How Positive Thought Therapy Can Help Transform Your Inner Dialogue

Updated October 30, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The power of positive thinking can have transformative effects on your life and well-being. Negative thoughts can deeply impact how we view ourselves and the world.; Thus, learning how to think more positively can improve self-esteem and social skills, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and even promote physical health. In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of positive thought therapy and explain how it works.

What Is Positive Thought Therapy?

Positive thought therapy is derived from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy that focuses on replacing negative thought patterns with more positive ones. Cognitive therapy is all about restructuring neural pathways in the brain to think more positively and rationally. CBT is often recommended as one of the first forms of treatment for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and mood disorders. 

Do You Want To Learn How To Think More Positively?

CBT is one of the most popular forms of talk therapy because of its clinical success record. The premise behind CBT is that by becoming more aware of the negative thought processes behind negative behaviors, people can make behavioral changes and restructure their cognitive processes for more positive thinking. 

Some of the benefits of positive thought therapy may include improved:

  • Gratitude 
  • Emotional resilience 
  • Optimism 
  • Positive affect
  • Resourcefulness 
  • Self-esteem
  • Engagement in work, home life, and social activities
  • Positive relationships

While positive thought therapy is derived from the principles of CBT, there are some differences. Traditional CBT focuses on treating depression and anxiety by helping individuals recognize and restructure their maladaptive thought patterns. Positive thought CBT differs from the original modality because it specifically focuses on the things that are going right instead of things that are going wrong.

CBT typically focuses on addressing specific issues and attempting to resolve them using behavioral interventions and cognitive restructuring. Positive thought CBT, on the other hand, however, does not focus on problem-solving issues that are present and instead aims to improve mental well-being by highlighting the positives, such as the client’s existing strengths, talents, and resources.

History Of Positive Thought Therapy

Positive thought therapy draws inspiration from positive psychology as well as CBT and other therapeutic approaches. Positive psychology is a concept derived from the work of the psychology researcher Martin Seligman. Seligman identified the concept of “learned helplessness,” which is the idea that people and animals can cease to help themselves when they feel out of control.

Studies have shown that people with past trauma and adverse life experiences in their childhood can develop learned helplessness. Positive thought therapy focuses on highlighting the client’s strengths, talents, and accomplishments to prevent learned helplessness and empower them to reach their goals. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Positive thought therapy addresses maladaptive learned behaviors and recurring negative feelings in a slightly different way than traditional CBT. It focuses only on the positives rather than what the client is doing wrong or maladaptively. However, the underlying premise is the same in that when we become aware of our automatic thought processes, we can intentionally reframe them and transform our thinking patterns to promote healthier behaviors and reduce mental distress.

While traditional CBT is one of the most popular forms of therapy, it may not be right for everyone. Focusing on pointing out problems and trying to solve them may contribute even more to a patient’s negative thinking patterns, which is where positive thought therapy comes in as an alternative. Pointing out what the patient does right well and focusing on that can help improve their self-esteem and make them feel more empowered to make the changes they desire to reach their goals. 


Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is another therapeutic modality that is applied in positive thought therapy. REBT focuses on bringing awareness to irrational automatic thoughts and beliefs that impact behavior. In the context of positive thought therapy, irrational negative beliefs such as “I can never do anything right” are disputed with evidence to the contrary –like pointing out the things that the individual does do wellright. 

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)

Many forms of therapy focus on what happened in the past, such as how past events have shaped our cognitive processes and beliefs. Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) differs from these other approaches, as it is a goal-oriented, future-facing therapeutic method. The concept of SFBT can also be applied in positive thought therapy. 

Rather than looking back on the adverse events of the past, positive thought therapy focuses on empowering people to use their existing skills and resources to work toward their goals. 

Here are a few examples of how SFBT can be applied in positive thought therapy:

  • Looking back on previous solutions and what helped in past situations 
  • Open-ended questions about what is currently working and how the client envisions their future 
  • Appreciative and complimentary statements, such as “You did a great job at overcoming that obstacle” or “I’m proud of you for trying something new.” 
  • Behavioral experiments directed at figuring out what works effectively for the client
  • Tracking positive progress and accomplishments 

How Does Positive Thought Therapy Work?

