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These guidelines are the result of a collaborative and independent working group led by Aaron Jarden, Tayyab Rashid, Annalise Roache and Tim Lomas. The guidelines are independent of any organisation or association; however, numerous parties have been involved in the development and refinement of this first iteration. It is the authors’ intention to update the guidelines on a bi-annual cycle to further strengthen their depth and breadth of functionality, and we welcome feedback from the community to
Content may be subject to copyright.
Jarden, A., Rashid, T., Roache, A., & Lomas, T. (2019). Ethical guidelines for
positive psychology practice (version 1.0: English). International Journal of Wellbeing, 9(3), 1-30.
Guideline version 1.0, 19th July 2019
Aaron Jarden
University of Melbourne
Copyright belongs to the author(s)
Ethical guidelines for
positive psychology practice
Aaron Jarden · Tayyab Rashid · Annalise Roache · Tim Lomas
Ethical guidelines
Jarden, Rashid, Roache, & Lomas
Introductory Notes………………………………………………………………………………. 4
Preamble………………………………………………………………………………………. 4
Professional bodies and the ethical guidelines for positive psychology practice……… 4
Guideline aspirations……………………………………………………………………… 5
Who are the guidelines for?..................................................................................................... 5
Provisional nature of guidelines……………………………………………………………. 5
Key terms……………………………………………………………………………………… 6
Section One: Values, Strengths, and Principles………………………………………………. 8
Values of positive psychology practitioners………………………………………………. 9
Strengths of positive psychology practitioners…………………………………………… 9
Ethical principles for positive psychology practice………………………………………. 10
Section Two: Applications of the Ethical Guidelines in Practice…………………………… 13
Three important considerations…………………………………………………………….. 13
Ethical decision making……………………………………………………………………... 13
Working considerations……………………………………………………………………... 14
Changes in clients……………………………………………………………………………. 14
Changes in embedded environments……………………………………………………… 14
Current emotional state and level of wellbeing…………………………………………... 15
Avoidance…………………………………………………………………………………….. 15
Power differentials…………………………………………………………………………... 15
Overuse of strengths……………………………………………………………………… 16
Practical wisdom…………………………………………………………………………….. 16
Maintaining resilience and buffering against burnout…………………………………... 16
Declaration of education and competence………………………………………………... 16
Appreciating the importance of cultural context………………………………………… 17
Resolving Ethical Dilemmas A Step-By-Step Guide………………………………………. 18
Self-Evaluation Guide…………………………………………………………………………... 19
Section Three: Case Examples of Ethical Practice……………………………………………. 20
Case example 1: Cultural applying PPIs with cultural sensitivity…………………….. 20
Case example 2: Coaching coaching clients in changing circumstances……………… 20
Case example 3: Clinical working with trauma…………………………………………. 21
Case example 4: Organisational pressure to misrepresent data.………………………. 22
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Case example 5: Mentoring motivating ‘unwilling’ participants in an imbalanced
relationship.………………………………………………………………………………... 23
Case example 6: Education implementing wellbeing programmes where aspirations are
hindered by existing practice..…………………………………………………………… 24
Relevant Guidelines…………………………………………………………………………….. 26
Acknowledgements ……………………………………………………………………………. 27
Initial Signatories to the Ethical Guidelines for Positive Psychology Practice……………. 28
References……………………………………………………………………………………….. 29
Further Reading………………………………………………………………………………… 29
Declaration: These guidelines are the result of a collaborative and independent working group
led by Aaron Jarden, Tayyab Rashid, Annalise Roache and Tim Lomas. The guidelines are
independent of any organisation or association; however, numerous parties have been involved
in the development and refinement of this first iteration. It is the authors’ intention to update
the guidelines on a bi-annual cycle to further strengthen their depth and breadth of
functionality, and we welcome feedback from the community to
Ethical guidelines
Jarden, Rashid, Roache, & Lomas
Introductory Notes
Ethical perfection is, perhaps, a utopian ideal, since human beings, including positive
psychology practitioners (PPPs), are fallible, vulnerable, and imperfect. The complexities of
contemporary life, such as ever-expanding cyber-living, erratic climate change, refugee crises,
evolving identities, and increasing economic polarisation, exacerbate human vulnerabilities.
Psychological services, especially ones with an explicit aim of restoring or enhancing wellbeing,
are not easily offered without competing priorities and ethical dilemmas. No single set of
ethical guidelines, standards, or even statutes can fully encapsulate the range of human
complexities. A set of broad-based values, personal strengths, and principles, nonetheless can
guide us to more ethical decision making, especially when we use positive psychological
interventions (PPIs), which generically aim to enhance wellbeing.
This guideline contains a) values, b) strengths, and c) principles for positive psychology
practice. It is important to note that ‘guidelines’ usually sit within broader frameworks, which
will vary by context and jurisdiction. For example, guidelines may sit at the bottom of a
prescriptive hierarchy such as that depicted in Figure 1 below:
Figure 1. Guidelines and broader frameworks.
Thus, it is important to consider guidelines along with other relevant frameworks. In addition,
whilst an individual or organisation may subscribe to and endorse these guidelines for
“positive psychology practice,” in some countries and jurisdictions it may be illegal to call
yourself a “positive psychologist” – please be aware of the restrictions and requirements of
your location.
Professional bodies and the ethical guidelines for positive psychology practice
Where a practitioner is a member of a relevant professional body (e.g., American Psychology
Association, Australian Psychological Society, International Coach Federation), then first and
foremost, their associations standards, code or guidelines will inform their practice. We expect
that when practitioners are members of a licensing or credentialing body (e.g., College of
Psychologists), with adequate education, training and experience in practising psychology or
related fields, such practitioners are therefore familiar with the rules, standards, regulations,
statues, and procedures of practising psychology within their jurisdiction.
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The ethical guidelines for positive psychology practice introduced here are designed to
augment, not replace, such existing jurisdictional/professional codes and guides. As such, these
guidelines also provide a baseline for practitioners who are not associated with or affiliated to a
professional body.
Guideline aspirations
Why have a set of ethical guidelines? These guidelines aim to enhance ethical practice by
displaying a commitment to scientifically informed and evidence-based practice in the field of
positive psychology (PP). They aim to infuse an aspiration to maintain (reasonable) fidelity to
the science of wellbeing, and for practitioners to consider the corresponding guidelines for self-
presentation and marketing of the potential benefits. The guidelines attempt to promote to
PPPs and others a clearer understanding of what is ethically informed practice of positive
psychology. With the assistance of such guidelines, PPPs are expected to display a commitment
to aspects such as:
a) closely studying the research, and building their practice from a science base;
b) continually updating their knowledge through ongoing learning and professional
c) carefully and accurately communicating the limits of knowledge related to PPIs, as well
as potential benefits and pitfalls of specific PPIs and wellbeing programmes; and
d) monitoring the wellbeing, and positive and negative changes in wellbeing, of their
clients during service provision.
Who are the guidelines for?
The purpose of these guidelines is to enable optimal ethical practice of PPPs, and in doing so to
act beneficently (to do good to others) and non-maleficently (to avoid potential harm to others).
As such, these guidelines are for professionals (e.g., psychologists) and others (e.g., students, or
those with no affiliations) who are delivering PPIs or using knowledge from the field of
positive psychology in their practice. This is not a guideline for how to use or deliver particular
Provisional nature of guidelines
We note that the current guidelines (version 1.0, 19th July 2019) are provisional and subject to
ongoing revision every two years through an iterative consultative process with key
stakeholders. Such regularity is to ensure that the guidelines are responsive to contextual
changes and reflect ever evolving local and global themes. In that respect, we welcome
feedback on the guidelines outlined here at any time.
It is also important to note that only English speaking, mostly Western countries, have
influenced the development of these guidelines, and, as such, the guidelines are limited to such
boundaries. However, since this is a living growing document identified by version number, it
is hoped that future versions will incorporate the influence of codes and guidelines from non-
English speaking and non-Western countries.
We have chosen four examples here to demonstrate such commitments, however, note that this list could be
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Key terms
Practitioners work with clients. Client is a generic term used to refer to the recipient of any
services such as (however, not limited to) an individual, couple, family, group, organisation,
sponsor, or other specifiable social unit.
Codes vs guidelines
A code usually has legal or other enforceable ramifications, whereas guidelines suggest best
practice which is not usually “regulated” or policed. Guidelines, by their nature, imply that
circumstances are varied and complex, and that following the guidelines often requires
practitioners to apply practical wisdom a combination of experience and common sense.
PP: Positive psychology. There are many ways of conceptualising and defining PP, but most
operationalisations usually position it as the scientific study and promotion of overarching
constructs such as “happiness,” “wellbeing,” “flourishing,” and “thriving.” For instance,
Lomas, Hefferon and Ivtzan (2015, p. 1347) define PP as “the science and practice of improving
wellbeing.” Relatedly, there is the notion of “applied positive psychology,” which can simply
be read as the application of PP in real-world settings, including through PPIs.
