Positive Psychology in psychiatric and mental health nursing practice

Submitted by Michael C. LaFerney RN, PMHCNS, BC, Ph. D

Tags: emotions mental health Mental Illness Psychiatry psychology

Positive Psychology in psychiatric and mental health nursing practice

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Traditionally psychiatric practice has focused on treating mental illness and what is wrong with people. Treating the symptoms of mental illness can vastly improve quality of life and functioning but the absence of a mental illness does not guarantee a life of well-being or happiness. The billable codes of the DSM-5 are utilized to identify mental illness. It does not have a code or the listing of values for the symptoms or strengths in flourishing or a well meaning life. To combat this issue positive psychology and psychiatry has addressed this issue.

Psychologists CHRISTOPHER PETERSON, PH. D. and MARTIN E. P. SELIGMAN, PH.D. developed a 240-item face[1]valid self-report questionnaire (VIA) intended for use with adults. It identifies 24 strengths of character that look at a persons positive traits to build on and develop a more flourishing life. It also is guide to determine traits that need improvement..Peterson had intended it as option to the DSM-5.

Character strengths were divided into 6 areas. They are Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship. Some of the character strengths listed include courage, justice, humanity, temperance, wisdom, and transcendence.

(1) Psychiatrist can use this scale to help their clients work toward a more flourishing and happy existence. Utilizing signature strengths may decrease psychiatric symptoms seen in many disorders. Cognitive psychology will aid in changing the cognitive distortions that inhibit a patient from utilizing their strengths. The VIA can be used along with other psychiatric rating scales used in psychiatry and mental health nursing just as the Beck depression Scale or BPRS. It will show the patient that he is not just suffering symptoms of a mental illness but has strengths to improve them. The psychiatric clinician can use them as a part of the treatment plan. What else have we learned from Positive psychology that is helped in treatment ? Positive psychology uses the the model or PERMA.

(2) P = positive emotions. Barbara Fredericton has developed the 3 to 1 theory that a person needs a ratio of 3 positive emotions daily to one negative emotion to have well-being.

(3)The more negative emotions we have the more chance of developing depression. We should surround ourselves with positive people and develop growth experiences. Thinking the day will go well in the morning rather than assuming the worse can help this negative thought from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

E.-= Engagement We must be engaged in some meaningful activity or purpose. I seen many patient who wake up daily with no plan on how to structure their day They are not engaged in life. Therapists can help them develop a plan for daily structure. 

This can include a job or if disabled volunteer work. Flow is when someone gets so involved in their purpose or work that stress and other worries are pushed to the wayside and positive traits and creativity are utilized.

R=Positive Relationships Research has indicated that having support and friends is important. Loneliness has been implicated in many mental health disorders..Psychiatric clinicians can help patients identify ways to meet new people and refer them to support groups.

(4) M=Meaning Serving a purpose in life . Our lives need meaning to feel validated. Many people with depression focus on themselves. They utilize negative thought patterns that diminish their self worth, Psychiatrists and mental health clinicians can encourage patient to engage in activities that involve helping others. This can be volunteering, or having a pet to care for. Many patients have used the period past a traumatic experience to grow(“post-traumatic growth”} They develop a new view of life and are able to channel this to a more produce lifestyle. Having a meaning and purpose in life will increase our resiliency which is our ability to maintain wellness during stressful times.

A=Accomplishment This is the feeling that one has met goals in life .Many patients with depression often negate the positive and focus on the negative. Thy label themselves and others negatively,and predict that things will go badly in the future. Positive psychology uses cognitive therapy tools to challenge these thoughts and re frame to positives. One exercise positive psychology uses of the use of gratitude. Patients are asked to list three good or positive things that happened during the day at the end of the day. Studied have shown that this aids happiness. Other ways are to keep a gratitude journal, express thank you when indicated and use cognitive therapy to learn to accept compliments and not negate them.

(5) Also helpful to combating negative thought is to utilize positive affirmations .Posting them and reciting them can be helpful in overcoming automatic negative thoughts. Other things important that can be utilized from positive psychology are having a spiritual connection to a religious group can provide support and meaning in our lives. Money can only “buy” happiness up to a point. Research indicates spending money on experiences rather than possessions and on others rather than ourselves does more to advance happiness.

(6) In summary the concept of positive psychiatry is a relatively new field. It doesn't' replace current psychiatric practice but does offer an alternative view and supplement to current treatment. As more research is done perhaps it it will be a more viable cost efficient way for insurance companies to define and provide coverage]payment by promoting wellness and character strengths rather than treating mental illness.


  1. (2004) Peterson and Seligman,M, the Science of character ,Taken from the WWW 09-05-2022 at :https://www.viacharacter.org/character-strengths-via Taken for the WWW: the VIA survey (free) at : https://www.viacharacter.org/account/register
  2. (2022) Madeson,M., PhD. DPositivePsychology,com Seligman’s PERMA+ Model Explained: A Theory of Well being taken from the WWW September 05 2022 at :https://positivepsychology.com/perma-model/
  3. (2022) Robinson,B. Ph. D,Frederickson, B., Forbes, the 3 to 1 Positivity model and 10 ways to Advance your career Taken from the WWW September 2022 at:https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2020/10/16/10-ways-the-3-to-1-positivity-ratio[1]can-advance-your-career/?sh=165b088370c4
  4. (2022) LaFerney, M. Current Psychiatry,,2022 May;21(5):51-52 Loneliness, How Psychiatry can help taken from the WWW at https://www.mdedge.com/psychiatry/article/254218/loneliness[1]how-psychiatry-can-help
  5. (2014) Whitmor,J. Entrepreneur, 5 Simple ways to express gratitude everyday Taken from the WWW September 05. 2022 form the WWW at: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/235785
  6. (2022) LaFerney, M. Current Psychiatry,,2022 May;21(5):51-52 Loneliness, How Psychiatry can help taken for the WWW at https://www.mdedge.com/psychiatry/article/254218/loneliness-how[1]psychiatry-can-help Dr. LaFerney is a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist, at Arbour Counseling Services of Fall River, MA. Disclosure Dr. LaFerney reports no financial relationship with any company whose products are mentioned in this article or with manufacturers of competing products.

Dr. LaFerney is a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist at Arbour Counseling Services of Fall River.