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 does this rating mean?

The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • These treatments are not recommended and could be dangerousSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

What is it?

Positive psychology interventions involve doing 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 with other people. The aim of positive psychology interventions is usually not to treat mental illness, but to improve overall mental wellbeing.

How does it work?

Positive psychology interventions do not directly reduce symptoms of depression. Instead, they aim to 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 effective at reducing depression symptoms. Meta-analyses of many studies have found that positive psychology interventions can lead to a small decrease in depression symptoms, and increases in wellbeing. PPI 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 clinical depression. More evidence is needed to better understand whether PPI are an effective treatment for people with clinical depression.

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. Talk to 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 and in books, 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.
  • Chakhssi F, Kraiss JT, Sommers-Spijkerman M, Bohlmeijer ET. The effect of positive psychology interventions on well-being and distress in clinical samples with psychiatric or somatic disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry. 2018; 18(1): 211.
  • Hanson K. Positive Psychology for Overcoming Symptoms of Depression: A Pilot Study Exploring the Efficacy of a Positive Psychology Self-Help Book versus a CBT Self-Help Book. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy. 2019; 47(1): 95-113.
  • 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 November 2019