In everyday language, the word hope can suggest unrealistic, wishful thinking.
For positive psychologists, hope refers to a positive state of mind, one in which the client pursues achievable yet challenging goals (Luthans, Youssef, & Avolio, 2015).
At times, hope escapes us, leaving us unable to imagine a path to a better future.
Hope Therapy helps by assisting clients in setting clear goals, identifying paths to success, and summoning the mental energy required to achieve them (Lopez, Floyd, Ulven, & Snyder, 2000).
In this article, we explore the role of Hope Therapy in treating clients, introducing research and some essential therapy techniques.
Before you continue reading, we thought you might like to download our three Grief Exercises [PDF] for free. These science-based tools will help you move yourself or others through grief in a compassionate way.
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What Is Hope Therapy in Positive Psychology?
Charles Snyder (2002) introduced the cognitive theory of hope over two decades ago to understand how people move closer to what they want to do (Rand & Cheavens, 2009).
Much has been learned in the years since, yet hope theory’s central tenet remains, asserting that “much of human behavior is goal directed” (Rand & Cheavens, 2009, p. 324).
Indeed, hope theory builds on goal thoughts – the mental targets that guide our action sequences. Such thoughts can be self-statements, such as “I want a new job,” or mental images, including imagining yourself lying on the beach in your dream vacation spot (Rand & Cheavens, 2009).
According to Snyder’s (2002) original model, there are generally two types of desired goals.
Positive goal outcomes
Positive or approach goals include what we want to achieve, such as:
- Reaching for a first-time goal (first car, a house)
- Sustaining an existing goal (such as maintaining savings for retirement)
- Furthering an existing goal where some progress has already been made (supporting oneself as a writer, having sold a first book, etc.)
Negative goal outcomes
Negative goals include preventing or putting off an unwanted outcome:
- Stopping something negative from happening
- Delaying the unwanted
Critical aspects of the original hope theory model include (Snyder, 2002; Rand & Cheavens, 2009):
The mental targets that guide our actions. Interestingly, Chartrand and Cheng (2002) suggest that goal pursuit isn’t always conscious – and needn’t be to influence hope.
As humans, we can arrange our behaviors to reach our future goals or desired conditions by imagining the routes between where we are now and where we want to be.
The motivational element in hope theory, describing “the perceived ability to use pathways to reach desired goals” (Rand & Cheavens, 2009, p. 325).
Snyder’s conceptualization of hope as both the will (confidence) and the way (pathways) has been found in various psychotherapy approaches since hope theory emerged (Snyder, Rand, & Sigmon, 2002; Kirmani & Sharma, 2015).
When treating a client, “the beneficial changes occur because patients have been learning more effective agentic and pathway goal directed thinking” (Kirmani & Sharma, 2015, p. 40).
Consequently, Hope Therapy has arisen to capitalize on intervention techniques derived from hope theory. It suggests that enhancing our hope can be achieved through “integrating solution-focused, narrative, and cognitive-behavioral interventions” (Lopez et al., 2000, p. 123).
The change in hope does occur at a behavioral or surface level, but also much deeper, involving the client’s self-belief in being capable of agentic and goal-directed thought (Lopez et al., 2000).
Hope Therapy is a semi-structured, brief form of therapy that focuses on clarifying and attaining goals. Hope Therapists typically “hold the following assumptions about hope, human nature, and the change process” (Snyder, 2002, p. 125):
- Hope theory applies a cognitive model to human motivation.
- All of us are capable of hopeful thinking.
- Our degree of hopeful thoughts can be increased.
- Our evaluations of the past and the future influence how we see the present.
- We can view nearly all situations hopefully.
- Experience and social expectation influence our development of hope.
- Supportive therapeutic alliances can enhance hope.
- Automatic negative thoughts can impede pursuing our goals.
Snyder argues that hopeful thoughts are ones where we believe we can find the pathways to our desired goals and motivate ourselves to use them. He suggests that hope theory forms part of positive psychology and focuses on driving the emotions and wellbeing of people (Snyder et al., 2002).
2 Real-Life Examples of Hope Therapy
It helps to consider real-life situations where Hope Therapy has been applied successfully.
Mr. A. contacted a clinical psychologist with feelings of sadness, irritability, and hopelessness that impacted his work and sleep. Further assessment revealed mild depression and thoughts of hopelessness (Kirmani & Sharma, 2015).
Mr. A. and his therapist formed a therapeutic alliance and set a series of goals, including:
- Instilling hope
- Improving mood
- Increasing planning skills
- Improving sleep
Hope Therapy interventions included scheduling activities to increase pleasure and mastery, enhancing problem-solving and planning skills, and cognitive restructuring to overcome negative cognitions (Kirmani & Sharma, 2015).
Following 17 weekly, one-hour sessions, Mr. A. reported feeling better and expressed more hopeful cognitions. In particular, he saw value in the benefits of practices, including hope instilling, hope enhancing, and focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses. He reported improvements in his working life and overall planning skills (Kirmani & Sharma, 2015).