The effectiveness of therapy can depend a lot on the relationship between the client and the therapist. Positive thought therapy puts a greater emphasis on the client than on the therapist, with the focus being what the strengths and skills of the client are. 

Fredrike Bannink is a clinical psychologist who played a key part in the development and research of positive cognitive behavior therapy. 

According to Bannink, mental health practitioners using the positive thought therapy approach should:

  • Create an alliance with the client and agree to collaborate on working toward their goals, with the client taking accountability and control of what they want to focus on. 
  • Build rapport with the client in the initial therapy sessions by asking open-ended questions that reveal the client’s strengths and goals. 
  • Acknowledge problems that the client brings up but encourage them to restructure their beliefs around the problem in a positive way and suggest the possibility of optimistic outcomes. 
  • Focus on developing existing strengths and skills, as well as taking advantage of all available resources. 
  • Use goal-setting to shift the client’s focus onto possibilities and positive outcomes.
  • Encourage the client to practice self-monitoring and keep track of their progress. 
  • Help the client develop resilience through stressful situations by making them more aware of the skills and strengths they possess. 

Reframing The Past

Positive thought therapists may use a combination of open-ended questions, behavioral experiments, and “homework” to support their client’s treatment goals. The client is often encouraged to view their past in a more positive light by reflecting on what they did well in past situations and revisiting the memories of positive experiences that evoke positive emotions. Paying attention to successes rather than failures can help to transform the client’s self-image and improve their self-esteem. 


Setting goals is another important aspect of positive thought therapy. The therapist teaches the client how to focus on positive outcomes and their ideal future, then helps them understand that they already have the skills, strengths, and resources to make those goals a reality. 

Strengthening Positive Thoughts And Behaviors

The principles of traditional CBT and positive thought CBT are similar but applied differently. Rather than focusing on maladaptive thought processes, positive thought therapy focuses on strengthening adaptive thoughts. Repetition of positive thought processes can, over time, help to restructure cognitive patterns and shift automatic thoughts to be more positive. 

Finding Purpose

Sometimes positive CBT therapists use a spiritual perspective to connect the client to a sense of purpose, strengthen their compassion, and put emphasis on what they can contribute to the world. Finding purpose in something larger than themselves and learning how to be of service to others can encourage people to take positive steps toward a more fulfilling life. 

Do You Want To Learn How To Think More Positively?

Doing volunteer work is an example of a behavioral experiment that a positive thought therapist may recommend to a client as homework. A 2020 research article published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that volunteering was associated with improved overall well-being and happiness. 

Online Therapy 

Since positive thought therapy is a specialized form of therapy that is less commonly used than traditional CBT, it may be easier to find an experienced positive thought therapist using an online therapy platform like BetterHelp. With online therapy, you can choose from a larger selection of mental health professionals with specialized fields of study without being limited by location. You can then connect with your provider from anywhere you have an internet connection, such as from the comfort of your own home. 

The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy 

Evidence from clinical trials and reviews of patient outcomes have found that the effectiveness of CBT can be the same regardless of whether it is delivered online or in person. The outcomes of online therapy can be more significant for some people because it may be more convenient and easier to attend appointments. A 2021 study on the effectiveness of online positive psychotherapy versus online cognitive behavior therapy for reducing pre-test anxiety found that both therapeutic approaches could have a positive effect on reducing anxiety symptoms. CBT works by teaching individuals how to identify and replace their negative thought patterns with more helpful ones, thereby allowing them to change their unwanted behaviors and emotional responses.


Positive thought therapy shares similarities with traditional cognitive behavior therapy but focuses only on the positives rather than the problems. It also applies aspects of other therapeutic modalities such as solution-focused brief therapy and rational emotive behavior therapy to bring about positive change in individuals’ mental well-being and behavior. With positive thought therapy, clients can develop gratitude, a more optimistic mindset, and a more positive self-image. Online therapy may make it easier to find a positive thought therapist without running into the barriers commonly associated with traditional face-to-face therapy.

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