PPI: Positive psychological intervention. There is within the literature a demarcation made
between a positive psychology intervention and a positive psychological intervention for an
outline and explanation, see Hone, Jarden, and Schofield (2015). Here we incorporate the wider
notion of positive psychological intervention that covers all activities across many disciplines
(i.e., from other sub-fields of psychology in addition to PP) aimed towards increasing
psychological wellbeing. One popular definition of a positive psychological intervention is: “A
positive psychological intervention promotes positive emotions, behaviours, and/or thoughts,
thereby increasing the wellbeing of an individual or group” (Schueller, Kashdan, & Parks, 2014,
p. 92).
PPP: Positive psychology practitioner. A practitioner who has completed requisite training to
practise (e.g., psychotherapy, counselling, coaching), and undertaken PP specific training with
a reputable training provider, thereby allowing an understanding of the scientific research
process and its application in the delivery of applied positive psychology (e.g., PPIs).
Generally, ethical guidelines and codes espouse specific desired personal characteristics,
arbitrarily selected by thought leaders of the specific field. For these guidelines, we used
Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV: Peterson & Seligman, 2004), which is a model of
empirically validated and cross-culturally endorsed character strengths (McGrath, 2014).
Who can call themselves a PPP? There is, as yet, no clear demarcation as to the amount and level of training or
qualification needed. For example, could one consider oneself a PPP based on a 2-day course, 6-month accredited
certificate, or a 2-year Masters in Applied Positive Psychology Programme? In addition, supervised practice (e.g.
peer and one-to-one supervision) and online consultation is ideal. Further guidance regarding appropriate training
and supervision is needed from the professional bodies in this field (and indeed, such issues are already being
considered and addressed by relevant parties).
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According to CSV, character strengths are defined as universal traits that are valued in their
own right and do not necessarily lead to instrumental outcomes. Rather, as behavioural traits,
they facilitate and guide a person to behave in responsible and ethical ways for their own and
others welfare. Character strengths, broadly speaking, reflect who a person is (i.e., their
character), and values reflect what a person is committed to (i.e., their principles and actions).
The term practitioner is used generically to refer to anyone with responsibility for the
provision of PP related services. Practitioner includes anyone undertaking role(s) such as
(though not limited to) counsellor, psychotherapist, mental health professional, coach, trainer,
mentor, or educator.
Principles direct attention to important ethical responsibilities. Actions follow from certain
Values are beliefs held by individuals and shared by groups about desirable ends (i.e., broader
ideologies about the world and how it should be). Values transcend specific situations, guide
how we select actions and evaluate others and ourselves, and are ordered by their relative
importance (Schwartz, 2006). Values can represent an important way of expressing a general
ethical commitment that becomes more precisely defined and action-orientated when
expressed as a principle. In other words, values inform principles. In that communal sense, the
values outlined in these guidelines are those the authors have identified as being broadly
shared within the PP community.
The ethos and principles contained in these guidelines could equally apply to wellbeing researchers, where
researchers could be considered practitioners in one sense, working with subjects who could be considered similar
to clients.
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Section One: Values, Strengths, and Principles
The ethical guidelines for positive psychology practice incorporate the following values,
strengths and principles. Both values and strengths support the enactment of ethical principles,
as displayed in Table 1.
Table 1
Values, Strengths and Principles of Positive Psychology Practice
1. Protecting the safety of clients and
1. Beneficence/non-maleficence.
2. Alleviating personal distress and
2. Responsible caring.
3. Ensuring the integrity of
practitioner-client relationships.
3. Respect for people’s rights and
4. Appreciating the diversity of
human experience and culture.
4. Trustworthiness.
5. Fostering a sense of self that is
meaningful to the person(s)
5. Justice.
6. Enhancing the quality of
professional knowledge and its
6. Autonomy.
7. Enhancing the quality of
relationships between people.
8. Increasing personal effectiveness.
9. Striving for the fair and adequate
provision of counselling,
psychotherapy and coaching
In addition:
Almost all codes stipulate a range of personal traits and qualities, whereas this code
focuses on strengths and observable behaviours.
Our values have been selected based on other similar guidelines, and, as such, many of the values can fit in
different categories. For example, justice could be perceived as a value, or as a principle. Trustworthiness could be
perceived as a strength (honesty), a value, or as a principle. Many of these constructs are debatable in this way.
Values have also been ranked by perceived importance, according to the guideline authors.
Strengths 1-7 are ranked by how often they were mentioned and emphasised across 10 similar codes of ethics
(e.g., British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s ethical framework for good practice in counselling
and psychotherapy). Strengths 8-11, the authors have deemed important in upholding the six principles.
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The lists of values, strengths, and principles are not in any way exhaustive, but, rather,
an initial attempt at what is currently perceived most pertinent to practice. As the
guidelines adapt iteratively over time, and debate is had amongst the PP community, it
is anticipated that these elements will evolve.
The lists of values, strengths and principles is also not prescriptive.
A model of strengths (the Values in Action framework) was chosen, being the most
evident in the literature and based on sound science.
Values of positive psychology practitioners
The fundamental values of PPPs include a commitment to:
Protecting the safety of clients and others. This includes maintaining an ever-vigilant
awareness of how a client is responding to one’s services, and, moreover, recognising
the limits of one’s capacity and expertise (and, as such, recognising when a client may
need professional help from other sectors, or if the public are in danger).
Alleviating personal distress and suffering (when within one’s boundaries of expertise).
This means deploying PPIs in contextually relevant ways to decrease the distress of
individuals who seek services in various professional contexts (e.g., therapy, coaching,
Ensuring the integrity of practitioner-client relationships. This includes respecting
personal boundaries, and maintaining a commitment to professional practices such as
privacy and confidentiality.
Appreciating the diversity of human experience and cultures. This means not applying
a one-size-fits-all framework to one’s clients, but, rather, respecting and indeed
celebrating the variety of people’s unique developmental paths, and contextual and
cultural backgrounds.
Fostering a sense of self that is meaningful to the person(s) concerned. This means that
the individual develops and pursues goals that are not only fulfilling for the self, but
also contribute to the greater good.
Enhancing the quality of professional knowledge and its application. This means doing
one’s best to stay abreast of developments in the literature and maintaining an up-to-
date knowledge of advances in the field.
Enhancing the quality of relationships between people. This means recognising that
people are inevitably situated within social relationships and networks, and striving to
help the person enhance these bonds as far as possible.
Increasing personal effectiveness. This means striving to help the client operate more
effectively in the world and in the unique situations they find themselves.
Striving for the fair and adequate provision of PP services. This might include
advocating for services for hard-to-reach populations, or, where possible, advocating a
pricing structure whereby people with less means are still able to benefit from services.
Strengths of positive psychology practitioners
The practitioner’s personal strengths are important because they have an impact on the
practitioner/client relationship. Many of the strengths considered vital in the provision of
services are considered as good personal qualities. It is inappropriate to prescribe that all
practitioners possess these strengths, since it is fundamental that these personal strengths are
deeply rooted in the person concerned and develop out of personal commitment rather than
the requirements of an external authority. A thematic analysis of principles and values
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espoused by major guidelines (see Relevant Guidelines section) showed that the following
character strengths are presumed to facilitate ethical practice and decision making:
Honesty: Speaking the truth; presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere
way; being without pretence; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions.
Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not
letting personal feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance.
Social Intelligence: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people; knowing
what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what to do to put others at
Teamwork: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group;
doing one’s share.
Kindness: Doing favours and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.
Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing
things that might later be regretted.
Perspective: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the
world that make sense to oneself and to other people.
Judgement: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to
conclusions; relying only on solid evidence to make decisions; having the ability to
change one’s mind.
Self-regulation: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one’s
appetites and emotions.
Perseverance: Working hard to finish what one starts, no matter the project: “getting it
out the door” in timely fashion; not getting distracted when working; taking satisfaction
in completing tasks.
Bravery: Being a courageous person who does not shrink from threat, challenge,
difficulty, or pain; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition; acting on
one’s convictions.
Ethical principles for positive psychology practice
Each of the six ethical principles described below is accompanied by examples of good practice
that have been developed in response to that principle. Ethical decisions that are strongly
supported by one or more of these principles, without any contradiction from others, may be
regarded as having a strong moral rationale. However, practitioners will likely encounter
circumstances in which it is impossible to reconcile all the applicable principles, and choosing
between principles may be required. A decision or course of action does not necessarily become
unethical merely because it is contentious or other practitioners would have reached different
conclusions in similar circumstances. A practitioner’s obligation is to consider all the relevant
circumstances with as much care as is reasonably possible and to be appropriately accountable
for decisions made.
