Applying Positive Psychology in Recovery

Applying Positive Psychology in Recovery

Positive psychology is a therapeutic approach from the 20th century that has grown in popularity as a SUD treatment in recent years.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is one of the many therapeutic approaches to mental disorders, including addiction and substance use disorder. It focuses on the positive experiences and aspects of humanity, including happiness. Its main goal is to cultivate optimal human functioning that focuses on thriving through different levels.

Rather than being an individual form of psychotherapy itself, as compared to approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), positive psychology is often used alongside other therapies and integrated into the overall process of recovery.

The History of Positive Psychology

There has been discourse about the exact origin of positive psychology.1

Many people date this therapeutic approach back to the end of the 20th century, when Martin E. P. Seligman is recorded to have introduced the properties of the therapy to the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1998. However, some researchers have found evidence that point to an even older history, possibly dating back nearly 50 years before Seligman gave his APA address.

Regardless of its exact origin, positive psychology has only recently become a more popular trend in mental healthcare.

The Pillars of Positive Psychology

The foundation of the positive psychology method can be centered on three different pillars or levels: the subjective level, the individual level, and the group level.
The subjective level is solely feeling based and is more surface level. It focuses directly on how the individual feels rather than their actions, and it is used to help highlight some of the positive feelings that are focused on during positive psychology.
The individual level focuses more on personal ethics and helping identify morality in order to boost character. As a result, it moves from feeling good to helping the patient be good.
Lastly, the group level reflects on the community and works to teach social duties and compassion. The lessons learned from being good are then funneled and used to teach the patient to do good.2

Positive Psychology Techniques

Like many other therapeutic methods, positive psychology is built with several different techniques that are utilized to achieve the effects and results to different degrees.3 These techniques can be learned with a healthcare professional specializing in positive psychology and carried out on your own or during sessions.

What is Positive Psychology Used For?

Positive psychology can be utilized in a myriad of ways to help patients. These range from boosting a person’s self esteem, to equipping them with the proper tools and techniques to handle stressful and otherwise potentially triggering situations.

Benefits of Positive Psychology

Because positive psychology differs from conventional medicine and therapy by seeking to treat the individual rather than the ailment, it offers a different variety of benefits. Instead of focusing on symptoms, positive psychology allows for the individual to focus on bettering themselves through guided and individual practices such as meditations and cultivating mindfulness. This helps improves overall mental health and wellness, and can positively impact all areas of a person’s life – even potentially increasing their physical, spiritual, and emotional state through lifting the person’s sense of self worth.4

Other benefits of utilizing positive psychology include:
  • Focusing on individual strengths
  • Cultivating positive emotions
  • Reframing negative mindsets
  • Building positive relationships
  • Helping with workplace issues and stress management
Positive psychology can also aid in the effectiveness of other forms of therapeutic treatment by helping to open the individual’s mind to recovery. This is especially important when helping individuals with substance use disorders.

Risks of Positive Psychology

The largest risk of positive psychology comes from the danger of suppressing negativity.

It is important that positivity is moderated during positive psychology treatment so that it doesn’t lead to toxic positivity. This can result in altered perception, which may lead to harm for the individual. For instance, the individual may be less likely to identify negative or dangerous behaviors from others, which can lead to them being taken advantage of or even peer-pressured back into unhealthy coping mechanisms.

A Further Look

While positivity is important and often desired, especially during recovery, positive psychology does have its limitations. Seeking to suppress any negativity in a situation in order to focus on positivity may seem like the key to success, but it can have counterproductive consequences. Aside from placing the individual at risk to miss key red flags in a situation, it can also lead to the development of inappropriate reactions to significant negativity, such as useful and constructive criticism.

As this can lead to the inability to integrate feedback into daily life, it can actually create a plateau in recovery. This is often seen when positive psychology is used alongside other therapies, such as CBT, that may require difficult conversations with the individual. They might perceive that as negativity and thus not be open to treatment.

However, moderation is an important part of any treatment, which is why many therapeutic methods, such as positive psychology, are encouraged to be conducted in a professional healthcare setting with the guidance of a trained therapist.

Does Positive Psychology Work?

There have been a variety of studies conducted on the effectiveness of positive psychology, including those that compare it to other popular and well-utilized forms of therapeutic treatment.5 These have concluded with positive psychology being fairly to highly effective for certain individuals. In some regards, such as boosting happiness, positive psychology actually resulted in more drastic increases than CBT.

Studies On Positive Psychology

Because positive psychology addresses several of the key points of healthy mental wellbeing, such as mindfulness, positive self-image, and healthy coping mechanisms, it can prove to be a beneficial method of recovery for those with substance use disorders.
In fact, in the same test conducted against CBT above, positive psychology resulted in a 50% decrease in the mean total for substance use disorders compared to before and after treatment, which shows it as being almost as effective as CBT.

Positive psychology is best for those looking for a way to diversify their recovery treatment plan to best serve their needs not only while actively in recovery but in preventing a relapse as well. However, positive psychology can also be beneficial for a wider demographic, including those suffering from anxiety, depression, or similar mental disorders.