Today is Thanksgiving here in the US, and it’s the first of many holidays in the coming weeks. For some clients, the press of this time of year can make it difficult to stick to regular sessions.
So how might you extend the benefits of therapy in-between sessions?
According to research, one effective practice is gratitude.
In a 2015 study in the Journal of Psychotherapy Research, researchers wanted to see how gratitude might enhance psychotherapeutic treatment.
So Joel Wong, PhD and his team gathered 293 participants and randomly assigned them to one of three groups:
- The control group received psychotherapy as usual.
- One test group received psychotherapy plus expressive writing (wherein they wrote about their thoughts and feelings related to the most stressful events in their lives).
- The other test group received psychotherapy plus gratitude writing (in which they wrote a letter to someone they wanted to thank – they focused on what the person did for them, the impact it had on them, and their feelings about the experience).
Using the General Mental Health (GMH) Index of the Behavioral Health Measure-20 (a clinical outcome measure of three groupings: wellbeing, psychological symptoms, and life functioning), researchers measured participants four separate times: before intake, at both 3 and 4 weeks after intake, and then one final time at 12 weeks after their last writing assignment.
Here’s what they found. . .
Three weeks after intake, participants in each group scored similarly. But after 4 weeks and again after 12 weeks, participants in the gratitude group demonstrated increased mental health compared to both the expressive writing group and the control group.
On top of that, the mental health benefits of gratitude writing appeared to increase over time.
This matters because previously, the benefits of a gratitude practice had not been shown to increase over time. The researchers hypothesize that the added benefits of adjunctive psychotherapy and gratitude writing are responsible for the extended benefits.
Now of course, more research is needed. But for now, I’d like to hear from you. How have you integrated gratitude into your clinical practice?
And if you celebrate the holiday, happy Thanksgiving.