Beneficence involves a commitment to promoting the client’s and practitioner’s wellbeing. The
principle of beneficence means acting in the best interests of the client, based on professional
assessment. It directs attention to working strictly within one’s limits of competence and
providing services on the basis of adequate training or experience. Ensuring that the client’s
best interests are achieved requires systematic monitoring of practice and outcomes (e.g.,
wellbeing) by the best available means. It is considered important that scientific research and
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systematic reflection inform practice. Depending on role and context, there is usually an
obligation to take steps to enhance the quality of the services provided, and to commit to
updating practice by continuing professional development. An obligation to act in the best
interests of a client may become paramount when working with clients whose capacity for
autonomy is diminished because of age, immaturity, lack of understanding, distress, or other
significant personal constraints.
Non-maleficence, on the other hand, involves a commitment to avoiding harm to the client.
Practitioners who adopt this principle:
avoid sexual, financial, emotional or any other form of client exploitation;
avoid incompetence (i.e., appropriate application of PPIs, e.g., knowing what works for
whom) and malpractice;
do not provide services when unfit to do so due to illness, personal circumstances or
The practitioner has an ethical responsibility to strive to mitigate any harm caused to a client
even when the harm is unavoidable or unintended. Practitioners have personal and
professional responsibilities to challenge, where appropriate, the incompetence or malpractice
of others. They also have a responsibility to contribute to any investigation, and/or adjudication
by an appropriately recognised body/authority, concerning professional practice which falls
below that of a reasonably competent practitioner and/or risks bringing discredit upon their
profession or PP.
Responsible caring
The practice of PP promotes wellbeing. In pursuing this goal, PPPs who adopt this principle
demonstrate an active concern for the welfare of those with whom they work, and
acknowledge the social and institutional power that structures their role as PPPs. They have a
primary responsibility to protect the welfare of those with whom they work. They recognise
that individuals, families, groups, or communities may be in a vulnerable position. They also
recognise their boundaries of expertise (including the absence of knowledge) and refer to other
specialists when needed, and they accept responsibility and correct any harm that occurs as a
result of their service provision. PPPs are also expected to take an active and ongoing interest in
empirical and theoretical developments in their field, ensuring that they maintain up-to-date
knowledge of the evidence base regarding the PPIs they are implementing.
Respect for people’s rights and dignity
In accordance with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respect for the
dignity of persons and their rights requires that: each person and all peoples are positively
valued in their own right, their rights are acknowledged and respected, and they are shown
respect and granted dignity as part of their common humanity. Practitioners who adopt this
principle show respect which requires sensitivity to cultural and social diversity. This includes
a recognition of differences among persons associated with their culture, nationality, ethnicity,
colour, race, religion, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, physical or mental abilities, age,
socio-economic status, and/or any other personal characteristic, condition, or status. Such
differences are an integral part of the person, and should be respected as such.
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Being trustworthy (fidelity) involves honouring the trust placed in the practitioner.
Trustworthiness is regarded as fundamental to understanding and resolving ethical issues.
Practitioners who adopt this principle:
act in accordance with the trust placed in them;
strive to ensure that clients’ expectations are ones that have reasonable prospects of
being met;
honour their agreements and promises;
regard confidentiality as an obligation arising from the client’s trust;
restrict any disclosure of confidential information about clients to furthering the
purposes for which it was originally disclosed with the exception of mandated
disclosure (e.g., a law in one’s jurisdiction requires such disclosure).
Justice involves the fair and impartial treatment of all clients and the provision of adequate
services. The principle of justice requires that practitioners who adopt this principle are just
and fair to all clients and respect their human rights and dignity. It directs attention to
considering conscientiously any legal requirements and obligations, and remaining alert to
potential conflicts between legal and ethical obligations. Justice in the distribution of services
requires the ability to determine impartially the provision of services for clients and the
allocation of services between clients. A commitment to fairness requires the ability to
appreciate differences between people and to be committed to equality of opportunity and
outcome, and avoid discrimination against people or groups based on their personal or social
characteristics. In other words, justice entails that unfair discrimination based on certain
characteristics (e.g., gender or age) does not happen. Practitioners have a duty to strive to
ensure a fair provision of services that are accessible and appropriate to the needs of potential
Autonomy involves respecting the client’s right to be self-governing. This principle emphasises
the importance of developing a client’s ability to be self-directing within the provision of
services and all aspects of life. The principle of autonomy opposes the manipulation of clients
against their will, even for beneficial social ends. Practitioners who respect their clients’
ensure accuracy in any advertising or information given in advance of services offered;
seek freely given and adequately informed consent throughout the relationship;
emphasise the value of voluntary participation in the services being offered;
engage in explicit contracting in advance of any commitment by the client and
revisit/review the terms of that contract throughout the relationship;
protect privacy;
protect confidentiality;
customarily make any disclosures of confidential information conditional on the
consent of the person concerned;
inform the client in advance of foreseeable conflicts of interest, or as soon as possible
after such conflicts become apparent.
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Section Two: Applications of the Ethical Guidelines in Practice
This section contains several guides and examples for the contextual application of these ethical
guidelines. The content is designed to deepen thinking while also providing useful tools and a
self-evaluation guide for resolving and supporting ethical decision making in practice.
Three important considerations
Before applying any specific PPIs, one should assess and appraise the following three
important factors, which are the cornerstone of best practice (Barlow, Allen & Choate, 2004):
1. Is the PPI an appropriate match for the situation? This can be ascertained by reviewing
the relevant literature and published evidence from reliable sources. For example,
before a specific PPI is applied for gratitude, check to see if there is existing published
evidence that shows that this specific PPI is a promising technique for the particular
2. Does the PPI match with client’s presenting needs?
3. How will the effectiveness of a PPI be evaluated? In other words, what specific outcome
can be identified and validly assessed to determine the effectiveness of the PPI?
Ethical decision making
Ethical decision making can be assisted by: having adequate knowledge of these ethical
guidelines and the guidelines of an associated profession, being aware of the virtuous ethical
behaviour of others, and the use of personal strengths in decision making.
Knowledge: We expect that the primary users of these guidelines namely, PPPs with adequate
education, training, and experience in practicing psychology or related fields are familiar
with and can describe these ethical guidelines and any ethical guidelines that pertain to their
profession and professional standing. Most jurisdictions emphasise that practitioners need to
be familiar with relevant rules, standards, regulations, statues, and procedures.
Behaviour: Ethical behaviour, especially while delivering PPIs, cannot simply come from
cognitive knowledge. Ethical behaviour ought to be closely tied with collective behaviours and
practices. Can you identify in your professional circles those individuals who model ethical
practices? Although your colleagues may not explicitly highlight such practices, due to their
modesty, you are encouraged to explicitly ask your peers or wider professional community
(regional or international organisation) how they adhere to the ethical standards of your field.
Collecting a case repository of good practices will be useful for reflexivity with respect to one's
own behaviour. With sufficient accumulation of cases, illustrations of excellence will likely
appear. Ideally, practitioners will create an accessible hub where other practitioners have an
opportunity to enrich this repository.
Using strengths towards ethical decision making: Strengths can be helpful in several ways in ethical
decision making. For example, identifying strengths exemplars can help with present ethical
decision making. Find a colleague who presents as a role model as an exemplar of ethical
behaviour. Reflect how they handled a specific ethical dilemma or situation, or, more generally,
which specific strengths they embody in day-to-day interactions with colleagues and clients
that is worth modelling and will help with decision making.
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Working considerations
There are a variety of considerations to be mindful of in working with clients that can have
immediate and important ethical implications. In particular, it is pertinent to consider: changes
in clients, changes in the environments in which PPPs and clients find themselves, the current
emotional state and level of wellbeing of clients and PPPs, clients tendency towards avoidance,
relationship power differentials, overuse of strengths, practical wisdom, a declaration of
education and competence, and the importance of varying cultural contexts. Consideration of
these aspects can help mitigate, anticipate, or prevent some inadvertent and unpleasant
Changes in clients
While delivering any psychological services, it is important to monitor the psychological
wellbeing of clients throughout the course of treatment or intervention. Some clients
deteriorate, despite the demonstrated effectiveness of the PPI. Symptoms can deteriorate for
any number of reasons, making clients vulnerable. The client may not necessarily share this
information with the practitioner, perhaps because they may feel ashamed, afraid, or hesitant to
disappoint the practitioner who is working towards increasing their wellbeing. Most often, the
explicit focus of PPIs is not the amelioration of symptoms, but, rather, the promotion of
wellbeing. Monitoring changing circumstances in the clients’ lives is important, as is calibrating
the PPIs to these changes. For example, if the client experiences a break-up or loses their job, it
is important that the practitioner can address these changes and evaluate their impact.
Practitioners should be prepared to suspend an ongoing PPI and adjust the approach
accordingly to presenting and ongoing needs, or refer on to another helping professional if
appropriate. Failure to do so can negatively impact the alliance, which may not be repairable.
Changes in embedded environments
In addition to accounting for changes within clients, it is important to take into consideration
the environment in which both clients and practitioners are embedded. Take a PPP who is also
a clinician, as an example. Contemporary clinicians work in highly complex, fast-paced, and
pressured environments which are marked by challenges such as a dearth of evidence-based
treatment programmes, lack of cultural competence, and chronic and complex needs of clients
that impact on multiple domains of their life. Given these challenges, consider clients who:
may have lost their job or important contracts, or are being overlooked for a deserving
promotion only because they do not fit the team;
may have been recently diagnosed with a serious medical condition;
are dealing with betrayal or other forms of mistreatment by their partner;
are experiencing an incident of discrimination;
are subject to destructive environmental events such as flooding or wildfire, or global
problems such as famine.
