How to Get a Ph.D. in Positive Psychology

How to obtain a PhD in Positive PsychologyLately, we’ve been getting an increasing number of questions from people who want to pursue a PhD program in positive psychology (mostly after having finished a MAPP program or one of the other courses in positive psychology) and are looking for a university or institution with specific positive psychology graduate programs for this.

In order to find a satisfactory answer to this question, we asked:

  1. this question in our positive psychology Facebook community
  2. all the people whom we know and are currently doing a Ph.D. within the field of positive psychology
  3. Dr. Martin SeligmanLisa Sansom, and Louis Alloro

After putting all of their responses to this question together, we feel like we’re in a good position to give you a satisfactory answer to this question.

Doctoral Programs in Positive Psychology

Option 1: Claremont Graduate University (CGU)

The Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont Graduate University offers two streams of Ph.D. positions:

  1. one in Positive Developmental Psychology
  2. one in Positive Organizational Psychology

Please visit their website or send an e-mail to if you want to find out more.

Option 2: University of East London (UEL)

Although it’s not as clear as CGU’s program, apparently there is a possibility of doing a Ph.D. at the University of East London as well. You can follow the link and fill in the form for further inquiry.

I will ask the current lecturers of the MAPP program at the UEL for more information and update this page accordingly.

Option 3: Get the Ph.D. position in a field of your own choice

Lisa Sansom remarked that “at the Ph.D. level, it’s more about your supervisor than the actual name of the program. Marty’s Ph.D. students at Penn don’t, as far as I know, get a Ph.D. in positive psychology but that is what they are studying effectively. Same with Barb and Sonja and most of the big names. Find the supervisor who is working and researching in the field you want to spend several years of your life and go there.”

PhD programs in positive psychology facebook

Martin Seligman Martin Seligman confirmed this by saying: “at most places you specialize in PP and work with a PP researcher. Not any real difference.”

This means that if you know which branch of positive psychology (e.g. subjective wellbeing, mindfulness, resilience, positive psychotherapy etc.) you like to do research into, you should find a positive psychology researcher who is active in that field by using this list and then contact him or her about the possibilities for doing a Ph.D. under their guidance.

What is a Ph.D. Exactly?

A Ph.D. is a research degree while BSc and MSc (or BA and MA) are taught degrees.  In a research degree, students learn through research and take full responsibility for their learning. In other words, a Ph.D. is a relatively big research project that the research student conducts independently with only the supervision of a senior research professor at the university.

Such research projects lead to a thesis of publishable quality of roughly about 80,000 words.  The research and hence the thesis should make an original scientific contribution to the field of its study.

What does a Ph.D. in Psychology Look Like?

A Ph.D. in psychology usually takes three years full-time, and up to six years when studied part-time. What you need to consider about a Ph.D. in positive psychology, is that at the Ph.D. level, positive psychology merges with psychology in general. So, you do not need to find a university specializing in positive psychology.  In fact, even universities that do not teach positive psychology at BSc or MSc level, conduct some research on various topics that are directly related to positive psychology.

Know your Outcome

However, before you make a final decision, think carefully about the topic of your research. It would be hard to spend three years researching a topic that you’re not truly passionate about.

Ask yourself: “Do I really want to spend at least three years, researching this particular topic?” Additionally, think about what you want to do with your Ph.D.  What is your main motivation and what do you expect to achieve through that Ph.D.?

Choosing a University

Make sure that you choose a university that is suitable for you in all respects. Gather as much information as possible beforehand. Find out about their facilities, accommodation (if required) and most importantly about their research culture.

Also, learn about your potential supervisor (e.g. about his/her research experience, publications and methods) and arrange to meet your supervisor (or at least contact him/her by email) even before applying for the course, to see if they are willing to supervise your proposed topic. Be aware of miscalculating what is required of you.

How to get Funding or a Scholarship?

Securing the necessary funding for your Ph.D. is another vital step in achieving your research ambitions and there are various funding systems.

Obviously, one method is raising your own private funds (self-funding), but most people rely on studentships granted by the university or a research body (e.g. Medical Research Council in the UK) that supports the university. Your chosen university can provide details of such grants.

Make sure that you understand the available funding systems, the eligibility criteria for each scheme and the extent of the support provided by each arrangement, before applying for the course.

An important point to remember is the fact that Ph.D.’s supported by studentships, grants or scholarships usually relate to a specific topic. Such subject matters could cover a wide spectrum or can be associated with a narrowly defined area. This will limit your choices, so you need to search far and wide to find the studentship that supports your favorite topic.

Further Resources

Visit the following websites to see a selection of advertised studentships and additional information about Ph.D. places.

That’s all there is to it!

We wish you the best of luck in finding a Ph.D. position within the field of Positive Psychology! If there’s anything that we can help you with please don’t hesitate to ask.

All the best!


What our readers think

  1. Jacqueline Burnett-Brown

    I hold a PhD in psychology, an MS in counseling psychology, and post-doc work in marriage and family therapy – do I need to pursue further studies in positive psychology to obtain a license to practice as a positive psychotherapist?

