Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

On the Plus Side?

RC Steif

Three psychologists show how they use positive psychology to help people in pain find the silver lining in their suffering, and turn around negative situations

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

 Mishpacha image

Photo: Shutterstock

A n insider’s view of positive psychology therapy.

Is the glass half full or half empty? We all know this classic psychological litmus test for optimism and positivity, but how many of us really see the glass as half full? What about when the glass is completely empty — can we find a saving grace there? 

In his inauguration speech as the president of the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman — a modern pioneer in positive psychology — said that the most important thing he learned was that psychology was half-baked; only the part on mental illness was well-done. He proposed “baking” the other half by stressing positive aspects as well. 

Unlike traditional psychotherapy, which seeks to “fix” difficulties by acknowledging a “deficit” in individuals and delving into their pain, positive psychology is about turning a disturbing situation on its axis to reveal the positivity and value therein. Once the difficulty has been reframed, the individual is strengthened by this change in the thought pattern, which engenders positive emotions, gratitude, and meaning. From this new vantage point, growth occurs. 

Take a look at positive psychology in action, as three expert practitioners share hypothetical scenarios culled from their practices, to demonstrate how positive psychology helps people heal.

Accepting My Child

The Scenario: Dinah begins describing her nine-year-old son Zevi, who has symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He fights with his siblings, becomes frustrated when asked to help around the house, and tantrums frequently. The principal calls with a steady list of complaints, and no matter what Dinah does, Zevi is never satisfied. 

What finally made Dinah seek therapy was a recent family trip. “The kids got to see Uncle Moishy, go on four rides, and eat pizza. When it was time to go home, everyone complied except Zevi,” Dinah says. “He kept yelling that he didn’t go on the rides he wanted, his soda spilled, and on and on.”


Zevi’s behavior was making the other children miserable. No one wanted to sit next to him on the way home because he was sulking and fighting with everyone.

“I spent a fortune on admissions and overpriced pizza, took off from work — and this is what I get?” laments Dinah. “Everyone was happy until he spoiled it.” 

She cries as she worries how her child will turn out. Dinah then admits she feels aggressive impulses toward her child — which makes her more distressed. 

“All of our interactions are so negative! It’s just so hard to love him!” Dinah looks at the floor, embarrassed at what she’s expressed. “He often tells me that I hate him, and I don’t know if I am honest when I deny it.”

Related Stories

Breaking the High-Tech Ice

Libi Astaire

Despite their differences, Bnei Brak’s Sari Roth and Tel Aviv’s Zika Abzuk have a common goal: openi...

Turning Tides: A Singular Shabbos

As told to Leah Gebber

The ripple effect of two singles showing up at a Shabbos geared for families and married couples

Family Fiction: Never Say Never

D.B. Estrin

“Two free tickets to anywhere,” the El Al representative promised. It was incentive enough to be bum...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

What’s in a Name?
Shoshana Friedman “What does Writer X have to say this week?”
Atonement — Fake and Real
Yonoson Rosenblum White confessionals and faux rituals
Four Walls Coming Full Circle
Eytan Kobre All the while, there’s been a relationship in the offing...
And Yet We Smile
Yisroel Besser We are the nation that toils to be happy at all costs
Out of This World
Rabbi Henoch Plotnick Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — we are in Hashem’s company now...
Steven and Jonathan Litton
Rachel Bachrach The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY
Tali Messing
Moe Mernick Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv
Sick Note
Jacob L. Freedman “Of course, Dr. Freedman. Machul, machul, machul”
Avoiding Health Columns Can Be Good for You
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah
Endnote: Side Notes
Riki Goldstein Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side profes...
Me, Myself, and Why
Faigy Peritzman Where there’s no heart and no love, there’s no point
Can’t Do It Without You
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When you step up to the plate, you build your home team
Eternal Joy
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz The joy of Succos is the fruit of spiritual victory
The Appraiser: Part III
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Make sure your child knows his strengths
Hidden Special Needs
Rena Shechter You won’t see his special needs, but don’t deny them
Dear Wealthy Friend
Anonymous There’s no need for guilt. I am truly happy for you