Positivity pays off: Clients' perspectives on positive compared with traditional cognitive behavioral therapy for depression

Nicole Geschwind*, Emke Bosgraaf, Fredrike Bannink, Frenk Peeters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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In this qualitative study, we explored the experiences of clients receiving cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for major depressive disorder. All participants received 8 sessions of traditional CBT (based on Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emergy, 1979) and 8 sessions of positive CBT (order counterbalanced). The aim of the study was to examine clients' experience of positive CBT and to contrast this with their experience of traditional CBT. Positive CBT structurally and selectively focuses on better moments (exceptions to the problem as opposed to the problem), strengths, and positive emotions and integrates traditional CBT with solution-focused brief therapy and positive psychology. In addition to conducting interviews with 12 individuals, the second author attended all therapy sessions of 4 clients and observed biweekly supervision sessions as further methods of data collection. Qualitative analysis showed that, despite initial skepticism, clients preferred positive CBT and indicated experiencing a steeper learning curve during positive, compared with traditional, CBT for depression. The popularity of positive CBT was attributable to 4 influences: feeling good and empowered, benefitting from upward spiral effects of positive emotions, learning to appreciate baby steps, and (re)discovering optimism as a personal strength. Qualitative analysis showed that, despite better moments and building positivity efficiently counters depressive symptoms and builds well-being. Clients perceived positive CBT's upbeat tone as stimulating and as motivating for change. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)366–378
Number of pages15
Issue number3
Early online date20 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • positive cognitive behavioral therapy
  • positive psychology
  • qualitative research
  • solution-focused brief therapy

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