Division 17 Section on Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is the scientific study of human strengths and virtues. It involves an attempt to move toward a more balanced perspective on human functioning that considers motives, capacities, and human potentials. Counseling Psychology historically and presently continues to be one of the few disciplines that highlights the values of fostering human capacities, satisfaction, and well-being. In some form Counseling Psychology always has been a vital part of promoting good health and preventing disease, including mental, physical, and social disorders for individuals and communities. It is in the context that this Section was formed. The aim of the this group is to focus on how Counseling Psychology fosters and builds human strength and well-being and in pursuing this endeavor, furthers the development of positive psychological science and practice. This site includes information about positive psychology research, teaching, and practice as well as events, strengths based books, and resources.

Each month, the Section on Positive Psychology will interview a member about their experiences in the field of Positive Psychology.

March 2015



Michael J. Scheel, PhD, ABPP

1. What is your title/affiliation/professional role(s)? 

Professor, Director of Training, Counseling psychology program, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I see my professional role to be an academic psychologist. I am highly involved as a teacher, researcher, and trainer of my students.

2. When and why did you join the Positive Psychology Section?  

I joined the positive psych section of SCP a few years ago. I learned about the many great things that the section was doing to promote positive psychology and I wanted to be a part of it. I also learned about the section through one of my former students, Brian Cole, who is on the executive board. And…one of my long time co-conspirators, Collie Conoley, who is also on the board. I truly admire both of them, and thought that if they are involved with this section, it must be something great! I also was really excited about the survey that the section initiated, because it helps to promote positive psychology in counseling psychology. I have discovered that there are several counseling psychologist in the section who are very dedicated to the promotion of positive psychology in counseling psychology.

3. What do you find most valuable about being a member of the section? 

I am extremely supportive of the movement within the section to promote positive psychology in SCP. Focusing on assets and strengths is foundational to counseling psychology, yet our psychology specialty was initially hesitant to embrace some of the wonderful developments in positive psychology over the last 20 years. I think we now are starting to fully incorporate positive psychology into our identity and what we do as counseling psychologists. There are so many exciting new developments in PP. For instance, in my role as associate editor of TCP, I have been a part of creating a special issue on applications in positive psychology which will demonstrate how our field has embraced through research, practice and theory building the essence of positive psychology. 

4. What are your counseling, teaching, research, and/or other applied interests related to positive psychology? 
I have been saying for some time now that teaching positive psychology is a sure-fire method of assuring the sustainability of counseling psychology programs in Colleges of Education. Here at Nebraska, I have created an undergraduate course that meets general education requirements for all undergraduate majors. The course is called Happiness and Well-Being through Positive Psychology. Within two days of advertising the course for the first time online, it filled up, and it has been full every semester since then. We have gotten great feedback from the students who have taken the course and from our Dean who loves the enthusiasm of the course. We are now in the process of expanding the course to an undergraduate minor. We also conduct research through the course by offering and assessing the effects of self improvement groups in which students learn and apply principles of mindfulness and self compassion, flow and optimal functioning, and positive social connections. 

I am also very excited about the integration of positive psychology into psychotherapy processes and approaches. To this end, my students and I have developed a categorization system of positive psychotherapy therapist interactions. We have validated a coding system from the categories for use in analyzing psychotherapy transcripts. The positive codes are helping us to study the influence of positive therapist interventions and processes on the alliance and on outcomes of therapy. We have a strong ambition to validate Fredrickson’s (2000) Broaden-and-Build phenomenon through our coding system. I also have been involved with the validation of a new measure for psychotherapy, the Hope for Change in Counseling Scale. This will allow researchers and practitioners to measure client positive factors. 

Finally, I believe we have integrated positive psychology principles and theories throughout our doctoral training program at Nebraska. This includes implementing the complete state model of mental health. All doctoral students learn to assess client assets and strengths along with client deficits and problem symptoms. Research training as well includes consideration of both deficits and strengths. For example, in one study, a student of mine is researching both the presence of shame and the presence of self compassion to understand the relationship between these two competing states. 

5. Any other useful information or comments (maybe advice for students or early career professionals)? It's ok if you don't have a response to this question. 

It is such an exciting time to be a counseling psychologist. I am someone who tends toward a strength orientation in how I think about people and psychology. Thus, I see the evolution of positive psychology to be in an extremely exciting stage. Many opportunities exist for students and professionals in the field to be involved with firming up the practice and science of positive psychology in counseling psychology. Lastly, I will add, that in this stage of my career, I have discovered that my involvement in positive psychology has made me a better person by drawing my attention toward strengths, assets, gratitudes, hope, forgiveness, self compassion and many more positive perspectives…all wonderfully enlivening concepts that feed the soul!