Introduction: In this blog I talk about one way in which Positive Psychology (PP) Coaching can be applied to help people live flourishing lives. I aim to explain what this might involve and when it might be helpful.

An applied science

PP has always been an applied science aimed at providing evidence-based practical approaches to help improve wellbeing for individuals, organisations and societies. Perhaps the most well-known application is through Positive Psychology Interventions (PPIs). These are “self-help” type packages aimed at individuals without mental illness which; “enhance well-being through pathways consistent with positive psychology theory” (Carr et al. 2023 p1). This includes key PPIs such as promoting gratitude in various forms, using your strengths, pursuing intrinsically motivated goals and cultivating savouring, mindfulness, optimism, kindness and forgiveness to name a selection! There is an inevitable debate about exactly which interventions should be included in this definition and the veracity of the evidence base (Boiler et al. 2013, Carr et al, 2021, Carr et al. 2023, White et al. 2019). However, there appears to be some consensus that many PPIs show evidence of having a small to medium positive effect on well-being indicators and a reduction in markers of mental ill health and stress and that these improvements are maintained over time (Carr et al. 2023).

What is not really clear is; who is most helped, by which interventions, under what conditions and context, and through what mechanisms. We know that “person-activity fit” or finding the right intervention for the individual and addressing internal and external barriers to implementation, is important. We also know that sustaining the effects of interventions through novelty, variation, appropriate use of habit formation, reinforcement and connection to values is vital. These factors are rarely addressed as part of a standard PPI and I believe this is where coaching can help (Sheldon & Lyubomirsky 2021). Research indicates Positive Psychology Coaching has benefits over PPIs alone (Grant & Atad 2022). The ability to personalise interventions and test out their impact objectively within the context of a coaching relationship may be a key factor here. More research is needed in this area.

Positive Psychology Coaching (PPC)

So what is coaching and specifically what is PPC and how is it different from other types of coaching? Let’s start with coaching. This has many different forms. Early views of coaching were of the “expert” coach providing the impetus and knowledge to draw the coachee to excellence of performance and achievement. This was focused around acquiring skills often in line with external standards. This approach may still be seen in some sporting and business coaching arenas. However, coaching has evolved to reflect a process where the coach is a facilitator to the coachee’s agenda of growth, self-development, insight and optimal functioning. The coach needs expertise in the processes of change rather than domain-specific knowledge. Coaching is aimed at helping people who are feeling and functioning OK to do better and flourish. This is the key difference from therapy or counselling approaches which are aimed at helping those in distress or with mental illness reduce symptoms and function better. The parallels with PP are clear, PP aims to redress the focus in psychology on clinical psychopathology and understand what helps “normal” people to flourish. Coaching focuses on improving wellbeing and functioning for healthy people while therapeutic approaches require an understanding of mental illness and target alleviation of symptoms and suffering. It has been argued that coaching and PP are natural partners (Green & Palmer 2019).

As both a coach and a therapist, I would argue that good therapy also includes the intention to help people flourish, rather than simply reduce distress (see my blog on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, May 2022). There is much debate about what exactly constitutes PPC (Biswas-Deiner, 2020, van Zyl et al. 2020) and its overlap Vs distinction from “coaching as usual” and therapeutic approaches (Giraldez-Hayes 2021, Grant & Palmer 2015). Van Zyl et al. (2020) define PP Coaching as: “ A short to medium-term professional, collaborative relationship between a client and coach, aimed at the identification, utilization, optimization, and development of personal strengths and resources in order to enhance positive states, traits and behaviors. Utilizing Socratic goal setting and positive psychological evidence-based approaches to facilitate personal growth, optimal functioning, enhanced wellbeing, and the actualization of people’s potential.” (p793)

Three levels in PP Coaching

“Coaching as usual” may be rooted in, for example, education, sport, human resources, executive development and coaches from these backgrounds may have no formal psychology training. PPC like “Coaching Psychology” is informed by a psychological understanding of human behaviour, cognitions, emotions, motivation and development. In PPC there is a specific emphasis on PP research and theory with outcomes and processes focused on cultivating wellbeing, flourishing and optimal functioning. A PP Coach operates at three levels (Sims 2018).

The “way of being” of the coach. The most fundamental level of PPC is grounded in the principle that “the first intervention is ourselves” (Worth 2017). This reflects the Rogerian stance of warmth, acceptance and genuineness and a belief in the coachee’s ability to self-actualise, which is a common foundation to many types of coaching or therapy. PPC requires a commitment to the ongoing development of professionalism, ethical and evidence-based practice and personal learning through reflective practice and supervision. You are not just “doing coaching” you need to “be” a PP coach. A collaborative, trusting relationship between coach and coachee is seen as a key vehicle for progress and the coach’s ability to openly examine their own biases and “practise what they preach” in terms of using the models, techniques and tools they espouse in their own lives, is necessary to achieve this level of authenticity. PP and PPC are not spectator sports, I would not ask a client to try out an intervention or technique I had not already tried and reflected on myself.

PP Coaching Models, frameworks, skills and models. This is a mid-level of abstraction in terms of using key understanding from psychology and PP research. It involves the application of knowledge including models of emotions, hope, self-determination, resilience, motivation and flourishing within process frameworks such as an appreciative coaching model (Liston-Smith 2008) or psychological flexibility (ACT) etc. Using related skills including; active listening, affirming, reflecting, Socratic questioning, goal setting, feedback, mindfulness and compassion, the task of the coach is to apply this knowledge flexibly and appropriately, to support desired change depending on the needs of the client and a psychological formulation of their internal and external context and aspirations.

