Evidence-Based Reviews

Positive psychotherapy: Core principles

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This process also helps us focus on the “true” patient, who often is not our patient. The patient who comes to us functions as a symptom carrier and can be seen as the “weakest link” in the family chain. The “real patient” is often sitting at home. The positive interpretation of illnesses confronts the patient with the possible function and psychodynamic meaning of their illness for themself and their social milieu, encouraging the patient (and their family) to see their abilities and not merely the pathological aspects.12

Fields of application of positive psychotherapy

As a method positioned between manualiz­ed CBT and process-oriented analytical psychotherapy, positive psychotherapy pursues a semi-structured approach in diagnostics (first interview), treatment, posttherapeutic self-help, and training. Positive psychotherapy is applied for the treatment of mood (affective), neurotic, stress-related, and somatoform disorders; behavioral syndromes; and, to some extent, personality disorders. Positive psychotherapy has been employed successfully side-by-side with classical individual therapy as well as in the settings of couple, family, and group therapy.13

What makes positive psychotherapy attractive for mental health professionals?

  • As a method that integrates the 4 main modalities of psychotherapy, it does not engage in the conflicts between different schools but combines effective elements into a single approach.
  • As an integrative approach, it adjusts to the patient and not vice versa. It gives the therapist the possibility of focusing more on either the actual problems (supportive approach) or the basic conflict (psychodynamic approach).
  • It uses vocabulary and terms that can be understood by patients from all strata of society.
  • As a culturally sensitive method, it can be applied to patients from different cultures and does not require cultural adaptation.
  • As a psychodynamic method, it does not stop after early life conflicts have become more conscious but helps the patient to apply the gained insights using practical techniques.
  • It starts with positive affirmations and encouragement but does not later “forget” the unconscious conflicts that have led to disorders. It is not perceived as superficial.
  • As a method originally coming from psychiatry and medical practice, it builds a bridge between a scientific basis and psychotherapeutic insights. It favors the biopsychosocial approach.

Bottom Line

Positive psychotherapy combines humanistic, systemic, psychodynamic, and cognitive-behavioral aspects. It is based on a resource-oriented view of human beings in which disorders are interpreted as capacities to react in a specific and unique way to life events and circumstances. Positive psychotherapy can be applied in psychiatry and psychotherapy. This short-term method is easily understood by patients from diverse cultures and social backgrounds.

Related Resources

  • Peseschkian H, Remmers A. Positive psychotherapy: an introduction. In: Messias E, Peseschkian H, Cagande C, eds. Positive Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychology. Springer; 2020:11-32. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-33264-8_2
  • Tritt K, Loew T, Meyer M, et al. Positive psychotherapy: effectiveness of an interdisciplinary approach. Eur J Psychiatry. 1999;13(4):231-241.
  • World Association for Positive and Transcultural Psychotherapy. http://www.positum.org


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