Spring is wrapping up for the year, but the lessons the girls at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center learned and experienced during spring break will hopefully carry on. The theme of this year’s spring break blitz was positive psychology. The staff and clinicians at Sunrise RTC worked hard to provide the students with an uplifting and validating experience that complimented both the DBT-informed program structure of Sunrise and the wellness-centered theory of positive psychology.

What is positive psychology? *Insert dad joke about negative psychology here* 

Yes, there is a difference between traditional psychology and positive psychology. 

Psychology is the study of mental illness. It looks at what is going wrong with mental, emotional, and behavioral states and how to fix, change, or alter the deficits. This process is often crisis-oriented and involves intervention. 

Positive Psychology is the study of what makes people thrive and how to amplify those successful characteristics. It looks at what is going right with mental, emotional, and behavioral states and how to maintain levels of well-being. This process is often preemptive and involves building on strengths, resilience, and self-efficacy. 

There are limited formal studies on the relationship between Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Positive Psychology, but research published in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling found that participants who completed a DBT intensive outpatient program scored higher in hope and self-compassion than those who did not complete the program.

DBT and positive psychology have many shared elements in addition to self-compassion and hope. Both practices also seek to increase self-awareness, self-efficacy, emotional regulation, and optimism. 

Traditional psychology and positive psychology are extremely important to take into consideration throughout the longterm residential treatment process. Especially in a DBT adherent program. It is not enough to support our students through crisis and restored baseline. We want our students find a life worth living that they feel excited about and want to share with others. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Dr Marsha Linehan describes the four stages of recovery from borderline personality disorder as followed: 

  1. Severe Behavioral Dyscontrol
  2. Overwhelming Quiet Depression
  3. Problems in Everyday Living
  4. Incompleteness

Sunrise RTC used these DBT stages to inform the level system of the residential program. It is described in the following: 

Level Breakdown

In both instances, the idea of building a life worth living and Level 5, the goal is maintained well-being and even flourishing. When young ladies arrive at Sunrise RTC they are most frequently experiencing stage one, Severe Behavioral Dyscontrol. They are often harmful to themselves, have very little hope for the future, and feel disconnected from their emotions. As they rise through the stages, and thus levels at Sunrise RTC, it is imperative to also weave in positive psychology. The students learn to build healthy patterns around eating, sleeping, and exercise. They are exposed to positive validation in themselves and others. They volunteer in the community, get involved in individualized activities that onset flow state, and experience academic success. All of these activities increase levels of well-being in areas of positive emotion, engagement, relationship, meaning and achievement. Increasing well-being in any of these five areas leads to a thriving and flourishing life suggests Dr Martin Seligman, founding father of positive psychology. The girls at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center ultimately learn to build a life worth living of their very own. 

Though it is a long and difficult process to navigate mental, emotional, and behavioral states from crisis to thriving, it is possible. It is especially possible with the assistance of DBT and Positive Psychology interventions. See this blog to learn more about interventions.


By Tracey Gerlach, MAPP, Master’s of Applied Positive Psychology