Self-Care – The Pursuit of Well-Being



The Pursuit of Well-Being

Well-being appears to one of the latest buzzwords and is the foundation of a plethora of workshops, retreats, self-help books, online courses, and Gurus. But what is it and why is it important for those entering residential treatment?

It is generally accepted that one of the world’s leading authorities on well-being is Dr. Carol Ryff. Dr. Ryff is an American academic and psychologist. She is the Hilldale Professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she directs the Institute on Aging. Dr. Ryff created one of the first systematic models of Psychological Well-Being, and her model remains one of the most scientifically verified and empirically rigorous today.

Dr. Ryff was passionate that well-being should not be restricted to the medical or biological description but instead, it should be a philosophical question about the meaning of a good life. Dr. Ryff’s model of Psychological Well-being differs from past models in one important way: well-being is multidimensional, and not merely about happiness, or positive emotions. A “good life” is balanced and whole, engaging each of the different aspects of well-being, instead of being narrowly focused.

Entering residential treatment shouldn’t be just about learning how to abstain from someone’s drug of choice or ceasing someone’s destructive behaviour, although it is a core function, it’s also about improving someone’s well-being so they can lead a “good life”.

So, What Is Well-Being All About?

Here are Dr. Ryff’s definitions of the Theory-Guided Dimensions of Well-Being: *

Self-acceptance – I like most aspects of my personality.

High scorer: Possesses a positive attitude toward the self; acknowledges and accepts multiple aspects of self, including good and bad qualities; feels positive about past life.

Low scorer: Feels dissatisfied with self; is disappointed with what has occurred with past life; is troubled about certain personal qualities; wishes to be different than what he or she is.

Positive relations with others – People would describe me as a giving person, willing to share my time with others.

High scorer: Has warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others; is concerned about the welfare of others; capable of strong empathy, affection, and intimacy; understands give and take of human relationships.

Low scorer: Has few close, trusting relationships with others; finds it difficult to be warm, open, and concerned about others; is isolated and frustrated in interpersonal relationships; not willing to make compromises to sustain important ties with others.

Autonomy – I have confidence in my opinions, even if they are contrary to the general consensus.

High scorer: Is self-determining and independent; able to resist social pressures to think and act in certain ways; regulates behaviour from within; evaluates self by personal standards.

Low scorer: Is concerned about the expectations and evaluations of others; relies on judgments of others to make important decisions; conforms to social pressures to think and act in certain ways.

Environmental mastery – In general, I feel I am in charge of the situation in which I live

High scorer: Has a sense of mastery and competence in managing the environment; controls complex array of external activities; makes effective use of surrounding opportunities; able to choose or create contexts suitable to personal needs and values.

Low scorer: Has difficulty managing everyday affairs; feels unable to change or improve surrounding context; is unaware of surrounding opportunities; lacks a sense of control over the external world.

Purpose in life – Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.

High scorer: Has goals in life and a sense of directedness; feels there is meaning to present and past life; holds beliefs that give life purpose; has aims and objectives for living.

Low scorer: Lacks a sense of meaning in life; has few goals or aims, lacks a sense of direction; does not see the purpose of past life; has no outlook or beliefs that give life meaning.

Personal growth – I think it is important to have new experiences that challenge how you think about yourself and the world.

High scorer: Has a feeling of continued development; sees self as growing and expanding; is open to new experiences; has a sense of realizing his or her potential; sees improvement in self and behaviour over time; is changing in ways that reflect more self-knowledge and effectiveness.

Low scorer: Has a sense of personal stagnation; lacks a sense of improvement or expansion over time; feels bored and uninterested with life; feels unable to develop new attitudes or behaviours.


Dr. Ryff developed an inventory that assesses the psychological component of wellbeing. There are two forms, the long (84 questions) and medium form (54 questions), both comprise a series of statements reflecting the six areas above. Respondents rate statements on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 indicating strong disagreement and 6 indicating strong agreement and then the scores are added up and correlated against the parameters of low, medium and high. The goal is for individuals to move into the high score range, and for many clients entering residential treatment this is from a low score position.

With so many treatment centres indicating that part of their goal is to increase individual’s health and well-being it is well worth prospective clients and their funders asking what the centre means by well-being as not all follow Dr. Ryff’s model.


*From Ryff, C., and Keyes, C. (1995). The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 719-727.

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