Evidence-Based Reviews

Positive psychotherapy: Core principles

Author and Disclosure Information



The balance model also embodies the 4 potential sources of self-esteem. Usually, only 1 or 2 areas provide self-esteem, but in the therapeutic process a patient can learn to uncover the neglected areas so that their self-esteem will have additional pillars of support. By emphasizing how therapy can help to develop one’s self-esteem, many patients can be motivated for the therapeutic process. The balance model, with its concept of devoting 25% of one’s energy to each sphere of life, gives the patient a clear vision about their life and how they can be healthy over the long run by avoiding one-sidedness.8

The transcultural approach

In positive psychotherapy, the term “transcultural” (or cross-cultural) means not only consideration of cultural factors when the therapist and patient come from diverse cultural backgrounds (intercultural psychotherapy or “migrant psychotherapy”) but specifically the consideration of cultural factors in every therapeutic relationship, as a therapeutic attitude and consequently as a sociopolitical dimension of our thinking and behavior. This consideration of the uniqueness of each person, of the relativity of human behavior, and of “unity in diversity” is an essential reason positive psychotherapy is not a “Western” method in the sense of “psychological colonization.”9 Rather, this approach is a culture-sensitive method that can be modified to adapt to particular cultures and life situations.

Transcultural positive psychotherapy begins with answering 2 questions: “How are people different?” and “What do all people have in common?”4 During the therapeutic process, the therapist gives examples from other cultures to the patient to help them relativize their own perspective and broaden their repertoire of behavior.

The use of stories, tales, proverbs, and anecdotes

A special technique of positive psychotherapy is the therapeutic use of stories, tales, proverbs, and anecdotes.10 Often stories from other cultures are used because they offer another perspective when the patient sees none. This has been shown to be highly effective in psychiatric settings, especially in group settings. Psychiatric patients can often easily relate to the images created by stories. In psychiatry and psychotherapy, stories can be a means of changing a patient’s point of view. Such narratives can free up the listener’s feelings and thoughts and often lead to “Aha!” moments. The mirror function of storytelling leads to identification. In the narratives, the reader or listener recognizes themself as well as their needs and situation. They can reflect on the stories without personally becoming the focus of these reflections and remember their own experiences. Stories present solutions that can be models against which one’s own approach can be compared but that also leave room for broader interpretation. Storytelling is particularly useful in bringing about change in patients who are holding fast to old and outworn ideas.

The positive interpretation of disorders

Positive psychotherapy is based on a humanistic view that every human being is good by nature and endowed with unique capacities.11 This positive perspective leads not only to a new quality of relationship between the therapist and patient but also to a new perspective on disorders (Table). Thus, disorders can be “interpreted” in a positive way6: What does the patient unconsciously want to express with their symptoms? What is the function of their disorder? The positive process brings with it a change in perspective to all those concerned: the patient, their family, and the therapist/physician. In this way, one moves from the symptom (which is the disorder and often already has been very thoroughly examined) to the conflict (and the function of the disorder). The positive interpretations are only offered to the patient (“What do you say to this explanation?” “Can you apply this to your own situation?”).

Positive interpretations of psychiatric symptoms and disorders

Continue to: This process also helps us...

Recommended Reading

Immune dysregulation may drive long-term postpartum depression
MDedge Psychiatry
The kids may not be alright, but psychiatry can help
MDedge Psychiatry
Can a Mediterranean diet ease depression in young men?
MDedge Psychiatry
Behavioral treatment tied to lower medical, pharmacy costs
MDedge Psychiatry
Greater handgrip strength tied to lower risk for depression
MDedge Psychiatry