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.

Positive Psychology in Practice

In this section we highlight issues relevant to positive psychology in practice. Specifically, we have provided information on positive counseling strategies and bibliotherapy recommendations. Please contact Blake Allan if you have suggestions for additional resources. You can also submit your own work through the Membership Research Spotlight page. 

Featured Article:

Wong, Y. J. (2006). Strength-centered therapy: A social constructionist, virtues-based psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, 43, 133-146.

Abstract: This article describes Strength-Centered Therapy, a new therapeutic model based on the positive psychology of character strengths and virtues as well as social constructionist perspectives on psychotherapy. The contributions of the positive psychology of character strengths and social constructionist conceptualizations of psychotherapy are examined. In addition, the theoretical assumptions, applications, and limitations of Strength-Centered Therapy are discussed. It is argued that Strength-Centered Therapy might contribute to the revival of character strengths and virtues in psychotherapy.

Positive Counseling Strategies:


One strategy to boost client well-being is to have your clients practice gratitude. There are two ways to do this:


Gratitude visit: Have your clients write a one page letter to someone who has helped them in the past but who they have never properly thanked. Then have your clients read the letter to their recipient in person. Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005) found this to significantly increase happiness and decrease depression for up to one month.


Gratitude journal: Alternatively, you could have your clients write “Three Good Things” about their lives at the end of each day for a week. This had similar effects on happiness and depression, but the biggest effect occurred six months after the study ended. This happened because people enjoyed doing it so much that they kept it up after the study ended! This result was replicated with people who wrote down five things they were thankful for, once a week, for ten weeks (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).


Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An

experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of

Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389.

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen,T.A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress:

Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.


Self-compassion is when people accept themselves for both their good and bad qualities. If you have clients who are hard on themselves, you might have them write a compassionate letter to themselves. Tell them to imagine they are writing the letter to a close friend. Shapira and Mongrain (2010) had people write themselves a letter about a negative event that happened during the day, every day, for one week. The participants wrote the letter with as much caring and compassion as possible, as if they were writing it for a friend or family member. People who participated in the study had increased happiness and decreased depression up to 6 months later.

Shapira, L. B., & Mongrain, M. (2010). The benefits of self-compassion and optimism exercises

for individuals vulnerable to depression. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(5), 377-389. doi:10.1080/17439760.2010.516763

Using Character Strengths

You can have your clients find their top character strengths by directing them to this website: http://www.viacharacter.org/www/The-Survey. After they find out their top strengths, have them use their strengths in new and different ways each day. Seligman et al. (2005) did this with a large sample and found participants to report increased happiness and decreased depression for up to one month later. Clients normally respond very positively to this intervention and discussing your clients’ top strengths gives you more insight into their dynamics.

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress:

Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.


 A number of studies have found setting and working towards goals to be a major contributor to general well-being (e.g., MacLeod, Coates, & Hetherton, 2008). Therefore, have your client write down some realistic and concrete goals. These can work great for counseling homework and might include things like exercising, joining a social group, etc. Have them track their goal completion and actively engage in the process.


MacLeod, A. K., Coates, E., & Hetherton, J. (2008). Increasing well-being through teaching

goal-setting and planning skills: Results of a brief intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(2), 185-196. doi:10.1007/s10902-007-9057-2.

Interviewing for Strengths

Interviewing for client strengths used in conjunction with solution-focused interviewing techniques can help a client bring about positive change in their lives. This method involves helping the client define well-formed goals in their own context and exploring situations, called exceptions, in which the problem the client is facing had subsided for a brief time. Developing well-form goals can help a client have a concrete measurement of progress that has been made; exploring exceptions can help a client uncover successful techniques they have used in facing their problems.

