The Art of Positive Psychotherapy

Positive psychotherapy, or PPT, is considered a newer therapeutic concept for people struggling with mental health disorders. The focus of this therapy is to uncover and utilize a person's inner strengths to overcome their challenges in life. The approach is to move away from what is wrong with a person towards what is good and positive.

Key takeaways:
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    Standard therapy focuses on negative behaviors, emotions, and feelings and works to eliminate a problem.
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    PPT uses exercises that increase a person's self-awareness, centering on core humanistic qualities such as love, hope, balance, and life perceptions.
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    Through a series of sessions with a therapist or counselor, the client discovers their strengths and how to gain happiness, engagement, and meaning in life.
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    Positivity often must be learned; the brain is trained in different perceptions to provide balance.

The standard treatment for mental health issues is to address the negative symptoms instead of enhancing a person's positive qualities. PPT uses exercises that increase a person's self-awareness, centering on core humanistic qualities such as love, hope, balance, and life perceptions.

When a person seeks positive psychotherapy, they have multiple activities or homework that aim to merge daily life experiences with healthy strategies that promote balance. PPT builds on a person’s internal resources by identifying abilities rather than weaknesses. Discovering a person's capabilities is empowering and enables self-confidence and the ability to gain insight into areas that need strengthening.

Exercises used in positive psychotherapy

Gratitude journal

Writing in a specific journal for this exercise gives time to spend reflecting on the positives in life. You choose to record three things that you are grateful for every day, or review and record several examples of gratitude once a week. The idea is to focus on specific details about who and what you appreciate in life.

Design a beautiful day

This is a creative exercise encouraging imagination and connection. You can plan as many days as possible during the week or the weekend. Think about what a perfect day looks like, involve other people at least for a part of the day, and choose an activity that inspires and brings enjoyment. Include a few intricate details in your plan and allow time for spontaneity. Your perfect plan will have some hiccups – prepare for that and enjoy the adventure.

Self-esteem journal

A self-esteem journal is a daily journal with prompts to express positive behavior and bring attention to abilities and accomplishments. It is most beneficial for building self-worth and confidence.

Mindfulness meditation

Therapists and counselors use this tool for clients that have anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions affecting daily life. The Mini Mindfulness Exercise is an easy exercise centered on breathing and introspection. It can be done several times a day, to “check in'' physically and emotionally, and helps teach self-awareness. This exercise helps to acknowledge negative emotions before they build up.

Values in action: inventory of strengths

Also known as VAI-IS, this is the most popular tool used in positive psychotherapy. VAI-IS is a questionnaire used to identify a client's dominant strengths. In pinpointing these strengths, the client can focus their energy on the skills they know they have, which will build self-esteem and self-control. Along with the strengths, other skills become evident, and the client can build awareness of and expand upon these skills.

These exercises encourage self-reflection and help the client to see what is good, healthy, and positive in their life. Increasing awareness about daily life circumstances and focusing on their abilities and inherent strengths instead of weaknesses is the purpose of positive psychotherapy.

Using these and other tools to create positive experiences is not only helpful in the moment but enables a change in thought processes. As the exercises are repeated, new neural pathways are developed, training the brain in positivity; not the negative, self-defeating cycle that is common with anxiety, depression, and mental illness.

The therapist's role

In the patient-therapist relationship, the therapist helps by encouraging self-awareness and unlocking the strengths, skills, and capabilities of the client. It is common for individuals to dwell on negative circumstances. Most people are wired to be aware of their deficits, faults, and shortcomings. It takes work to restructure how to view the world and life circumstances differently, with positivity and self-assurance. Therapists provide exercises to help their clientele take the good with the bad and develop a balance in their lives. We have an inner ability to relate and respond to our experiences, and some of us have difficulty accessing the resources to best respond; we need to train our brains to utilize our best capabilities.

Benefits of positive psychotherapy

Empower the individual.

Focus on balance and not negative symptoms.

Acknowledge differences and acceptance of self.

Understand that the outcome of therapy is more than eliminating negative symptoms.

Strengthen inherent skills and encourage growth.

Has been proven to help a range of mental health conditions.

PTT has been beneficial in many circumstances. Depression is the most common diagnosis seen in positive psychotherapy, but it is also used for people suffering from mood disorders, suicidal ideation, psychosis, and borderline personality disorder.

The therapist will use several interventions and tools when working with the patient. Open communication is key, and treatment depends upon what is being expressed by the patient. Incorporating imagination and intuition is a big part of positive psychotherapy. Storytelling is an effective tool that helps patients express themselves in a way that incorporates their journeys, circumstances, feelings, and desires. When the patient uncovers aspects of themselves that need further examination, this is done without the patient feeling attacked. The therapist helps the patient to reframe experiences in positive ways that bring balance and acceptance.

The downside to positivity psychotherapy

The client may feel that not enough emphasis is put on their negative situation. They have a tragic, traumatic experience that they are unable to move beyond. If this is the case, a different type of psychotherapy may be necessary. When a person's burdens are their focus, it can be challenging to turn thoughts around and change perspectives. However, the exercises used in PPT are designed to empower and enhance lives, build self-awareness and self-esteem, and have proven to be beneficial as a primary form of therapy.


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