Hope Therapy has had some success in increasing hope levels and psychological and physiological wellbeing in rehabilitating cancer patients (Chan, Wong, & Lee, 2019).
As few as four one-hour sessions proved effective in providing psychological benefits by focusing on three core features of Hope Therapy:
- Identifying workable goals
- Finding ways to reach targets
- Positive self-talk to motivate goal accomplishment
While the future is often uncertain, Hope Therapy is a powerful approach for creating a positive outlook and the expectation of a relatively enjoyable life (Chan et al., 2019).
10 Benefits According to Research
Research has identified many positive effects of Hope Therapy in diverse populations and across almost all areas of psychology, including (Kirmani & Sharma, 2015):
- Organizational psychology
- Military psychology
- Sports psychology
- Clinical settings, including depression and anxiety
Individuals able to achieve higher degrees of hope, via therapy or otherwise, often experience the following (Kirmani & Sharma, 2015; Cheavens & Guter, 2018):
- More positive thoughts
- Fewer negative thoughts
- Seeing themselves in a more favorable light
- Higher self-esteem
- More energy
- Increased levels of confidence
- Higher levels of positive challenge
- Optimal psychological functioning
- Reduced symptoms of distress
- Higher degree of positive therapeutic outcomes
How to Perform Hope Therapy
The following principles help focus attention on how to perform Hope Therapy (modified from Lopez et al., 2000):
- Hope Therapy is based on Snyder’s conceptualization of hope.
- Hope Therapy is a semi-structured, brief form of therapy.
- Clients’ self-referential beliefs are boosted by a focus on goals and past successes.
- A positive therapeutic alliance facilitates client participation.
- The therapist recognizes the client as the expert in their situation while helping them develop a change framework.
- Hope Therapy aims to equip the client to handle the difficulties that arise while pursuing goals.
- Hope Therapy mirrors the hope development process by helping the client develop multiple pathways to therapy goals.
- Change is initiated at a cognitive level.
- Hope Therapy is a therapeutic system in its own right, using narrative, solution-focused, and cognitive-behavioral techniques.
The process of Hope Therapy involves two significant stages, each containing two steps (Lopez et al., 2000).
Stage one: Instilling hope
The first stage, instilling hope, comprises hope finding and hope bonding.
- Hope finding is about realizing hope through storytelling. While we often get caught up in our day-to-day activities, it’s helpful to consider the strands of hope that run through our lives.
“Asking people to tell their stories can expedite understandings of how hopes have developed, diminished, or stagnated across their life spans” (Lopez et al., 2000, p. 128).
The narrative shared by their client provides the therapist with the opportunity to identify and highlight hopeful attitudes, themes, and perspectives and replay them back.
- Hope bonding involves forming a helpful and hopeful therapeutic alliance in which the client’s agency and possible pathways are increased. Hope bonding relies on translating working alliance goals into hope goal thoughts, tasks into pathways, and bonds into agency.
Stage two: Increasing hope
The second stage, increasing hope, includes hope enhancing and hope reminding.
- Hope enhancing is about “generating goal thoughts, creating effective pathways leading to goal attainment, maintaining agency thoughts” to pursue goals, and overcoming barriers as they arise (Lopez et al., 2000, p. 137). It is achieved through multiple techniques, including:
- Providing a structure for uncovering goals
- Coming up with clear, workable goals
- Expanding and strengthening pathway thoughts
- Looking for hopeful stories
- Searching for the silver linings in events
Tools supporting the process include pathway checklists and visualizations.
- Hope reminding is the feedback loop for the therapeutic hope process. The therapist encourages the client to engage in daily hope, reminding routines where they actively perform hopeful cognitions.
Mini-interventions are introduced to the client, to be used between sessions and after therapy has ended, to kick off hope finding and enhancing, and include:
- Reviewing a favorite hope narrative
- Completing automatic thought records to refine goals and confront barrier thoughts
- Reviewing a personal hope statement
- Searching for the silver linings in events
- Bonding with hopeful people
Hope reminding requires awareness of goal and barrier thoughts, hope assessing, and hope enhancing techniques (Lopez et al., 2000).
Hope Therapy is not restricted to reducing negative symptoms, but like the broader approach of positive psychology, focuses on the importance of positive thinking (Lopez et al., 2000).
4 Best Hope Therapy Techniques
While there are many techniques available to foster hope in therapy, we have chosen a few of our favorites.
Narrative in Hope Therapy
Even if your clients’ problems and issues span multiple areas of their lives, it can be helpful and less overwhelming to focus on just one (Lopez et al., 2000).
Narrative sessions often begin with a brief relaxation exercise to help the client find calm and become more attuned to their feelings and mental images. Next, the client is asked to discuss their earliest memories in the chosen domain and begin exploring their hopes at that time. Then the therapist questions the client regarding how they pursued their interests and dreams.
The following questions can help the client interpret their stories using the perspective of hope (Lopez et al., 2000):
- How did you arrive at your goals?
- What was your motivation?
- Were your goals realistic?
- What was your mood during that process?
- How were barriers overcome?
- Did you achieve your goals?