Consider how these challenges might affect clients and shape their treatments. These cases
present a variety of different issues that need to be considered and addressed in different ways,
all while considering the regulations and standards of the profession with which the person is
aligned. Therefore, it is important that when PPPs offer PPIs, they learn about their clients and
also about their environments and recent or current changes to their circumstances.
Practitioners also need to be cognisant of the challenges within their own work environment.
This may include changes in administration which may bring changes in service modalities
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for example, a new director may endorse or oppose certain PPIs or may prefer another
treatment approach (e.g., Neuro-Linguistic Programming, mindfulness-based therapies,
Acceptance Commitment Therapy). The changes may have direct or indirect impacts on the
practice of PPIs, including from an ethical perspective.
Current emotional state and level of wellbeing
While offering PPIs, it is important to assess changes in clients and their current emotional state
and level of wellbeing. It is important that PPPs practice within their scope of expertise and
training. For clients that present with issues related to psychopathology (i.e., depression,
anxiety, trauma), then the PPP should refer on to a suitably qualified and experienced helping
professional. If such issues are not present at the beginning of the working relationships, the
PPP needs to be vigilant that such issues may surface while the client is engaged in a PPI and
be ready to refer to a sufficiently qualified helping professional. Ideally, the practitioner would
discuss with the client and consult with colleagues and relevant experts to ascertain what might
be an appropriate timing for persisting with PPIs in such a case.
Avoidance is one of the most common mechanisms people use to cope with negative emotions.
A healthy psychological life entails being aware and adaptively using the full emotional
spectrum. Some clients seeking PPIs may avoid deeper negative emotions due to their
discomfort, and may seek PPIs with hopes that they will dissipate their negative emotions or
keep them at bay. Examples of sources of negative emotions include memories of a bitter
breakup or divorce, betrayal by a trusted friend, resentment for being the victim of
discrimination, and being treated unfairly or in a biased manner by an individual or institution.
One way to assess avoidance is by paying attention to negative emotions which find their way
back in conversations despite not being discussed explicitly (i.e., emotions which persistently
disturb clients and yet are deliberately not discussed).
Although PPIs are breaking new ground with increasing evidence that positive emotions and
character strengths can ameliorate and repair negative states (Rashid & Seligman, 2018), this is
only the case if the negative states are meaningfully integrated in treatment. If strong negative
emotions are avoided by clients or practitioners, the effectiveness of treatment may be
Power differentials
One of the quintessential features of any psychological interaction involving a practitioner and
a client is the power dynamics inherent in the relationship, and especially the power
differential. Therapists, counsellors, social workers, and other such professionals are usually
aware of this differential. Therefore, they strive to create a safe, non-judgmental, confidential
and welcoming space where clients do not feel like the mere passive recipients of prescribed
services. Nonetheless, the nature of the transaction is such between the practitioner and the
client that the practitioner is, inevitably, perceived as an expert. Clients tend to look up to them
as equipped with state-of-the-art knowledge, training, and experience in delivering PPIs.
Therefore, the power differential is always there. The practitioner must be cognisant of this
differential and should avoid any situations where the client or practitioner may have to make
a decision that might be influenced by the power differential.
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Overuse of strengths
Under or over use of some strength-based practices can exacerbate existing challenges. For
example, in various coaching contexts, suggesting clients be more prudent can cause some to
become more anxious or indecisive. Clients exercising forgiveness without deliberating around
when and whom to forgive may overlook offences, which, if unchecked or unaccounted, can
hurt others. Clients overusing creativity can find it challenging to adhere to norms or rules that
foster equity and equal opportunity. Clients committed to making fair decisions in their
workplace can find it hard to reconcile opposing realities existing in the same sphere (e.g.,
coming to terms with how a well-educated and well-informed person can make unwise
Practical wisdom
Practitioners need what the philosopher Aristotle called “phronesis,” i.e., practical wisdom to
apply these guidelines. For example, consider a practitioner working with a high-level
executive with whom they have established an excellent relationship and who has also made
very good progress in their work. However, it comes to the practitioner’s notice that the
executive is involved in unethical behaviour. Should the practitioner preserve the solid
relationship, or confront the person, risking the relationship? A single set of guidelines may not
be sufficient. The practitioner needs to interpret the situation and balance competing motives.
In such cases, practical wisdom is built from both cumulative experience and good relational
bonds with colleagues who can advise and assist with ethical reasoning.
Maintaining resilience and buffering against burnout
A number of PP constructs can buffer against practitioner burnout. Positive emotions (e.g.,
hope, serenity, joy, interest, and awe) can broaden a practitioner’s attentional, cognitive, and
behavioural resources, which can act as a buffer against vulnerabilities, such as symptoms of
burnout (e.g., emotional exhaustion). Personal practices such as mindfulness can also help in
that regard. Interpersonal strengths (e.g., social intelligence, kindness, love, humour, sense of
purpose and meaning, and teamwork) can help cope with challenges such as depersonalisation
(a state in which one's thoughts and feelings seem unreal or not to belong to oneself). Likewise,
a sense of purpose and meaning can restore a personal sense of depersonalisation.
Declaration of education and competence
Practitioners should declare the limits of their competence regarding specific psychological
conditions, specific groups (e.g., working with children, other cultures, group work), and
specific PPIs. For example, a practitioner may have experience in assessing strengths in adults,
yet not with assessing children’s or adolescents’ strengths. Moreover, as the provision of
service continues, it may move into areas in which the practitioner is more superficially
experienced or qualified. For example, whilst a practitioner may be experienced and qualified
to provide services to children, adolescents, and adults, they may not be experienced or
qualified to deliver such services in the context of a family setting, in which case a referral or
further support structures may be needed.
In addition, practitioners should declare the educational training and relevant experience upon
which their provision of practice is based. For example, a practitioner completes a six-month
certificate which included a one-week face-to-face interaction, with the remaining course
completed online. The certificate is not recognised by a municipal, regional or provincial license
granting authority. The practitioners website states that they are a “certified positive
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psychology practitioner.” They have no other professional practicing credentials. Is this ethical?
It is important to explicitly inform your clients of the nature, scope and limits of your
professional education, practice, and credentials beyond your working title.
Appreciating the importance of cultural context
Ethical decision making should not be based only on awareness, knowledge, or cognitive
understanding. Decisions should also reflect the best available and relevant evidence and the
circumstances of the cultural context. Cultural context is critical in the delivery of PPIs, because
conceptualisation of what is normal, good, or adaptive is shaped by the values espoused as
desirable by the culture and social context in which the concern or dilemma presents itself.
Additionally, cultures and social norms differ in how specific emotions are acknowledged,
expressed, or amplified. Therefore, it is important that guidelines for an ethical practice of PPIs
be rooted in such evidence. The ethical guidelines presented here are broad enough to
accommodate cultural context, yet are sufficiently fine-grained to accommodate individual
differences and needs. This integration of evidence, including cultural and individual factors,
may be easy or readily available. Though such an integration may not yield an ethically perfect
path, process or outcome, when individuals strive towards ethical excellence, the collective
wisdom helps them to navigate cases as they are encountered. New ground is broken, new
paths are paved, and eventually excellence can be achieved. Having the structure of these
guidelines is, therefore, crucial to anchor a person’s thinking and actions. These guidelines also
serve the purpose of evaluating the extent to which one’s actions are proximal or distant from
ethical excellence.
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Resolving Ethical Dilemmas A Step-By-Step Guide
Though it is impossible to be completely immune from being entangled in ethical dilemmas,
the following steps, largely adapted from Ethics in Psychology (Koocher & Keith-Spiegel, 1998),
amongst other sources, will help a practitioner make sound ethical decisions:
Practise in accordance with all statutes, regulations, and standards of professional
practice, conduct, and guidelines, as stipulated by the respective license granting
agency of your jurisdiction. Such information will help a practitioner navigate ethical
Develop an accurate perception of how the same event may differ from person to
person. Consult, with someone trusted and unbiased, as to whether the issue presents
ethical dilemmas with serious consequences. Discuss with peers to see if what you are
perceiving is an ethical infraction, merely poor professional etiquette, or a situation
which poses harm to self or the public.
Review already-published relevant guidelines, rules, and standards. Make sure you are
interpreting these accurately and seek counsel if needed. Written guidelines are
sometimes abstract and not clear, with ample room for subjective interpretation.
Collect all relevant and the best information that you can. Identify existing gaps in
information, and document facts and concerns.
Integrate all the information in your process of reflection, and consult with someone
who is well informed, open-minded, and not afraid to point out a practitioners
potential shortcomings.
