Blog post

How the Disney strategy could help solve shame around mental health

The words ‘mental health’, unfortunately, carry some negative stigma, which can cause people to feel shameful about having a mental health problem. Here, Yasuhiro Kotera, Academic Lead in Psychotherapy at the University of Derby Online Learning examines the Disney strategy as a solution.

By Yasuhiro Kotera - 14 May 2018

What is the Disney Strategy?

The Disney strategy was modelled from how Walt Disney made his dreams come true. It is relatively easy to conduct and is thought to help people have positive feelings about their future.

Among caring practitioners and company managers who had undertaken neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) training, this strategy was noted as one of the most effective NLP skills in developing their caring and managerial practices.

One central feature of NLP is modelling: closely analysing excellent results in order to duplicate them. NLP developer, Robert Dilts, closely examined the process of how Walt made his dreams come true and came up with the Disney strategy.

Dreamer, realist and critique

The Disney strategy involves three positions: dreamer, realist and critique (or spoiler). It is easier to have someone who can support you in this process, to act as a guide. You will step into each position with a certain posture and a certain thinking mode.

In the dreamer position, your focus is on your vision – what you want to do, your attitude is ‘anything is possible’, and your posture is head and eyes up, symmetrical and relaxed. You will think about what you want as if nothing was impossible, and imagine what you will see, hear, and feel to achieve it. Also thinking about the positive impacts of achieving it can help.

In the realist position, your focus is on how to achieve it – plan and steps, your attitude is ‘act as if the dream is achievable’, and your posture is head and eyes straight or slightly forward, and symmetrical. You will establish timeframes and milestones for progress. It is usually useful to make testable measurement to know whether you are moving toward the goal or away from it.

In the critique position, your focus is on avoiding problems by finding what is missing. Your attitude is consider ‘what-if’ problems’occur, and your posture is eyes down, head down and tilted, and angular. You will think about what is missing or needed. If there is something missing, think about how to overcome it. You can go back to the realist or dreamer position to think about this.

On your first attempt it might be useful to go through in this order (dreamer, realist then critique), then after the first run, you can go back and explore the positions in a different order. Most importantly, you need to have fun in this process to help identify what you are passionate about and cultivate your intrinsic motivation.

The feeling of shame

My research has reported on feelings of shame around mental health in various populations, including UK hospitality workers and caring profession students suggesting that if you approach poor mental health from the mental health perspective, many people would not engage with it because they feel shame about it.

Many types of workers and students report high shame about mental health problems so it makes sense to approach mental health from a positive psychological perspective. This could reduce the feelings of ambivalence about participating in an event or training session that aims to enhance positive psychological constructs that are related to better mental health, i.e. self-efficacy, resilience, self-compassion, intrinsic motivation and engagement.

The benefits of the Disney Strategy

The participants in my research reported this strategy enhanced their intrinsic motivation, i.e. working or studying because you love it, you find it inherently interesting and satisfying, as opposed to extrinsic motivation where you do it in order to get something external such as money, fame, or recognition.

Extrinsic motivation was strongly related to mental health symptoms, and negative mental health attitudes. This means that extrinsically motivated people tend to have poor mental health, and feel shameful about it. Among demographics and worker profiles, extrinsic motivation was associated with males, longer industry experience, and a higher position.

It is great to focus on mental health, however, our focus tends to be on negative mental health such as depression, anxiety, stress etc, which may have limited effects as many people still have shame about it. Focusing on positive mental health is equally important, and can be more conducive to our mental health.

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About the author

Yasu Kotera smiling, sitting at a table in front of tea cups and a jug of water.

Yasuhiro Kotera
Former Academic Lead in Counselling, Psychotherapy and Psychology

Dr Kotera's teaching primarily focused on mental health and research modules including supervision at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.