and pursue those steps with energy and confidence. The positive outcomes of coaching include outstanding performance; greater efficiency in attainment of goals; consistent success in sports, performing arts, and business; enhanced skills in specific techniques of preparation; deeper concentration, and greater confidence.

Joan's coaching specialties include Sport and Performance Psychology, Creativity Development in Business and the Arts, Presentation Skills Training, and Life Coaching & Planning.

Life Coaching & Planning

Life Planning is a highly structured and dynamic inquiry that results in: (1) clarity about the “design” — the vision, dreams, and goals — of a person’s desired life; (2) identification of obstacles to those goals; and (3) an integrated, long-term plan of action that addresses those obstacles and keeps a person moving effectively toward realization of the cherished vision of his or her ideal life.

Often undertaken during pivotal moments in life, Life Planning fuels the discovery and creation of a powerful vision for one’s ideal life without the constraints of preconceived or entrenched beliefs. Life Planning is a journey that inspires courage and heightened creativity, and builds a foundation for implementing one’s financial, social, and intellectual capital in service of one’s life dreams. Joan’s coaching services assist clients in developing a vision for life that is compelling, vivid, and highly sustainable; often, this vision becomes the blueprint for a powerful personal Mission Statement.

A Registered Life Planner®, Joan invites clients to engage in conversation and inquiry, within a supportive environment, aimed at identifying their values, aspirations, successes, and demonstrated strengths. She collaborates with them to design and implement action plans that address obstacles in various arenas (e.g., relationships, family, career, and health, among others), and sustain the inspiration of the client’s vision for life as he/she advances toward the fulfillment of cherished dreams.

Peak Performance and Flow States

Peak Performance is all about the ability to operate at one’s own highest level. People perform best when they’re in optimal physical condition and mental states. The mental state most conducive to great performance, whether as an athlete, presenter, or performer, is one of “relaxed focus.”

Several skills and practices can contribute to peak performance. Meditation and mindfulness practice, and concentration training cultivate a continuous and complete presence with “what’s happening right now”; reduce reactivity; and stabilize the mind so it can remain focused on the intended activity without distraction. Concentration skill development teaches clients how to direct and intensify focus, and how to conduct intelligent practice of one’s sport, presentation skills, art, et al.

Peak Performance is amplified when we’re able to be in what researchers and practitioners call a state of “Flow.” Flow is a heightened mind-body state and a “zone” of optimal functioning that is about a focused experience, rather than about outcome. It is a state of utter absorption in what one is doing, immune from the intrusion of extraneous thoughts. Flow is the harmonious experience of mind and body working together effortlessly; Flow “lifts up” ordinary experience so that it is felt as “something special.”

Joan uses an integrative approach to the development of Flow states, calling on her many Optimal Performance, meditation, coaching, and clinical skills and protocols. She uses specific skills training exercises, affirmations, and visualization practice in Peak Performance training, and helps clients deal with barriers and challenges to Peak Performance and Flow states (e.g., performance anxiety).

The Peak Performance mindset features:

  • a balance of challenge and skills
  • a merging of action and awareness
  • clarity of goals
  • responsiveness to clear feedback
  • concentration on the task at hand
  • sense of control
  • loss of self-consciousness
  • transformation of the experience of time
  • experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding

Creativity Development and Training in the Arts and Business:
Unlocking Your Creative Potential

Creativity is understood in countless ways: a balance of art and discipline; the abilities to problem solve and adapt to change; a novel idea rendered useful to others; and imagination communicated are but a few. However we understand creativity, most of us would like to “have” more of it — because it permits expression of what we are impelled to communicate, because it makes meaning, because it builds vitality, because it allows us to problem solve and adapt, and/or because it has impact on others.

In her coaching practice, Joan works with clients to develop and enhance their creativity. Through the years, Joan’s creativity work with clients has been greatly influenced by the work of pioneering figures in the arts, psychology, aesthetics, and neuroscience. Psychologist Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences and neuropsychologist Shelley Carson’s research on the brain mechanics of creativity are primary. Joan has also gained from the work of twentieth-century writers on aesthetics, such as cultural critic Walter Benjamin and education philosopher John Dewey; visual artists Georgia O’Keeffe and Joseph Cornell; theater/film directors Peter Brook and Werner Herzog; and dancers/choreographers Twyla Tharp and Bill T. Jones.

Dr. Carson’s work suggests that creative mental operations involve specific neuronal patterns that can be strengthened in anyone through training exercises and practice. Joan uses an array of such exercises, as well as an “art/creative autobiography/life story” approach, in her design of creativity work with clients.

It is useful, Joan notes, to be a coach and clinician with an arts background. Joan studied visual art and theater, and after receiving her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, performed professionally in classical and contemporary theater productions throughout the U.S. for nearly a decade. She is currently a practicing visual artist.

Alexander Technique

Joan has taught the Alexander Technique to business professionals, performing artists, athletes, and other clients, and uses its subtle power in her coaching and clinical work. An introduction to the work can be provided within the contexts of Optimal Performance Coaching or Exercise Psychology.

Developed by F. Matthias Alexander as a vocal training technique for singers and actors, the Alexander Technique is a body and mind re-education method for consciously altering maladaptive habits of coordination and muscular tension. Alexander recognized, early on, the indivisible interactions between mind and body — that how we think affects how we organize our physicality, and that habits of excessive tension and inefficient biomechanics affect how we feel and think.

The benefits of Alexander work are storied: relief from tension, strain, and pain; improved posture; freer, more comfortable movement; easier, efficient breathing patterns; heightened vitality and strength; and symptomatic relief for some forms of anxiety and depression.

Workshop: Alexander Technique for Riders more info

Joan’s Reading List:

Selected Recommendations for Further Reading

The books listed here provide greater depth on topics related to Positive Interventions Psychotherapy and Optimal Performance Coaching.


Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3-to-1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life
Barbara Fredrickson
Three Rivers Press, 2009

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment
Martin E.P. Seligman
Free Press, 2002

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being
Martin E.P. Seligman
Free Press, 2011


Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
Jon Kabat-Zinn
Hyperion, 1994

The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being
Daniel Siegal, MD
WW. Norton 2007

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ
Daniel Goleman
Bantam, 1995

The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness
Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Guilford Press, 2007


Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
HarperColllins, 1990


Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life
Shelley Carson
Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2010

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
Twyla Tharp
Simon & Schuster, 2003


The Seven Stages of Money Maturity: Understanding the Spirit and Value of Money in Your Life
George Kinder
Dell Publishing, 1999

Money and the Meaning of Life
Jacob Needleman
Doubleday, 1991

The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge: 5 Principles to Transform Your Relationship with Money
Ted Klontz, Rick Kahler, and Brad Klontz
Health Communications, Inc., 2005