Evaluate how the six ethical principles of these guidelines apply (i.e., beneficence/non-
maleficence, responsible caring, respect for people’s rights and dignity, trustworthiness,
justice, autonomy). For example, evaluate the rights, responsibilities, and vulnerabilities
of all involved.
Brainstorm several solutions and appraise each as objectively as possible.
Consider which character strengths might help you in making the soundest ethical
decision. Might you turn to your deeper sense of fairness, honesty, or kindness?
Perhaps your bravery is needed to motivate you to “do the right thing”? Remember that
ethical decisions require the use of multiple character strengths used optimally and in
combination, not just one strength in isolation or one strength “used a lot” (Niemiec,
Visualise the outcome of your action or inaction.
Reflect before making a decision on what impact it will have on you, all others involved,
and what might be systematic implications. Also reflect on what kinds of support you
may need to adhere to your decision.
Translate the decision into concrete actions that truly reflect the spirit of your decision.
A number of actions may express your decision. Select actions that express your
decision accurately and validly, are measurable, connected to desired outcomes, and
cause the least inconvenience or damage to those not directly involved.
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Self-Evaluation Guide
The following section outlines questions for practitioners to reflect on that will assist in
avoiding ethical dilemmas to support best practice.
PPI Fit: First and foremost, based on the best evidence available, decide if a specific PPI (e.g.,
gratitude journal, using specific strengths, forgiveness exercise) is an appropriate fit for the
client, given their presenting problems, circumstances, and motivation for treatment.
PPI Timing: What steps will you undertake to decide when the PPI is appropriate: 1) at the
onset of the services, 2) while the PPI has already commenced? Under what conditions would
you consider a concurrent or alternative service or treatment?
Awareness of one’s own mental health: How aware are you about your own mental health? Being a
practitioner does not make you immune from experiencing symptoms of mental illness that
may move towards a clinical range. What steps or actions do you routinely engage in to take
care of your own mental health so that you can serve your clients optimally? What barriers do
you face in taking care of yourself, such as lack of time and resources, feeling or believing you
are just fine, and access to appropriate and relevant professionals who can take care of your
mental health?
Mandatory reporting: How comfortable do you feel taking action against a client who might be
responding well to PPIs, yet wishes for confidentiality when they inadvertently report an
incident (recent or in the past) or ongoing situation which may involve, for example, child or
elderly abuse, sexual abuse, or imminent threat to the safety of someone? If you are not
practicing under the code or guidelines of a professional body, do you have a legal requirement
to report?
Exaggeration and generalisation: You meet someone at a conference who appears passionate
about PPIs and invites you to attend a workshop they are offering. You attend the workshop,
which is built on a few studies with which you are quite familiar. The results, applications, and
generalisability of studies are presented in an exaggerated manner. Most participants find the
presentation “transformative” and appear to believe the findings. What would you do? Can
you use the steps in the resolving ethical dilemmas section to guide your behaviour in such a
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Section Three: Case Examples of Ethical Practice
The following cases are examples that may present in practice and have an ethical component
relevant to the principles in these ethical guidelines.
Case example 1: Cultural applying PPIs with cultural sensitivity
Ethical decisions should reflect the best available evidence in the circumstances of the cultural
context. Consider the following vignette.
Suzanne is an Australian practitioner who is working with a female client of an East
Asian cultural background. The client wants self-improvement and to preserve her family
relationships. Suzanne opts to use the Best Possible Self Exercise. Suzanne follows all the
steps to guide the client through the exercise. Somehow, despite making significant self-
improvements, the client reports that her relationships with her family have become sour.
Hence, no significant improvement in the client’s wellbeing is detected on repeated online
An important implication in this vignette is consideration of the concept of the self, which
varies from culture to culture. Suzanne follows a concept of self-development often associated
with the West, which encompasses personal growth, and taking new and largely individual
initiatives. By contract, self-development in Eastern (and in most non-Western) cultures is
thought to place more relative emphasis on investing in relationships, improving social
interaction, and contributing to preserving family, group, and tribal traditions. Despite
increasing cultural diversity in most urban metropolises, quintessential cultural differences
frequently still hold. An important implication of these differences is that the client in this
vignette may benefit from understanding how she can use her character strengths to bring
benefit to her family or to connect with them more deeply. Suzanne may use the character
strengths interventions of Turn Your Strengths Other-Oriented or Character Strengths
Appreciation (Niemiec, 2018) in which her client learns to turn her best inner qualities into
mechanisms of relationship building that benefits the other and prioritises a way of recognizing
and valuing family members for their own best qualities. It could also be the case that self-
development supported by significant others can bring deep and sustained increases in
wellbeing. However, in an interdependent culture, self-development, which likely involves
close family members, also requires managing more complex interactions over a longer period
of time. By contrast, the Best Version of Me activity, which focuses on improving individual
strengths or taking a new initiative, may require a relatively shorter amount of time. Therefore,
it is imperative that PPPs should consider how best their exercises can be culturally adapted.
The following ethical aspects are examples relevant to the above case:
Responsible caring The PPP needs to try to care for the client in a way that takes into
account the specifics of that client’s situation and background.
Beneficence/non-maleficence The PPP has a duty to do no harm.
Respect for people’s rights and dignity The PPP has a responsibility to be sensitive to
cross-cultural dynamics, and to respect the client’s situated perspective and needs.
We are grateful to the following individuals who provided these cases: Cases 1 & 3 - Tayyab Rashid, Case 2 -
Annalise Roache, Case 4 - Stewart Donaldson, Case 5 - Matthew Iasiello, and Case 6 - Denise Quinlan.
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Case example 2: Coaching coaching clients in changing circumstances
Ethical dilemmas can appear unexpectedly and require an adjustment in service provision.
Consider the following vignette.
Amanda came to coaching because she was feeling a lack of direction and meaning in life.
Previously she had placed a lot of importance on career advancement, but now felt she
needed to look for a more balanced approach to life, and moreover, was feeling sad and
deflated that she had not accomplished more in life (outside of career enhancement).
During the initial intake session, she identified several domains she would like to focus
on, which included finance management (to support buying a home), personal
development, and increasing fun and social time. She mentioned that her current job was
challenging and that she would be looking to make a change in the future, yet this was
not a current focus for coaching. In the first two sessions, in which goals were crafted and
actions steps clarified, progress was being made in the direction she had indicated as
important, and coaching was progressing well. However, at the beginning of the fourth
session Amanda declared that her work situation had deteriorated abruptly and she had
resigned, having found a new job already. The resignation had not been received well and
Amanda was feeling unsettled and highly emotional in her workplace, where she still had
four weeks to work out her notice. She indicates feeling triggered by her manager’s
reaction to her resignation, which is bringing up memories of similar emotional
confrontations from her adolescence.
At this stage it was imperative for the coach to maintain their self-regulation strength and not
make an impulsive suggestion due to the rise of Amanda’s stressors. From there, the coach
could then turn to using the strength of curiosity to check in on how Amanda would like to
proceed in the immediate future, and be open to shifting focus within the session/s. It may also
be important to understand the nature of Amanda’s emotional reaction to determine if
coaching is a safe and appropriate mechanism for her current needs. While the coach may have
contracted Amanda for a set amount of sessions, the changes in the client’s situation must
inform the appropriate way forward.
The following ethical aspects are examples relevant to the above case:
Responsible caring The coach has a primary responsibility to use kindness and
fairness to protect the welfare of Amanda and recognise the boundaries of their
Autonomy Here the coach could focus on developing Amanda’s ability to be self-
directing within the provision of services and all aspects of life, and to revisit/review the
terms of their contract throughout the relationship.
Beneficence/non-maleficence The coach, acting in the best interests of Amanda and
based on professional assessment, should be aware of working strictly within their
limits of competence, and to provide services on the basis of adequate training and
Case example 3: Clinical - working with trauma
Most individuals who experience trauma become overwhelmed in many culturally nuanced
ways, especially if they are working on a PPI. They may develop extensive mechanisms to
avoid thinking, recalling, or behaving in ways that may be related to their trauma. While
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offering PPIs, it is important to appraise and assess such trauma (whether historical and/or
current). Without minimising or dismissing it, the practitioner ought to intervene if they have
expertise, or, if not, to make a timely referral. The practitioner also needs to be vigilant in case
trauma may surface while the client is engaged in a PPI. The practitioner must discuss with the
client and consult with colleagues and relevant experts to ascertain what an appropriate timing
might be for persisting with PPIs in such a case. Consider the following vignette.
Salma, 21, has a long history of experiencing physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. She
seeks services for her persistent feelings of depression. She is expecting that the therapist
would explicitly ask about the traumatic events in her life. Instead, she is given a short
questionnaire which does not include any questions about current or past trauma. In the
counselling sessions themselves, Salma finds she does not like the counsellor and chooses
not to reveal the details of her trauma. Thus, the treatment remains superficially effective
and she is prescribed a fresh round of treatment within six months.
