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5 Ways to Use Positive Psychology in Practice

Working in the mental health field can be like trying to row up stream without a paddle. There are any number of problems, dysfunctions, and illness that consume peoples’ lives.

When people are at this point they certainly need help stabilizing their situation, and this is a crucial first step in helping people get what they want and need from life.

It is also possible that people have a greater motivation and desire for their life. Should the helping relationship be taken a step further to offer tools, skills, and resources allowing people a conduit for more optimal living?

Positive psychology is something that caught my attention because I got tired of focusing solely on illness and dysfunction. I wanted to learn how to be happier and enjoy life, instead of simply how to be less anxious and stressed out. I wanted to be able to help other people find greater fulfillment and meaning, instead of just deal with the necessities of life.

There are many things we can do personally and there are many techniques to apply to counseling, coaching, or other helping professions.

Below are a few exercises that can be used in practice to help clients live a more thriving and flourishing life.

Help people discover their strengths

We all have attributes, skills, and talents that can be developed further, and focusing on these areas can provide us continued confidence and purpose. Have your client identify five strengths and how they can use these in daily life.

Ask clients when they feel they’re at their best and where they see the most success. There is a formal questionnaire that can be offered for more specific understanding of someone’s character strengths as well.

Increasing optimism

Just as hopeful and helpless thinking patterns are learned over time, so too can people learn to think more optimistically. Help clients become aware of their thinking patters and to recognize the type of statements that provide a positive and optimistic outlook.

A good exercise is to have a client think of three good things or blessings that have happened and explain why these things came about. Hopefully they will begin to see they deserve good things are responsible for much of this in their life.

Self-direction and purpose

We all have fantasies about being our best and achieving our potential, so helping clients explore their dreams and aspirations can get them thinking of the kind of life they truly desire.  This is similar to the miracle question where clients are asked, “What would be different in your life if you woke up and by some miracle everything you ever wanted, everything good you could ever imagine for yourself, had actually happened?”

Ask client’s about this ideal self. Where are they living and what career or work are they doing? You can also have clients write a positive obituary/biography. Have them describe the details of living a satisfying and fruitful life to understand their ideal future more specifically.

Develop gratitude

The things we are grateful for can be easily overlooked without consciously focusing on them. A gratitude journal can be an effective means to increase gratitude. This can be done by designating a few days a week to write down four or five things we are grateful for, whether from that day or in general. Tell them not to repeat the same things on the list if possible.

Have clients write a letter to someone whom they are very grateful but have never expressed their appreciation. Have them actually read the letter personally to the individual or have them pretend they are speaking to the person about their appreciation while reading aloud.

Mindfulness and savoring positivity

Slowing down and staying present can really help increase positive emotions. Help clients develop mindfulness where they can begin savoring activities and experiences they usually hurry through. This could be things like eating a meal, showering, or going for a walk. Help them to really experience the moment and fully engage in their day to day undertakings.

When clients are back at their baseline, clinicians can begin helping them find more meaning and purpose in life. Clients can be educated about positive emotions and these can be cultivated, and they can learn to set and achieve goals, and use their character strengths for greater well-being.

5 Ways to Use Positive Psychology in Practice

Joe Wilner

Joe Wilner is a life coach, licensed clinical psychotherapist (LCP), and drummer from the band Yes You Are. He is also creator of You Have a Calling, a blog and online community helping people discover and pursue their life’s work and mission. Through deep and personalized coaching, he helps ambitious, creative, and spiritually minded individuals make a greater impact, grow as leaders, and design a soulful life they are inspired by.

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APA Reference
Wilner, J. (2011). 5 Ways to Use Positive Psychology in Practice. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Aug 2011
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