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Jacqueline,

      The requirements to become licensed and practice as a therapist tend to differ between locations. Generally, yes, you need to complete a number of practicum hours, be supervised by another licensed therapist, and obtain a license to begin practicing. To help, we recently released a comprehensive guide on becoming a therapist to help you figure out these requirements. You can learn more about the guide here.

      Hope this helps!

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  2. Margeret Forchione

    Found it!!

  3. Radwa mohammed

    Hi , i want to know more about funding system .. I’m from Egypt and i want really have PhD in positive psychology but have some issues with it’s fees

  4. shripuja S

    I’m an psychology post graduate from India. I do not have funds for my PhD. I would like to do my PhD in positive psychology. How do u suggest me to go about it.

  5. kalpana

    yes , wonderful to be part of this affirmation community .Appreciative enquiry is the leading topic and relevant topic today .I live in India and I want to pursue Ph.D. in this field . How can some one help me

  6. Hugo le Roux Guthrie

    I am interested in positive psychology in changing the lives of the severely mentally ill.
    I believe a real connection with positive life will lead against what exists in Australia as a culture of failure, abominably referred to as “mental health” ( what I call ‘Pantosis’)
    As you would understand low expectations lead to low outcomes.
    Please contact that I may more substantially raise awareness of ability to overcome for the neglected and assigned; those who are said to be psychotic.

  7. counselling

    Pointer: consult your GP whether there are
    any sort of IAPT solutions (Improving Access to Mental Treatment) in your area.

  8. ahmdreza

    Mr zolfagharifard salam.etelat dar morede gereftane paziresh PHD dar reshteye positive psychology mikham.che tor mitunam ba shoma tamas dashte basham?sepasgozar

  9. Heather Hill

    I am working on my PhD and I am planning on developing a coaching program to help low-income households with well-being and sustainability. I am looking for a summer school/ program for doctoral students that I can go to for a couple weeks during the summer. Do you know of any?
    thanks in advance!

  10. Reza Zolfagharifard

    Hi Jennifer. Could you please give more information about that doctoral program and the website you mentioned? Sorry, I couldn’t find your original message. Thank you.

  11. Jennifer

    Thank you for this list of options for Phd in Positive Psychology. This is very helpful. Have you heard of the doctoral program of positive psychology of the website I posted that can be done on-line? I am curious to the reviews of this program.

    • Charlie Thermos

      Hi Jennifer
      Can you provide details of this Online Doctoral program in Positive Psychology?
      Thanks, Charlie T

  12. Dr. Sharon Pande

    Gday ,
    I would like to pursue a PhD in the area of POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY in the UK .
    Can someone pl let me know the universities that have this program
    Dr. Sharon Pande

  13. Reza Zolfagharifard

    Hi Lilian. I read your article. It’s a fine example of informative writing. If you’d like to write for PPP please post it to me so we can publish and promote it properly. I know you’re busy. Take your time but when ready, we’ll be delighted to have your cooperation. Thank you.

  14. Reza Zolfagharifard

    Hi Lillian
    Life span psychology and research on gratitude are both fascinating topics. I’m really interested to know more about them and I’m sure our readers are interested too. Would you be able to write a couple of articles about them and share your exiting work with PPP readers?

  15. Lilian Jans-Beken

    I am an external PhD candidate at the Open University of the Netherlands. I graduated in Life Span Psychology and they accepted me as an external candidate to conduct research in Gratitude.

  16. Seph Fontane Pennock

    As an autodidact I couldn’t agree more with you Julián. A degree doesn’t mean anything. That’s why I’ve personally decided not to go for a Ph.D. or anything but to contribute where it matters. That’s what I’ve been hoping to do with this website, among other things.
    Thank you for your help in creating this webpage and for getting me in touch with Dr. Seligman Julián. I appreciate your effort and contribution.
    I would like to invite Todd Kashdan to share his perspective on attaining a Ph.D. in positive psychology. Todd had some really interesting things to say about this in our Facebook comminity and in his latest blogpost:

    • Pauline Roberts

      I am a midlifer who is part of the education revolution. I am a qualified Counsellor and Personal Development Coach. One has ‘letters’ the other does not. I am choosing not to go to an educational facility for Coaching. This does not mean I am not qualified to be a Coach. I keep up with education, research, mentors and live what I teach. This is enough.A conscious choice not to study in an institution again. I respect those that do. And now I cheer on those that don’t and teach others positive psychology while reflecting it in my own life.

  17. Julián Sáez

    Escellent answer! To this I would add: With the state of technology today (internet…etc). And how our society is shaping. You don’t need a Ph.D. anymore to become an expert in a particular field or to work in connecting with top researchers. So, for the people that don’t have the economical resources to pay for a Pd.D. program, the people that don’t have the availability to phisically go to the university….etc. They can still become top experts in the field and even participate in research, just by using the information available. All the information is “out there”. I.e. Hardvard classes from Ben-Sahar…etc are in youtube. With this I don’t say tha to get a Ph.D. in the university is not useful (of course it is great!) but just that for the people that whose main aim is “to learn” (not to follow the path of researchers in university), don’t have the money or are working and can not go phisically to the university, they can still “doctorate” in Positive Psychology by using all the information out there and by networking with top reserachers (never as now was so easy and direct to connect with anybody). There is a revolution in education on going! 🙂


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