As the above case demonstrates, it is important to explicitly ask about trauma (although doing
so requires great sensitivity, and possibly also clinical training). Depending on the rapport,
some clients will explicitly ask related questions, and seek advice, suggestions, coping
strategies, or culturally appropriate resources. It is important that, while the PPI is in process
and details of a recent or remote trauma surface, the practitioner responds in a way that meets
the needs of the client. First and foremost, the practitioner should be sufficiently qualified,
trained, and experienced in dealing with the situation. Practitioners should regularly tap their
strengths of humility and prudence/caution by periodically checking if they should continue to
provide services, or conversely, if the client would be better off with someone with more
specific expertise in providing the suggestions, skills, and strategies that some clients need or
ask for.
The following ethical aspects are examples relevant to the above case:
Responsible caring - The PPP has a responsibility to care for Salma in a way that
considers the specifics of her situation and background.
Beneficence/non-maleficence The PPP has both a responsibility not to create further
harm to Salma, and to promote her wellbeing.
Case example 4: Organisational - pressure to misrepresent data
Many positive work and organisations interventions are evaluated to determine their
effectiveness. Ethical dilemmas can appear unexpectedly when clients do not accept findings
and pressure practitioners to omit or misrepresent evaluation data. Consider the following
vignette and notice how a number of character strengths are underused, including
honesty/integrity, perspective/wisdom, leadership, and humility.
Company XYZ hired a PP practitioner to improve employee morale and performance. In
consultation with company leadership, she decided to provide a training programme to
increase employee psychological capital (hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism).
Evaluation data showed the employees loved the training and wanted more positive
psychological training in the future. However, the evaluation data showed there were not
significant differences in levels of hope, efficacy, resilience, optimism, morale, or
performance between employees who were randomly selected to participate in the
training, and those in the comparison group. The leaders of Company XYZ were so
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pleased their employees enjoyed the training that they did not want them to see the
discouraging evaluation results. Instead, they asked the practitioner to report that the
training was a big success, and that more training along the same lines would be
provided for the employees in the future.
The following ethical aspects are examples relevant to the above case:
Autonomy Here the practitioner’s autonomy to act is being taken away.
Beneficence/non-maleficence - Beneficence involves a commitment to promoting the
client’s wellbeing, and this level of deception advocated by the company’s leaders is not
in the best interests of the employees. Additionally, acting beneficently requires
providing services based on adequate training or experience.
Trustworthiness Here the practitioner is being asked to exaggerate and generalise the
effectiveness of the PPI, which does not honour the trust placed in the practitioner by
the employees.
Case example 5: Mentoring motivating unwilling participants in an imbalanced relationship
Often, those who are most resistant to an intervention are those who may benefit most. PPPs
encounter a difficult situation when trying to motivate or persuade a client to participate in an
intervention for their benefit, without manipulation. Consider the following vignette.
Abbie, a case manager at a youth agency, has a client who refuses to participate in the
exercises of a PP group intervention. The facilitator of the intervention has asked Abbie to
motivate her client to participate in the exercises, and convince them of the benefits of the
intervention. Abbie agrees with her colleague that the intervention would be greatly
beneficial for her client. Abbie is conscious that her client’s attitudes and behaviour often
cause the client to be excluded from interventions that are likely to be helpful, and decides
to challenge her client’s attitudes towards participation. Abbie has developed a trusting,
mentor relationship with the client, and is unwilling to compromise her integrity and
betray the client’s trust by blindly “selling the intervention to the participant or making
promises that won’t be realised. Rather, she modestly describes the evidence that supports
the intervention, and works with her client to weigh up the costs and benefits of
participation. She curiously poses questions to her client about the pros and cons of
participating in the intervention and how her client’s signature strengths could be used
in the group setting. Abbie then supports her client to identify strategies to minimise the
costs of participation, and they practice low-intensity versions of the intervention itself
and her client’s strengths use prior to the group setting.
Abbie is certain that her client will benefit from participating in the intervention, and doesn’t
want her client to be excluded from participation once again. Equally, she does not want to
betray her client’s trust or autonomy. Abbie wants to challenge her client, and help expose her
to new experiences, but fears that unethical manipulation could result in negative outcomes for
her participant, and ultimately damage the quality of their hard-won relationship. Rather than
over-selling or exaggerating the benefits of participation, Abbie works to understand the
client’s attitude toward the intervention, challenges cognitive biases, and creates opportunities
to demonstrate the benefits of the training in the safety of the case management session.
The following ethical aspects are examples relevant to the above case:
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Justice The PPP has a responsibility to ensure that clients are not excluded from
interventions based on a particular characteristic.
Trustworthiness The PPP uses the trusting relationship with the client to encourage
the client to evaluate their attitudes and beliefs, but does not betray this trust.
Autonomy The PPP respects the will of their client, and is hesitant to manipulate it.
Case example 6: Education - implementing wellbeing programmes where aspirations are hindered by
existing practice
Many schools want to adopt wellbeing programmes. However, they may do so for a range of
reasons, from concern for student wellbeing, through addressing challenges like bullying
within the school, to enhancing already strong practices. In addition, having a school wellbeing
programme can also be viewed as a marketing opportunity and point of difference for some
schools. Consider the following vignette.
A school staff member was requested by the principal to develop a wellbeing strategy and
plan for adoption by the board, and then to organise a fast rollout of the key elements. The
principal wanted to tell prospective parents that their children would benefit from explicit
wellbeing teaching in the curriculum. Teachers were all assigned responsibilities for
teaching wellbeing, even though there had been very little professional development for
staff in this area. Many staff were stressed and felt unprepared for this teaching, as well
as the additional workload it represented. A consultant was brought in to deliver a half-
day professional development session in wellbeing for staff. Some staff expressed concern
to the consultant that they were anxious that they might cause harm to their students
because they were ill-equipped and had no grounding in this area. In addition, the
consultant has seen the school’s marketing which promotes its work on wellbeing (e.g.,
describing the school as supporting holistic wellbeing for staff and students, and building
wellbeing at every encounter). The consultant is aware that the school continues to use a
punitive discipline policy that undermines relationships between students and staff, and
ignores scientific evidence for the wellbeing benefits of restorative practice and
forgiveness. The mid-level teacher who has been made responsible for wellbeing
programme implementation has briefed the consultant on these issues. The teacher is
reluctant to raise the issues with the school leadership as this teacher has previously been
intimidated by this group when raising similar concerns. At that time, their loyalty to the
school was called into question, and their suitability to continue on as a teacher was
The following ethical aspects are examples relevant to the above case:
Beneficence/non-maleficence The PPP has a responsibility not to unequivocally or
uncritically endorse a school as being a “wellbeing school” if they are aware of school
practices that undermine wellbeing.
Autonomy The teacher should not feel coerced into adopting a perspective or position
that conflicts with their own judgement or values.
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Relevant Guidelines
The following guidelines (organised by specific field and alphabetised within the field) were
drawn upon and helped inform the development of these practice guidelines:
Australia Psychology Australian Psychological Society (APS), Code of Ethics (2017).
Australia Counselling and Psychotherapy Psychotherapy & Counselling Federation
of Australia (PACFA), Interim Code of Ethics (2015).
Canada Psychology Canadian Psychology Association (CPA), Canadian Code of Ethics
for Psychologists (2017).
New Zealand Psychology New Zealand Psychological Society (NZPS), Code of Ethics
for Psychologists (2012, 4th Ed).
United Kingdom Counselling and Psychotherapy British Association for
Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), Ethical Framework for Good Practice in
Counselling and Psychotherapy (2010).
United States of America Psychology American Psychological Association (APA),
Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2017).
United States of America Counselling American Counselling Association (ACA),
Code of Ethics (2014).
Australia Nursing Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia: Code of Ethics
for Nurses (2008).
New Zealand Nursing Nursing Council of New Zealand (NCNZ), Code of Conduct for
Nursing (2012).
United Kingdom Nursing Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), The Code
for Nurses and Midwives (2015).
International Coaching The International Coach Federation (ICF): Core Competencies
and Code of Ethics (2015).
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The following people, listed alphabetically, contributed substantially and provided input and
feedback into the drafting of these guidelines:
Associate Professor Aaron Jarden, University of Melbourne, Australia.
Mr Andrew Alexandra, University of Melbourne, Australia.
Annalise Roache, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand.
Dr Dan Weijers, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.
Dr Denise Quinlan, New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience, New Zealand.
Professor Dianne Vella-Brodrick, University of Melbourne, Australia.
Giselle Timmerman, Positive Work, United States of America.
Hein Zegers, European Network of Positive Psychology.
Dr Helena Agueda Marujo Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Politicas (School of
Social and Political Sciences), University of Lisbon, Portugal.
Professor James Pawelski, University of Pennsylvania, United States of America.
Dr Jo Mitchell, The Mind Room, Melbourne, Australia.
Dr Joel Milam, University of Southern California, USA.
Dr Judy Moskowitz, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, United
States of America.
Associate Professor Karena Burke, Central Queensland University, Australia.
Lisa Sansom, LVS Consulting, Canada.
