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Is Positive Psychology different from Clinical Psychology?

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

Opposing sides?

Opposing sides?

Positive Psychology can also be part of Clinical Psychology

Clinical PsychologyPositive 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

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

Scroll to Continue

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

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


Shivani on June 08, 2020:

How the field of positive psychology is different from the field of clinical psychology? Compare and explain at least 3 differences in detail.

annerivendell (author) from Dublin, Ireland on February 06, 2020:

Thank you!

Shamshad Hussain from pakistan on January 21, 2020:

nicely explained.

annerivendell (author) from Dublin, Ireland on September 15, 2012:

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 from Central Utah on September 14, 2012:

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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