Margarita Tarragona is warm and kind when you first meet her. She is quiet, humble, elegant, and a wonderful communicator who has a lifelong passion about learning.
Margarita is a professional who can do many things: she is a coach, a clinician, a writer, and a professor at a university. However, teaching positive psychology is her Ravel’s “Bolero”—her signature strength, you might say. She was the recipient of the 2021 IPPA (International Positive Psychology Association) Outstanding Practitioner Award at the 7th World Congress, for the “most outstanding excellence and impact in advancing positive psychology in ethical and evidence-based ways.”
Margarita views this as a highlight in the course of her career. “I identify myself as a clinician and educator, not a researcher,” she says. “So this award is particularly meaningful and has helped me own who I am and changed my narrative. I am a pracademic—practitioner and academic!”
Margarita is a psychologist with a PhD from University of Chicago. She has deep positive psychology roots. In the 1980s she was a student of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, she envisioned the applications of flow to the therapy process. Her passion for learning led her to the University of Pennsylvania MAPP program (Master of Applied Positive Psychology), the first to offer a degree in this field. Martin Seligman was the father of positive Psychology. She led her explorations of how concepts like wholebeing, flourishing, and other types of therapy could be incorporated.
After graduating from MAPP, Margarita enrolled in WBI’s Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology, and eventually became a WBI faculty member. Today she lectures on positive psychology at Penn and at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México. She is also the founder of PositivaMente, applying positive psychology in coaching, consulting and therapy—based on dialogue and collaboration rather than the traditionally hierarchical structures of therapy.
Along with positive psychology, Margarita has integrated narrative concepts, experiences, and exercises into her teaching and practice, exploring the idea that people create meaning in their lives that shows up in the stories they tell. Her book Positive Psychology and Narrative practices: Positive Identities was one of the first to examine the integration of positive psychology and narrative into clinical practice.
“Personal narrative can be used as a powerful tool in therapy, education, coaching, and consulting,” she says. “We are all storytellers, and narrative practices are natural ways of working with people to help find alternate stories, rather than stories that are restrictive and limiting.” She sees people’s stories as “precious gifts” that practitioners need to handle with respect, curiosity, and care.
Narrative practice, perspective taking (“This too shall pass”), and best-self stories can be particularly supportive during challenging times, Margarita says, such as those we’ve experienced over the last two years. If you are a member of IPPA, you can join Margarita’s monthly clinical supervision group, in which an international group of clinicians share their best practices and offer support to each other. The group has shared the COVID shifts and reassessed their practices since therapy went online. There were many topics to discuss, including relationships, resilience and spiritual values, as well as loss. Margarita also created mini podcasts with positive psychology tools.
Margarita’s positive psychology tool, gratitude, has been a constant companion for Margarita and her family these past months. “Both of my adult sons were living at home, and I made gratitude jars for everyone,” she says. “The jars filled up—mostly with my little slips of paper! We would read them to each other and it was so joyful to share and savor the stories.”