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Positive Psychology in Disability: A Spotlight on Wellbeing Therapy

Updated: Mar 11

What is the purpose of positive psychology in rehabilitation and disability? When thinking of rehabilitation and disability, we first think of tedious physical tasks like improving mobility, range of motion, or strength. While that is of primary importance, recent practices in rehabilitation have moved away from focusing solely on the technicalities of pathology and increasing toward human experience.   


Positive Psychology and Rehabilitation  

In the realm of rehab, positive psychology focuses beyond treatment issues or adapting to the disability – it has the power to capitalize on individual psychosocial strengths to maintain or enhance psychological and physical wellbeing and help prevent deterioration of the pathology. Rather than focusing on symptoms and deficits, positive psychology emphasizes individual strengths, resilience, and the pursuit of fulfillment.   


Clinicians and rehabilitation professionals can aid with positive psychology by finding ways to promote a primary sense of perceived control by helping find aspects of individuals’ behavior or environment that can be altered. For example, if an athlete who had previously thrived on competing in sports cannot return to play, finding a competitive outlet in another activity can help manage a positive psychosocial outlook.  


What is Wellbeing Therapy?  


Wellbeing therapy is a branch of psychotherapy in positive psychology that prioritizes holistic wellbeing rather than symptom reduction. It emphasizes self-awareness, self-acceptance, and the cultivation of positive emotions.  


Wellbeing therapy (WBT) is a structured, problem-oriented psychotherapeutic strategy that extends over 8-12 sessions, occurring weekly or biweekly. The therapist aims to help move the patient from an “impaired” state to an “optimal” state within six dimensions of psychological wellbeing (discussed below). Instead of obtaining the highest possible level in each dimension, the goal is for individuals to find optimal balance in domains that are relevant to them. Optimal balance varies from person to person and depends on individual personality traits, social rules, and cultural and social contexts.   


The Six Dimensions of wellbeing by Carol Ryff:  


  • Self-Acceptance: Being able to see and accept one’s strengths and weaknesses  

  • Purpose in life: Having goals and objectives that give life meaning  

  • Personal Growth: Feeling as though one’s talents and potential is realized overtime  

  • Positive relations with others: Having close and valuable connections with others  

  • Environmental mastery: being able to manage the demands of everyday life  

  • Autonomy: Feeling as though one can have self-determination and the strength to follow personal convictions, even if they go against conventional norms.   



Some Other Ways to Practice Wellbeing  

There are also other active strategies to practice positive wellbeing. 


Gratitude exercises: Gratitude serves as an antidote to negativity. It helps to reflect on blessings and express appreciation for things that are present, rather than missing. This can be practiced by writing it down or simply reflecting on such thoughts.  


Strength utilization and assessment: Identify and leverage personal strengths in daily life to acheive greater fulfillment and satisfaction, rather than focusing on an activity or limitation beyond your control. 


Positive affirmations and visualization: Such practice can help re-frame negative self-talk and stimulate the imagination in a safe, encouraging and positive mental space. Overtime, positive self-talk can become the “default”, leading to a happier and satisfying outlook on life.  



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