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Is Positive Psychology different from Clinical Psychology?

Updated on February 20, 2018
annerivendell profile image

Anne has a BSc in Applied Psychology and qualifications in counselling, CBT & mindfulness. She teaches mindfulness workshops and courses.

Opposing sides?
Opposing sides? | Source
Clinical Psychology
Positive Psychology
Researching psychological theories within such areas as...
Researching the effects of Positive Psychology on life satisfaction and well being
Positive Psychology
Learning difficulties
Child development
Post Traumatic Stress
Psychology of Abnormal
and other areas
Positive Psychology can also be part of Clinical Psychology

Despite what some people may think, Clinical Psychology and Positive Psychology are not actually opposing branches or areas of psychology. So let's take a look at what Clinical Psychology and Positive Psychology actually are:

Definition of Positive Psychology and Clinical Psychology

Let’s begin with some very simple definitions:

Clinical Psychology is concerned with researching and applying psychological theories to mental health issues, learning difficulties, addictions and other related problems.

Positive Psychology is concerned with researching and applying the effects of positive thoughts and emotions on general wellbeing. It complements Clinical Psychology and other traditional areas by focusing not just on problems but also on how to prevent the problems developing in the first place.


About Clinical Psychology

A Clinical Psychologist usually specialises in a particular area of psychology. Some of these areas include-

  • Education
  • Learning difficulties and disabilities
  • Autism spectrum (from Mild Asperser’s to Profound Autism)
  • Depression
  • Behavioral problems
  • Anxiety
  • Dementia (Such as Alzheimer’s for example)
  • Addiction
  • · Brain Injuries
  • · Sexuality problems
  • · Post-Traumatic-Shock
  • · Bereavement
  • · And many others, including Positive Psychology

Therapies offered by Clinical Psychologists

Clinical Psychology includes several therapies such as:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Counselling
  • Bereavement Counselling
  • Psychotherapy
  • Stress Management
  • Anger Management

and others

About Positive Psychology

Two important names associated with Positive Psychology are Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikzentmihaly (pronounced cheeks-sent-mile-high). In 2000, Seligman and Csikzentmihaly proposed that focusing almost entirely on pathology or illness leads to only a partial understanding of the source of the illness. So they proposed conducting more research into the benefits (or otherwise) that positive thoughts and emotions have on a person’s life overall. This included research into the areas of a persons’

  • Strengths
  • Virtues
  • Talent
  • Positive experiences
  • Positive relationships
  • Resilience

· and other related areas

This research gives us a better understanding of the prevention of mental illness and of flourishing. [1]

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Creativity, fulfillment and flow

Benefits of Positive Psychology

On a point of interest, Seligman prefers the term flourishing rather than happiness because happiness is often seen as a temporary state whereas flourishing is continuing improvement and growth.

It has been found that in order for someone to flourish, certain traits, behaviours and activities need to be encouraged.

These include:

· Responsibility

· Perseverance,

· Courage

· Hope

· Wisdom

· Spirituality

In fact more recently it has been realised that spirituality in particular can have an important positive part to play in mental health, particularly in people suffering from depression and bereavement. This was an area that that been totally ignored by many Clinical Psychologists because it was seen as irrelevant.

Positive Psychology complements Clinical Psychology
Positive Psychology complements Clinical Psychology | Source

Positive Psychology Complements Clinical Psychology

So as you can see, it is not a question of Clinical Psychology versus Positive Psychology, rather that Clinical Psychology can incorporate Positive Psychology into areas such as Counselling, Bereavement Counselling, Psychotherapy, Stress and Anger Management and others. Many clinical psychologists are positive psychologists and most are now aware of and apply the principles of positive psychology in some treatments.


[1] Seligman, M.E.P., & Csikzentmihalyi, M. (2000) Positive Psychology: An Introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 1. 5-14


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    • annerivendell profile imageAUTHOR


      6 months ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Thank you!

    • shamshadhussain profile image

      Shamshad Hussain 

      6 months ago from pakistan

      nicely explained.

    • annerivendell profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Yes, some question whether Psychology is in fact a science at all and several universities place it under the Arts faculties. However, all experiments are conducted using the scientific method, although we can never "prove" anything, we can show strong evidence supporting it, or otherwise. Thank you for your comments, much appreciated.

    • Torys Ten profile image

      Torys Ten 

      7 years ago from Central Utah

      The field of psychology seems like such a "grey science." I know little of the field of psychology and enjoyed being enlightened in these two areas. Thanks!


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