PP and coaching assessments and measures, tools and PPIs. This is the “toolbox” of measures such as strength and wellbeing assessments, techniques such as using strengths cards, values discovery exercises, goal setting, storyboarding and validated PPIs such as “a beautiful day” or random acts of kindness interventions which can be tailored to the individual coachee.

These layers build on one another. The models and concepts you draw on at the middle level inform the assessments, tools and interventions you use. However, both of these rely on the fundamental ability of the coach to be present with the coachee in an affirming (although sometimes challenging) relationship of authentic mutual respect and collaboration with the core focus being the coachee’s agenda. At training events, coaches are keen to learn new assessments, tools and interventions. However, without the underlying levels of “understanding” and “being” these are open to misuse.

What is unique about PPC?

One might argue there is nothing particularly unique about PPC. The three levels detailed above are likely to be recognised by coaches coming from different traditions. PPC does not neglect difficult emotions and challenges, after all these are the things that bring coachee’s to seek support. However, PPC has a fundamental basis in identifying the positive core of individuals and using this as a foundation to helping people seek solutions to move them towards their dream of being the best they truly and authentically want to be. The focus is building positive futures rather than addressing weaknesses and problems per se. Understanding the coachee’s strengths, core values, and ideal future precedes realistically building pathways and agency towards progress (although the refinement is iterative). In PPC you can expect the spotlight to be on when you have been at your best, what is working well, what really energises you, your deepest needs and values and your most outrageous and aspirational dreams. Understanding this authentic core is the bedrock to fostering flourishing and can be overlooked in traditional deficit or goal-focused coaching. Insight, personal growth and meaning are fostered as part of this process rather than a focus on goal achievement. Without consideration of authentic values, it is possible to strive to complete goals which don’t then bring you the results you wanted at a deeper level.

Who and when might PPC help?

PPC can help anyone without a significant mental health problem. Research indicates PPIs can also be helpful for clinical populations but they need to be applied individually, deliberately and carefully in this context and most coaches do not have the mental health training to support this. PPC is particularly suitable for clients who feel stuck with a recurring issue which is getting in the way of their wellbeing or functioning. This could be around relationships, health, work, education, personal growth/ spirituality, financial and physical environment or the ability to enjoy life and feel good. Sometimes this need occurs around a life transition (such as children leaving home) or can present in times of stagnation (passed over for a promotion again). If you’ve tried generic self-help interventions and you can’t find one that works or that you can stick to, or the approach helps but the effects don’t last, then individualised support through PPC may be for you. Likewise, If you’re not sure who you are, what matters or what you want and feel unable to move forward, PPC might be a good option.


I believe the individualised application of PP models, measures and techniques in response to a formulation of the coachee’s strengths, needs, dreams, barriers and context, framed within a collaborative and supportive coaching relationship, can facilitate meaningful and constructive change, in valued life domains, for people in all walks of life.


Biswas-Diener, R. (2020). The practice of positive psychology coaching. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15(5), 701-704.

Bolier, L., Haverman, M., Westerhof, G. J., Riper, H., Smit, F., & Bohlmeijer, E. (2013). Positive psychology interventions: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 119.

Carr, A., Cullen, K., Keeney, C., Canning, C., Mooney, O.,Chinseallaigh, E., & O’Dowd, A. (2021). Effectiveness of posi-tive psychology interventions: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Positive Psychology, 16(6), 749–769.

Carr, A., Finneran, L., Boyd, C., Shirey, C., Canning, C., Stafford, O., Lyons, J., Cullen, K., Prendergast, C., Corbett, C., Drumm, C. & Burke, T. (2023): The evidence-base for positive psychology interventions: a mega-analysis of meta-analyses, The Journal of Positive Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2023.2168564

Giraldez-Hayes, A. (2021). Different domains or grey areas? Setting boundaries between coaching and therapy: A thematic analysis. The Coaching Psychologist, 17(2), 18-29.

Anthony M Grant & Ofer I Atad (2022) Coaching psychology interventions vs. positive psychology interventions: The measurable benefits of a coaching relationship, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 17:4, 532-544, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2021.1871944

Grant, A. & Palmer, S. (2015). Integrating positive psychology and coaching psychology into counselling psychology. Counselling Psychology Review, 30(3), 22-25.

Green, S. & Palmer, S. (2019) Positive Psychology Coaching in practice. Routledge Liston-Smith, J. (2008). Appreciative inquiry and solution-focused coaching:Applications of positive psychology in the practice of coaching. The Coaching Psychologist, 4(2), 102-105.

Sheldon, K. & Lyubomirsky, S. (2021). Revisiting the Sustainable Happiness Model and Pie Chart: Can Happiness Be Successfully Pursued? The Journal of Positive Psychology, 16 (2), 145–154

Sims, C. M. (2018). Embracing the ‘Bad’ along with the ‘Good’ as Part of a Positive Psychology Coaching Dialogue. Proceedings of the 9th European Conference of Positive Psychology

Van Zyl L.E., Roll L.C., Stander M.W. and Richter S. (2020) Positive Psychological Coaching Definitions and Models: A Systematic Literature Review. Front. Psychol. 11:793. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00793

White, C.A., Uttl B., Holder, M.D. (2019) Meta-analyses of positive psychology interventions: The effects are much smaller than previously reported. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216588.

Worth, P. (2017) Positive Psychology Interventions: The First Intervention Is Our Self. In: Positive Psychology Interventions in Practice. Springer, pp. 1-12.

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