Margarita Tarragona, Positivamente, Mexico.
Matthew Iasiello, Wellbeing and Resilience Center, SAHMRI, Australia.
Dr Mohsen Joshanloo, Keimyung University, South Korea.
Reb Rebele, University of Melbourne, Australia.
Dr Rona Hart, former Director MAPP University of East London, England.
Dr Ryan Niemiec, VIA Institute on Character.
Scott Asalone, ASGMC Inc, USA.
Simon Murray, Positive Education Schools Association, Australia.
Professor Stewart Donaldson, Claremount Graduate University, United States of
Sue Langley, The Langley Group, Australia.
Dr Suzy Green, The Positivity Institute, Australia.
Dr Tayyab Rashid, University of Toronto Scarborough, Canada.
Dr Tim Lomas, University of East London, England.
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Initial Signatories to the Ethical Guidelines for Positive Psychology Practice
Date of first
the Guidelines
Name and website of association or body
19 / July / 2019
VIA Institute on Character
19 / July / 2019
Centre for Positive Psychology,
University of Melbourne
19 / July / 2019
Centre for Positive Psychology,
University of East London
19 / July / 2019
Centre for Positive Psychology, Central
Queensland University
19 / July / 2019
Claremont Evaluation Center, Claremont
Graduate University USA
19 / July / 2019
The Wellbeing and Resilience Centre,
Adelaide, Australia
19 / July / 2019
The Langley Group
19 / July / 2019
New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and
19 / July / 2019
Middle East Psychological Association,
Division 1 Positive Psychology
19 / July / 2019
19 / July / 2019
Iranian Positive Psychology Congress
19 / July / 2019
Japanese Positive Health Psychology
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19 / July / 2019
New Zealand Association of Positive
19 / July / 2019
Centro de Educacion Emocional Positiva
19 / July / 2019
National Positive Psychology Association
(NPPA) of India
19 / July / 2019
German Society for Positive Psychology
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Aaron Jarden
University of Melbourne, Australia
Tayyab Rashid
University of Toronto Scarborough, Canada
Annalise Roache
Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
Tim Lomas
University of East London, United Kingdom
Publishing Timeline
Published 19 July 2019
Barlow, D. H., Allen, L. B., & Choate, M. L. (2004). Toward a unified treatment for emotional disorders.
Behavior Therapy, 35(2), 205-230.
Hone, L., Jarden, A., & Schofield, G. (2015). An evaluation of positive psychology intervention effectiveness
trials using the re-aim framework: A practice-friendly review. Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(4), 303-
Koocher, G. P. & Keith-Spiegel, P. (1998). Ethics in psychology: Professional standards and cases. New York,
NY: Oxford University Press.
Lomas, T., Hefferon, K., & Ivtzan, I. (2015). The LIFE model: A meta-theoretical conceptual map for applied
positive psychology. Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(5), 1347-1364.
McGrath, R. E. (2014). Character strengths in 75 nations: An update. Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(1), 1-
Niemiec, R. M. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field-guide for practitioners. Boston: Hogrefe.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New
York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Rashid, T. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2018). Positive psychotherapy: Clinician manual. Oxford, England: Oxford
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Schueller, S. M., Kashdan, T. B., & Parks, A. C. (2014). Synthesizing positive psychological interventions:
Suggestions for conducting and interpreting meta-analyses. International Journal of Wellbeing, 4(1), 91-
Schwartz, S. H. (2006). Basic human values: Theory, measurement, and applications. Jerusalem, Israel: The
Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Further Reading
Han, H. (2014). Virtue ethics, positive psychology, and a new model of science and engineering ethics
education. Science and Engineering Ethics, 21(2), 441-460.
Lomas, T., & Ivtzan, I. (2016). Professionalising positive psychology: Developing guidelines for training
and regulation. International Journal of Wellbeing, 6(3), 96-112.
Koocher, G. P., & Keith-Spiegel, P. (2008). Ethics in psychology and the mental health professions:
Standards and cases (3rd e d.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Ethical guidelines
Jarden, Rashid, Roache, & Lomas
Sinclair, C. (2017). Ethics in psychology: Recalling the past, acknowledging the present, and looking to the
future. Canadian Psychology, 58(1), 20-29.
Vella-Brodrick, D. (2014). Dovetailing ethical practice and positive psychology to promote integrity,
industriousness, innovation, and impact. In A. C. Parks & S. M. Schueller (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell
handbook of positive psychological interventions (pp. 416-432). Chichester, England: Wiley Blackwell.
... These indicate an urgent need to prevent mental illness and promote well-being. Indeed, we highlighted the importance of integrating culture with PPIs, following the guidelines for the cultural adaptation of PPIs and the ethical guidelines for PP practise (Jarden et al., 2020). Another significant contribution of this paper is to highlight the importance of improving the quality of research conducted in Arab countries. ...
... If we rely only on our own self-awareness and knowledge, or on outdated rules of behavior, we are limited. An industrious practitioner will seek out not only the most relevant information available to determine a course of action, she will consider cultural context outside her own experience (Jarden et al., 2019). This continued learning allows the development of moral skill, the ability to determine the right course of action in a particular situation which can require good judgment, listening skills, empathy, and the ability to improvise (Schwartz, n.d.). ...
This capstone contains a brief introduction to positive psychology and the art of improvisation, including a review of the literature that supports improvisation’s potential well-being effects. Also included in this capstone is a description of an exploratory study on improvisation and well-being. In this study, positive and negative affect, resilience, loneliness, and perceived life satisfaction was measured among a group of actors and improvisers from all over the United States. The study also features qualitative data, collected from the same participants, coded for positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment (PERMA) in order to consider whether working without a script offered flourishing outcomes distinct from general participation in theatre. Quantitative analysis revealed that life satisfaction scores among actors was significantly higher than those of improvisers, however the elements of PERMA showed up more frequently in the qualitative data collected from improvisers, with positive relationships mentioned significantly more often. Findings suggest that while improvisers may have a lower sense of life satisfaction, they experience more positive emotion, engagement, sense of accomplishment than actors and the study of improvisation has considerable positive effects on their relationships onstage and off. Implications for the creation of a new branch of the Positive Humanities, “Positive Improvisation,” are discussed, as well as suggestions for how to make traditional improvisation more intentionally positive.
Coaching targeted at leaders, commonly known as ‘executive or leadership coaching’ has historically focused on a leader’s weaknesses. Increasingly, a more holistic approach to coaching, infused with positive psychology, fostering positive leadership behaviours and wellbeing, is becoming a core process of the coaching experience. While there is much from positive psychology to support positive leadership behaviours, this chapter will focus on coaching the four positive leadership strategies; positive climate, communication, relationships and positive meaning to support agile and humanistic decision making in disruptive workplace environments and crisis within the competing values framework. The authors’ propose that positive psychology coaching is the vehicle in which to coach for wellbeing and development in order to support positive leadership behaviours. A vignette is provided showcasing positive leadership practices, being an example of leadership courage under fire during a UK Royal Air Force Military operation in Kandahar Province. Additionally, a financial markets case study highlights cognitive behavioural and strengths coaching to facilitate cognitive agility and confidence of leaders.
The increasing move to remote work has raised new questions in the field of workplace wellbeing and engagement with the individual’s emotional health and the quality of working relationships as essential concerns. In particular, loneliness, as a specific form of low-quality connections at work, has also become a key area of concern and research, given it is a discreet disrupter to wellbeing and engagement, not just to the individual but across the broader workplace. Hence there is a pressing need for workplaces and in particular coaches to assist their coachees to create high quality connections at work. Relationships are at the heart of the human experience, with Self-Determination theory having identified “relatedness” as one of three core psychological needs. A fundamental ingredient to fostering quality relationships are emotions, yet within the workplace, emotions have historically been avoided and viewed as the remit of therapists rather than coaches. Hence, specific knowledge and skill development has been lacking in coach training and practice. This chapter explores how the coaching relationship can facilitate the creation of positive relationships, work with emotions and loneliness (as a socio-emotional construct) in the workplace with coaching examples and a case study to illustrate coaching in practice.
The goals of positive psychology, coaching and coaching psychology have always been the same: to help individuals achieve their best selves, whether at work or in their personal lives. Yet, how this is accomplished has also been a consistent point of contention: The models, theories and tools used to achieve such change, as well as the assumptions upon which these have been based, have been a longstanding issue in these fields. Bias and ethnocentrism are well entrenched in research and models of practice as personal and professional worldviews are difficult to shed. Yet, without careful examination of such assumptions, it remains difficult if not improbable to practise ethically, to attain coaching effectiveness and to advance the respective fields to their higher aims. In this chapter, we explore several of these issues, but, more importantly, propose concrete steps towards facilitating their resolution. The limitations of models most commonly used in positive psychology coaching, like the VIA Survey, and proposals for a wide variety of alternative coaching frameworks explicitly designed for cross-cultural contexts are also discussed.