- How do you feel about the outcome?
Ultimately, these questions can help the client reframe the experience in practical terms before reorienting them to the present and relating past stories to current issues.
Develop a sense of agency
While workable goals and pathways are essential, they require the perceived ability to start and continue moving along the pathway; this is known as agency (Lopez et al., 2000).
The following agency checklist can be shared with the client to understand the journey they must take (modified from Lopez et al., 2000):
- Tell yourself this is your goal. Go after it.
- Use positive self-talk (“I can do this”).
- Expect and prepare for roadblocks.
- Recall past successes and difficulties overcome.
- Remember that humor is a valuable ally.
- When an existing goal is truly out of reach, find another.
- Be aware of your health and wellbeing.
- Allow yourself to be constantly surprised by obstacles that you can anticipate.
- Panic when reaching a roadblock.
- Conclude that nothing will ever change for the better.
- Take yourself too seriously.
- Get impatient when change is not immediate.
Creating an internal movie
Internal movies, where the client plays through the steps to a goal in their mind, are valuable for increasing hope. The clearer, more defined the goal, the more visualization is likely to help (Lopez et al., 2000).
Ask the client to mentally rehearse, making the imagery as strong as possible, what they will need to do to pursue and achieve their goals. Encourage them to work through how they will overcome problems and identify what skills and resources they will need.
Once the movie is complete, the client should pause and capture on paper the steps required to achieve the goals and any additional resources they need on the way.
Effective pathways take us from where we are now to the goals we set for ourselves. They should be planned carefully.
Use the following checklist with clients to help them arrive at helpful, realistic pathways (modified from Lopez et al., 2000):
- Break long-range goals into smaller, achievable steps.
- At the outset, concentrate on the first subgoal.
- Mentally rehearse how you will achieve the next subgoal.
- Use imagery to reflect on how you will overcome challenges.
- Learn new skills as required.
- Cultivate a support network.
- Ask for help when needed.
Hope Therapy is a powerful technique for clients; it relies on defining and combining approaches to focus attention on goals, pathways, and agency (Rand & Cheavens, 2009).
Resources From PositivePsychology.com
We have many valuable resources to help you or your client increase hope through planning, pursuing, and meeting goals.
Why not try out the following free exercises and templates?
- What Is Hope?
This thought exercise presents a series of questions that explore the theme of hope and help clients cultivate a more optimistic frame of mind.
- Willingness, Goals, and Action Plan
This planning template helps clients identify their most valued life goals, anticipate psychological obstacles, and implement a practical plan.
- 17 Motivation & Goal Achievement Exercises
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others reach their goals, check out this collection of 17 validated motivation and goal achievement tools for practitioners. Use them to help others turn their dreams into reality by applying the latest science-based behavioral change techniques.
A Take-Home Message
Feelings of hope are strongly linked to mental wellbeing. Psychologists see hope as a positive state for setting and achieving goals and helping people get what they want out of life.
Hope Therapy uses interventions to improve hopeful thinking and boost psychological functioning by building goal thoughts and the mindset and skills to achieve them (Cheavens & Guter, 2018).
Therapists work with clients to identify realistic yet challenging targets and explore options for getting from where they are to where they want to be. Hopeful thoughts are fostered to help the client believe in themselves and motivate them to follow the path chosen.
Hope Therapy has many benefits, including increased levels of confidence, energy, and self-esteem and reduced negative thoughts and distress.
Why not try out some of the tools available to Hope Therapists? Use storytelling with your clients to identify and highlight hopeful themes and create an internal movie to play through the actions required to reach their goals.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Grief Exercises [PDF] for free.
- Chan, K., Wong, F. K., & Lee, P. H. (2019). A brief hope intervention to increase hope level and improve well-being in rehabilitating cancer patients: A feasibility test. SAGE Open Nursing, 5.
- Chartrand, T. L., & Cheng, C. M. (2002). The role of nonconscious goal pursuit in hope. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4), 290–294.
- Cheavens, J. S., & Guter, M. M. (2018). Hope therapy. In M. W. Gallagher & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of hope (pp. 133–142). Oxford University Press.
- Kirmani, M. N., & Sharma, P. (2015). Hope therapy in depression: A clinical case work. International Journal of Public Mental Health and Neurosciences, 39–44.
- Lopez, S. J., Floyd, R. K., Ulven, J. C., & Snyder, C. (2000). Hope therapy: Helping clients build a house of hope. In C. R. Snyder (Ed.), Handbook of hope: Theory, measures, and applications (pp. 123–150). Academic Press.
- Luthans, F., Youssef, C. M., & Avolio, B. J. (2015). Psychological capital and beyond. Oxford University Press.
- Rand, K. L., & Cheavens, J. S. (2009). Hope theory. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (pp. 323–333). Oxford University Press.
- Snyder, C. R. (2002). Target article: Hope theory: Rainbows in the mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4).
- Snyder, C. R., Rand, K. L., & Sigmon, D. R. (2002). Hope theory: A member of the positive psychology family. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 257–276). Oxford University Press.
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