Gratitude has been well-documented as a tool to support mental health.
A number of rigorous, controlled experimental trials have examined the benefits of gratitude, and it has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait, including optimism, hope, and compassion. Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism. In addition, individuals who experience gratitude demonstrate increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, recover more quickly from illness, enjoy more robust physical health, and can cope more effectively with everyday stress (Emmons & Stern, 2013).
Having rarely been the focus of process-oriented clinical interest, a major therapeutic resource has gone untapped … gratitude may spontaneously catalyze healing processes (Emmons & Stern, 2013).
Although many know that gratitude is a valuable therapeutic tool, few know how to quantify gratitude, and fewer still know how to use it in therapy. Within the field of gratitude research, there is a lack of agreement about the nature of gratitude; however, several researchers have conceptualized gratitude as an emotion that is directed towards appreciating the helpful actions of other people (Wood, et al, 2010). In terms of quantifiable data collection, verbal or visual rating scales (such as these) can be useful. However, one of the most effective and concise quantifiable measures is simply to ask clients what they feel grateful for, and then document how many items the client spontaneously lists.
Here are three basic ways to work gratitude into clinical therapy sessions as part of a research-based therapeutic regimen:
1) Help clients create and continue gratitude journals (for long-term therapy) or write gratitude lists (short-term therapy). This technique has been shown to be as effective as techniques commonly used in clinical therapy (Geraghty et al., in press, 2010).
2) Help clients write a letter of gratitude and deliver it. This technique can produce a more positive affect for more than two months after delivery of the letter (Wood, et al, 2010).
3) Lead clients in meditating on things they are grateful for. Although long-term effects have not been proven yet, this technique can be used to raise immediate mood reliably (Wood, et al, 2010).
Using these simple techniques can have a significant positive impact on both private and school-based therapy.