The OECD reports that 99% of teachers believe that student wellbeing is important. However, pre-service teachers are challenged as they enter the teaching profession, as many do not associate discipline-specific learning and teaching with wellbeing and they are not well equipped with strategies to influence belonging and engagement. We ask, how can initial teacher education programs integrate an evidence-informed wellbeing framework in pre-service teachers’ education as a response to global issues? Rather than focusing on the content of a wellbeing framework, or the pre-service teacher wellbeing this chapter outlines the process to create an evidence-informed wellbeing framework in pre-service teachers’ education. We argue for a two-step method, Stage 1—Appreciative inquiry process—at the strategic level and Stage 2—Carpe Diem process—at the program level. The purpose is to develop meaningful connections between wellbeing topics, points of discussion with pre-service teachers, and links to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.
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As positive psychology has developed as a field, questions have arisen around how to ensure best practice, including with respect to ethics. This issue is particularly pertinent vis-à-vis its applied dimensions, such as positive psychology interventions by students and graduates of MAPP programmes. However, the field has hitherto lacked clear ethical guidelines to assist practitioners. Aiming to address this gap, the authors have devised a set of guidelines, in collaboration with key stakeholders across the positive psychology community, published in the International Journal of Wellbeing. The current article briefly summarises the importance, development, content, and future directions of these guidelines, thus providing a concise overview of this important project. It is hoped that this article, together with the guidelines themselves, will not only highlight the importance of ethical practice, but offer practical suggestions for guiding practitioners in the field.
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: Although positive psychology (PP) was initially conceived as more a shift in perspective (towards the “positive”) than a new field per se, in pragmatic terms, it is arguably beginning to function as a distinct discipline, with people self-identifying as “positive psychologists.” Thus, we contend it is time for the field to start developing a system of professional (e.g., ethical) guidelines to inform the practice of PP. To this end, we outline one such possible system, drawing on guidelines in counselling and psychotherapy. Moreover, we argue for the creation of two tiers of professional identity within PP. Firstly, people with a master’s qualification in PP might label themselves “positive psychology practitioners.” Secondly, we raise the possibility of creating a professional doctorate in PP which would enable graduates to assume the title of “positive psychologist.” We hope that this paper will contribute towards a dialogue within the field around these issues, helping PP to develop further over the years ahead.
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Applying the values construct in the social sciences has suffered from the absence of an agreed-upon conception of basic values, of the content and structure of relations among these values, and of reliable methods to measure them. This article presents data from over 70 countries, using two different instruments, to validate a theory intended to fill pan of this gap. It concerns the basic values that individuals in all cultures recognize. The theory identifies 10 raotivationally distinct values and specifies the dynamics of conflict and congruence among them. These dynamics yield a structure of relations among values common to culturally diverse groups, suggesting an universal organization of human motivations. Individuals and groups differ in the priorities they assign to these values. The article examines sources of individual differences in value priorities and behavioral and attitudinal consequences that follow from holding particular value priorities. In doing so, it considers processes through which values are influenced and through which they influence action.
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Systematic reviews, such as meta-analyses, are highly valued within scientific, professional, and lay communities because they provide an easily digestible aggregate of a large body of work. A recently published meta-analysis of positive psychology interventions concluded that these interventions have small effects and argued for the use of these interventions in diverse populations (Bolier et al., 2013). We caution researchers against drawing conclusions from this study because of the unusual definition of what is (and is not) a positive psychological intervention. Bolier and colleagues (2013) define their area of inquiry as “pure positive psychology interventions” and limit their sample to studies conducted within the years following the formal founding of the positive psychology movement. This decision – while well intentioned, as it provides specificity to their criteria for inclusion – is, in our view, too narrow, excluding a host of studies that use the same intervention strategies and target the same outcomes but do not explicitly reference “positive psychology”. The inclusion criteria of a systematic review directly impact its findings and conclusions. Using the criterion of papers that explicitly reference positive psychology creates an arbitrary boundary that reflects neither the research nor practice of the field; the best practitioners prioritize effectiveness and efficiency over explicit ties to “positive psychology”. Arbitrary boundaries hinder science and impair the ability of researchers, clinicians, and the general public to draw accurate conclusions from the findings. It also limits the meta-analyst’s ability to conduct moderation analysis that can help drive the field forward by answering research questions that are difficult to address in a single study. Positive psychology and psychology more generally would benefit from definitions of terms that are conceptually-based and thus meta-analyses that are theoretically sound.
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This study represents an extension of Park, Peterson, and Seligman, who found substantial convergence across 54 nations and all 50 US states in the self-report of character strengths. Though their overall sample was substantial, some countries were represented by as few as 20 cases. The present study updates their work, using a sample of 1,063,921 adults who completed the Values in Action Inventory-Inventory of Strengths online between 2002 and 2012. The results for 75 nations each represented by at least 150 respondents suggest substantial cross-cultural similarity in endorsement of the strengths. The most highly endorsed character strengths were Honesty, Fairness, Kindness, Judgment, and Curiosity, while the least endorsed were Self-Regulation, Modesty, Prudence, and Spirituality. Though the participants probably represent a biased sample for many of the countries examined in the study, these results suggest grounds exist for cross-cultural dialog on how to advance the development of good character.
For over a century the focus of psychotherapy has been on what ails us, with the therapeutic process resting upon the assumption that unearthing past traumas, correcting faulty thinking, and restoring dysfunctional relationships is curative. And indeed, they are - but in the rush to identify and reduce symptoms of mental disorder, something important has been overlooked: the positives. Should enhancing well-being, and building upon character strengths and virtues, be explicit goals of therapy? Positive Psychotherapy provides therapists with a session-by-session therapeutic approach based on the principles of positive psychology, a burgeoning area of study examining the conditions and processes that enable individuals, communities, and institutions to flourish. This clinician's manual begins with an overview of the theoretical framework for positive psychotherapy, exploring character strengths and positive psychology practices, processes, and mechanisms of change. The second half of the book contains 15 positive psychotherapy sessions, each complete with core concepts, guidelines, skills, and worksheets for practicing skills learned in session. Each session also includes at least one vignette as well as discussion of cross-cultural implications. Mental health professionals of all orientations will find in Positive Psychotherapy a refreshing alternative to symptom-based approaches that will endow clients with a sense of purpose and meaning that many have found lacking in more traditional therapies.
Over the past several decades, modern psychology has come a long way in its ethics journey. In this article, by looking at various time periods between the mid-19th century and the present, I provide an overview and personal reflections on some of the major events and changes in thinking that have occurred during this journey, as well as outline some of the ethical challenges I think we can expect in the immediate future. The role of local and world events are explored, along with the role of scandals, community concerns, legal developments regarding regulation, globalization, and changes in thinking about ethical decision making and about rules versus aspirational ethics. Particular emphasis is given to the national as well as the international scenes, including the contributions of the Canadian Psychological Association, the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists, and the Universal Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychologists.
Over 40 years of development of cognitive behavioral approaches to treating anxiety and related emotional disorders have left us with highly efficacious treatments that are increasingly widely accepted. Nevertheless, these manualized protocols have become numerous and somewhat complex, restricting effective training and dissemination. Deepening understanding of the nature of emotional disorders reveals that commonalities in etiology and latent structure among these disorders supercedes differences. This suggests the possibility of distilling a set of psychological procedures that would comprise a unified intervention for emotional disorders. Based on theory and data emerging from the fields of learning, emotional development and regulation, and cognitive science, we identify three fundamental therapeutic components relevant to the treatment of emotional disorders generally. These three components include (a) altering antecedent cognitive reappraisals; (b) preventing emotional avoidance; and (c) facilitating action tendencies not associated with the emotion that is dysregulated. This treatment takes place in the context of provoking emotional expression (emotional exposure) through situational, internal, and somatic (interoceptive cues), as well as through standard mood-induction exercises, and differs from patient to patient only in the situational cues and exercises utilized. Theory and rationale supporting this new approach are described along with some preliminary experience with the protocol. This unified treatment may represent a more efficient and possibly a more effective strategy in treating emotional disorders, pending further evaluation.
Meta-analyses indicate the efficacy of positive psychology interventions in promoting well-being. But, despite accumulating empirical and anecdotal evidence of these interventions’ implementation in real-world settings, no review of effectiveness research exists. Accordingly, we identified 40 positive psychology intervention effectiveness trials targeting adults, and scored their reporting using the practice-friendly RE-AIM tool which assesses five dimensions of intervention utility: Reach, Efficacy, Adoption, Implementation and Maintenance. Reporting levels varied substantially: reporting on Reach scored 64%; Efficacy scored 73%; Adoption scored 84%; Implementation scored 58%; and Maintenance scored 16%. Within these five dimensions, reporting on participation rates, methods to select delivery agents, differences between participants and non-participants, programme maintenance and costs, was particularly sparse. The studies involved 10,664 participants, approximately half required specialist delivery, and 12 were researcher delivered. To maximize the potential of PPIs for population health promotion, expanded reporting on effectiveness trials is required. Recommendations to assist this process are offered.