Positive Psychology Interventions

Our rating
 1 smiley: This treatment is promising and may be useful. It has some evidence to support it, but more evidence is needed to be sure it works.

What is it?

Positive psychology interventions involve completing activities which promote wellbeing and happiness. Some examples of activities are counting acts of kindness you see others do, writing about positive experiences, goal setting, practising optimistic thinking and socialising. The aim of positive psychology interventions is usually not to treat mental illness, but to improve the overall mental wellbeing of an individual.

How does it work?

Positive psychology interventions do not directly reduce symptoms of depression. Instead, they promote wellbeing and happiness so that the overall mental health of the person is improved.

Is it effective?

Research has found that positive psychology interventions (PPI) are somewhat helpful for depression. Meta-analyses of many studies have found that  positive psychology interventions led to a small decrease in depression symptoms, and increases in wellbeing. Positive psychology are generally more effective for older adults. Interventions which go for a longer time are also more effective than shorter ones. PPI are generally more effective when done with the help of a psychologist (or other therapist), but you can also do them without the help of a therapist.

While there has been a considerable amount of research on positive psychology interventions, many of the studies have not looked specifically at people with diagnosed depression. The evidence is not clear as to whether positive psychology interventions are more helpful for reducing depressive symptoms for clinically diagnosed persons than in the general population.

Are there any disadvantages?

If you do positive psychology interventions with the help of a therapist, this may require weekly visits which could be expensive. In Australia, Medicare provides rebates for visits to some therapists (see below).

Where do you get it?

Some therapists, but not all, will provide positive psychology interventions. Consult with a therapist (such as a psychologist or counsellor) to find out if they are familiar with positive psychology interventions. In Australia, Medicare provides rebates for visits to some therapists under the Better Access to Mental Health Care scheme.

Positive psychology activities can also be practiced as a form of self-help. There are guides for positive psychology interventions online, however not all of these may be of high quality.

Recommendation

Positive psychology interventions are helpful for overall wellbeing. They may play a positive role in the treatment of depression. However, it is recommended that you seek another kind of therapy (for example, cognitive behaviour therapy) in addition to positive psychology interventions.

Key references

  • Bolier L, Haverman M, Westerhof GJ,  Riper H, Smit F, Bohlmeijer E. Positive psychology interventions: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. BMC Public Health. 2013; 13:119.
  • Sin NL, Lyubomirsky S. Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: a practice-friendly meta-analysis. J Clin Psychol. 2009; 65(5): 467--487.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 December 2016