Positive Psychotherapy Helps Smokers Quit

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Positive psychotherapy (PPT) is the name for a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that focuses on increasing and reinforcing a person’s positive emotional states rather than focusing on easing the effects of a person’s negative emotional states. In a study published in January 2014 in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers from several U.S. universities investigated the usefulness of this form of psychotherapy in helping people addicted to nicotine quit smoking. The researchers concluded that a modified form of positive psychotherapy, called positive psychotherapy for smoking cessation (PPT-S), shows clear promise as an integrated part of a larger smoking cessation plan.

Positive Psychotherapy Basics

Broadly speaking, psychiatrists and psychologists break human emotions down into two groups, called “positive” emotions and “negative” emotions. Positive emotions get their name because they tend to support short- and long-term mental/emotional well-being when they predominate. Conversely, negative emotions get their name because they tend to take away from short- and long-term mental/emotional well-being when they predominate. As a rule, most forms of psychotherapy are intended to directly address negative states of emotion, since these emotional states play a major role in creating the symptoms that characterize most mental health concerns. Positive psychotherapy takes another approach by taking steps to instill a positive emotional outlook in affected individuals.

Practitioners of positive psychotherapy typically guide their patients/clients through a set of psychological/emotional exercises designed to increase or reinforce the level of engagement in positive emotional states. Examples of these exercises include completing questionnaires that outline each client’s/patient’s personal strengths, making daily records of good or positive things that occur, practicing appropriate emotional responses to good or positive events, and taking the time to savor or enjoy pleasurable activities.

Common Smoking Cessation Approaches

Commonly practiced forms of smoking cessation include self-guided attempts that may include non-prescription medications, physician-guided attempts that include prescription nicotine replacement therapy or some other form of medication and physician-guided attempts that combine anti-smoking medications with some form of face-to-face or remotely administered counseling or psychotherapy. Most smokers try to quit on their own. However, the online federal resource smokefree.gov reports, the approach most likely to result in the long-term ability to avoid cigarette use is the combination of medication and counseling or psychotherapy. In addition to nicotine-based patches, gum, lozenges, nasal sprays and inhalers (which gradually reduce a person’s reliance on nicotine intake), medications used in smoking cessation include varenicline (Chantix) and buproprion (Zyban, Wellbutrin).

Effectiveness of Positive Psychotherapy

In the study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers from Brown University, the University of Southern California, Miami University and Hiram College examined the effectiveness of specially modified positive psychotherapy (PPT-S) as a smoking cessation approach. Among other things, PPT-S asks smokers to focus on the benefits they will receive from quitting smoking. Rather than using positive psychotherapy on its own, the researchers combined it with the use of a nicotine patch and the type of counseling commonly employed by therapists trying to get their patients/clients to stop smoking. All told, 19 adult smokers participated in the project and went through six positive psychotherapy sessions. At the beginning of the study, each of these participants had a strong tendency to experience negative emotional states.

When the treatment phase of the study came to a close, the researchers found that the vast majority of the participants actively used the positive psychotherapeutic techniques offered to them. In particular, the participants relied on positive visions of the benefits they could receive from avoiding smoking. When asked to rate their satisfaction with the PPT-S approach on a scale of one to five, the participants gave the approach an average score of 4.73. Over the course of treatment and a follow-up period of 26 weeks, nearly one-third (31.6 percent) of the individuals enrolled in the study managed to stay abstinent from cigarette use.

Significance and Considerations

Interestingly, the participants in the study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology did not experience any major changes in their baseline moods as a result of receiving positive psychotherapy during smoking cessation. However, the study’s authors note, these participants still successfully quit smoking almost 9 percent more often than the average group of people not treated with PPT-S during their smoking cessation efforts. As a caution, the authors also note that they did not directly compare the PPT-S approach to non-PPT-S approaches during their project. They believe that such a comparison must take place before anyone can truly assess the effectiveness of positive psychotherapy in people trying to break an addiction to nicotine.

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