Interviewing for well-formed goals involves a solutions-focused approach. Techniques such as the “miracle question” and scaling are used to help the client solidify the perceptible attributes of their goals. Once the client has developed personal goals and identified exceptions, strengths-based questioning such as coping and “what’s better” questions can help the client identify internal strengths that can keep them on track of achieving their goals and increasing exception moments in their lives. Both of these techniques involve a synergic relationship between therapist and client that encourages empowering the client to create their own context, to establish or renew bonds between the client and others, and to allow the client to understand that they have within themselves the power for healing (DeJong & Miller, 1995). By assuming this strengths perspective, clients can become more engaged in the therapeutic process allowing them to discover innate abilities to promote healing.

De Jong, P., & Miller, S.D. (1995). How to Interview for Client Strengths. Social Work, 40(6).

Hope Therapy

Hope therapy is a set of interventions designed to enhance hope via brief therapy. The goals of hope therapy are to help a client conceptualize clearer goals, produce numerous pathways to attain these goals, summon the mental energy to maintain goal pursuit, and reframe insurmountable obstacles as challenges to overcome (Lopez, Floyd, Ulven, & Snyder, 2000). The process to attain these goals consist of two different stages: instilling hope through techniques such as hope finding and hope bonding and increasing hope through hope enhancing and hope reminding.

Hope finding involves narrative storytelling to give the client a new perspective of the hope themes that are weaved throughout their life story. By uncovering times in their lives when they have fulfilled their goals, met and overcame challenges, and experienced personal success clients are able to then draw on these examples to find new ways of enhancing hope for their future. Hope finding can also involve formal assessment to gauge a client’s current level of hope that can then be analyzed by the client and therapist to understand how this level relates to where the client is now and how increasing hope levels can relate to future goals. In hope bonding, the therapist provides the client with a role model of hope behaviors and thinking along with a positive therapeutic environment. Once the client has developed an understanding of hope and the power it can have in their life, cognitive skills to increase their level of hope can be gained by using hope enhancing techniques. Along with hope enhancing, hope reminding can be used as a way of increasing hope in a client. Hope reminding enhances the ability of the client to recognize barriers and obstacles in their thinking, which will then activate cognitive processes and interventions based in hope.

Hope therapy provides therapists and their clients with the tools to bring about an increase in positive thinking while engaging the client’s strengths and past successes with hope.

Lopez, S.J., Floyd, K.R., Ulven, J.C., & Snyder C.R. (2000). Hope Therapy: Helping Clients

Build a House of Hope. Handbook of Hope. 123 – 150.

Well-Being Therapy

Well-being therapy (Fava, 1999) is a short-term, well-being-enhancing strategy based on Ryff’s (1989) multidimensional model of psychological well-being, encompassing environmental mastery, personal growth, purpose in life, autonomy, self-acceptance, and positive relations with others. This cognitive-behavioral approach can be used as a relapse preventive strategy in the residual phase of affective disorders, or as an alternative treatment approach for clients with affective disorders who did not benefit from standard treatments. Specific treatment of residual depressive symptoms may improve long-term outcomes by addressing symptoms that progress towards relapse.

One strategy includes self-observation of moments of well-being in the client’s daily life. The client keeps a diary that will allow him or her to record these moments and recognize positive and negative thought patterns. The next step is for the client to recognize automatic thoughts and beliefs that tend to disrupt these moments of well-being. Once these disruptive thoughts have been identified, the therapist can encourage the client to challenge the patterns of negative self-talk that are disrupting their moments of well-being. The final step, once moments of well-being and disruptive self-talk have been identified, is to apply cognitive restructuring based on Ryff’s conceptual framework..

According to Fava and Mangelli (2001), the route to recovery lies not exclusively in alleviating the negative, but in engendering the positive. Well-being therapy can provide a valuable tool to enhance well-being in a client’s life aiding in relapse prevention or offering an alternative approach to traditional treatments.

Fava, G. A. (1999). Well-being therapy: Conceptual and technical issues. Psychotherapy and

Psychosomatics, 68, 171-179.

Fava, G.A., Mangelli, L. (2001). Assessment of subclinical symptoms and psychological well-

being in depression. European Archives Psychiatry Clinical Neuroscience, 251 (2), 11/47-11/52.

Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of

psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 1069-1081.