Traditional psychotherapy explores people’s symptoms, of depression or anxiety, for example, and the goal is to come up with strategies to alleviate those symptoms.
A new school of thought in therapy focuses on people’s strengths – to help them find and rely on what’s ‘right’ with them, rather than worrying about what’s wrong with them.
The approach is called Positive Psychotherapy – PPT for short – and this new thinking comes mostly out of the positive psychology “think tank” at the University of Pennsylvania, lead by Martin Seligman.
During therapy, people explore and get to know their strengths, and learn how to use them better every day.
PPT has been shown to have good results in several studies. For example, a UPenn study divided mild to moderately depressed students into a treatment group and control group.
The students in the treatment group did six weeks of two-hour sessions; they did exercises in each class, along with homework. They assessed their individual strengths with an extensive online test. They wrote down good things that happened to them, and why they thought they happened. They focused on gratitude, and life meaning.
The study found that the students made significant gains in terms of addressing their depression, and the gains were maintained over the course of a year.
In their weekly conversation, WHYY’s behavioral health reporter Maiken Scott and psychologist Dan Gottlieb discuss Positive Psychotherapy, and how it could influence the mental health field.