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Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry

Positive psychology technology


In primary care many people experience anxiety and depression, causing considerable personal distress and high treatment and economic costs. People are often referred to psychological therapies but waiting times are long. Around half of people waiting do not start treatment and many drop out before they finish. This may be because face-to-face appointments are not suitable for everyone and such treatments focus on what is wrong with the person. This research aims to develop another kind of treatment to cater for those who struggle with this current approach.

The treatment will use principles of positive psychology, i.e. focusing on increasing life satisfaction and happiness and aiming to promote wellbeing rather than fixing problems. An example is the gratitude journal, a daily diary recording three things one is grateful for and why. After doing such exercises people feel less worried and depressed and more satisfied, because they learn to focus attention and thinking habits on positive emotions, which in turn improves wellbeing.

There is now good evidence for positive psychological treatments for people with depression and anxiety, however little is known about who this intervention is most appealing and suitable to. This research will investigate this to find out how to promote and target the treatment so that it can be offered alongside existing treatments, giving patients more choice.

The treatment will be delivered using digital technology, because this is a flexible, non-stigmatising, personalised way to deliver psychological treatments.  It is also an inexpensive way to disseminate a treatment to many people and is a feasible approach as the majority of people accessing psychological therapy own smartphones. Although there are some wellbeing-based websites and apps commercially available there are two clear limitations of these. Firstly, these apps are not associated with credible sources such as the NHS provider which evidence shows is important. Secondly, the tools apps have not been designed in collaboration with intended users and the evidence shows this is critical to create user-friendly, appropriate, well-accepted interventions. This research will overcome these issues to an NHS appropriate positive psychology informed digital technology.

Research questions

  • How can principles of positive psychology be implemented into a digital technology?
  • What factors affect initiation of and adherence to the positive psychology technology?
  • What are the potential outcomes for individuals using this positive psychology technology?

Research activities

  • Firstly, a literature review will identify evidence of positive psychology and how this could be made into a website or app.
  • An advisory group will be set up to help design an idea for the tool. This idea will be discussed in groups with people with lived experience of anxiety and depression and GPs. Groups will also discuss how to encourage people to start and continue using the tool.
  • A software engineer will then build the website or app and a small study with 100 people will test how acceptable and useful the app is. These feasibility studies are important, as they form the basis for future studies to test the effectiveness of the tool on a larger scale. The tool being tested is a website:


Sophie Walsh

Prof. Stefan Priebe


East London NHS Foundation Trust

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