Traditionally, psychotherapy has been about helping those seeking help through the worst of their symptoms. When those symptoms are treated, the therapy has been successful.

But what if a psychotherapist could do more? What if, as well as treating the symptoms of a disorder they could reinforce and introduce other behaviours which would not only prevent those symptoms from returning but enhance the lifestyle of the person receiving therapy?

Positive Psychotherapy (PPT) is a different approach based on providing clients with a comprehensive perspective on their circumstances, rather than focusing simply on dealing with getting past the symptoms of a disorder. Evidence suggests that exploring both strengths and weaknesses achieves a greater sense of wellbeing and function than simply treating the weaknesses.

For years the field of psychotherapy has been based upon looking at what the patient is suffering from, what they are unable to do, what is ‘wrong’ with them. This deficit orientated assessment doesn’t reflect what the client is capable of, what they can do well and what skills they already have which they could improve or how these existing abilities can be used to aid in the treatment the client receives.

The format of asking someone “what’s wrong with you?” automatically puts a negative bias on the client, highlighting what their failings are and concentrating on their symptoms. We feel that once these symptoms have been treated, eliminated or addressed the client is then well. Indeed, some aspects of wellness were have even been seen as traits of underlying problems, so fixated on things being ‘wrong’ and needing to be fixed were some members of the psychotherapeutic community. Characteristics such as altruism, anticipation and humour were all cited in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, published in 1994, and the in papers published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2000, as being associated with a sense of guilt or as defence mechanisms.

So to give even these most admirable and important human sensations a negative connotation is to essentially presume everyone has something ‘wrong’ with them and naturally there is a drive to fix them. Instead, what PPT does is look at what the client is capable of and how they can use these skills in their own aid, along with guidance from their therapist. By shifting focus from what ails us to highlighting what our strengths are is proving to be a valuable method of interaction.

Studies have shown that people who are encouraged to identify their strengths and act upon them not only combat a sense of depression but also improve their overall wellbeing. As well as increasing wellbeing the participants in these tests have been re-visited and interviewed after a year’s intermission and it was found that, even without any further intervention from psychotherapists or clinicians, the participants continued to feel far better than the control group. It would be expected for participants to feel better after going through activities designed to boost a positive outlook but for these effects to remain unchanged for 12 months is both surprising and encouraging.

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Amy Fry is a proud stay at home mom to a five year-old boy with special needs, she writes about various subjects including mental health and cognitive therapy. For more information about cognitive behavioral visit or

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