Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

The Rediscovery of Gratitude: Implications for Counseling Practice

Article excerpt

Although gratitude has been rediscovered by the field of positive psychology, strength-based wellness-oriented interventions have historically been a part of the humanistic tradition in counseling. The article is a review of emerging gratitude research including characteristics of gratitude, theoretical explanations, specific interventions, and implications for future research.

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Gratitude, a construct previously confined to religious and philosophical study (Emmons & Crumpler, 2000; Nelson, 2009), has recently become a tool for improving client mental health (Nelson, 2009). Although a mental health-oriented perspective is a fundamental premise of the counseling profession (D. H. Granello & Young, 2011), the emerging field of positive psychology has brought renewed and well-deserved attention to the potential benefits of gratitude for client wellness. Researchers have concluded that gratitude increases positive emotions (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Fredrickson, 2004; Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005), enhances optimism (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Froh, Yurkewicz, & Kashdan, 2009), serves as a protective factor against stress and depression (Wood, Maltby, Gillett, Linley, & Joseph, 2008), and assists individuals in both reinterpreting negative events and enhancing resilience (Fredrickson, Tugade, Waugh, & Larkin, 2003). Additionally, gratitude has been found to increase prosocial behavior (Froh, Bono, & Emmons, 2010; Grant & Gino, 2010; McCullough, Kilpatrick, Emmons, & Larson, 2001; Tsang, 2006) and relationship satisfaction (Algoe, Gable, & Maisel, 2010; Lambert, Clark, Durtschi, Fincham, & Graham, 2010), while decreasing materialism (Lambert, Fincham, Stillman, & Dean, 2009). Finally, gratitude is negatively associated with substance use, self-blame, denial, and disengaging from problems (Wood, Joseph, & Linley, 2007).

Counseling has traditionally supported strength-based, growth-oriented approaches and has built a substantial history of research under the rubric of wellness (P. F. Granello, 2011; Myers & Sweeney, 2005; Witmer, 1985). The notion that mental health professionals should be involved in helping clients actualize and flourish to their full potential is at the core of the counseling profession. The revolutionary ideas of humanistic theorists, such as Carl Rogers (1951) and Abraham Maslow (1954, 1962), are now being reexamined in response to the research in positive psychology. These pioneers brought to light the need to study positive human experiences including the strength-based concepts of the fully functioning person and self-actualization (Duckworth, Steen, & Seligman, 2005)--ideas that are central to counselors' holistic approach. For example, Maslow (1954) concluded that psychology had been successful at identifying the negative versus the positive side of humankind. He argued that focusing on illness, deficits, and shortcomings led to a neglect of potentialities, virtues, and optimal psychological health and that this had created a "crippled" psychology (Maslow, 1954, p. 236). Similarly, Rogers (1961) disagreed with the use of the medical model--the idea that human behavior is irrational and that impulses should be extinguished or suppressed. Moreover, he believed that people are motivated to develop to their full potential and inevitably move toward constructive growth, expansion, and autonomy. In short, a wellness-based, holistic model of approaching human distress and psychological suffering has been fundamental in distinguishing the counseling profession from other healing professions.

The focus on gratitude and other positive traits has received support from a splinter group of psychology-based researchers who recently branded and defined this arena as positive psychology, or the study of "positive emotions, positive character traits and enabling institutions" (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005, p. …

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