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Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching by Robert Biswas-Diener (Book Review)

written by Louisa Jewell 13 September 2010

Louisa Jewell, MAPP '09, is president of Positive Matters and a consultant, facilitator and speaker who works with organizations around the world to develop positive leaders and nurture productive teams. Listen to Louisa's podcasts on positive matters, collected from a radio show she hosted. Full bio.

Louisa's PositivePsychologyNews.com articles are here.

Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching If you enjoyed Robert Biswas-Diener’s first book with Ben Dean on the subject of positive psychology and coaching and were craving more ready-made activities you could use with your coaching clients, then you will be pleased to know his new book more than delivers.

Robert gives dozens of practical suggestions for translating research into workable questions, activities, assessments, and interventions for immediate use with clients. He has achieved a richness of discussion that could only come from years of experience and a deep understanding of the science of positive psychology. Robert does a thorough job of explaining how to deliver each intervention, step by step, using relevant case studies from his own practice to illustrate. By weaving in research findings, he helps coaches gain a full understanding of the empirical foundation for each intervention. In each chapter, he also demonstrates how to apply interventions in an organizational setting.

There is interesting new material in every chapter. Here are just a few highlights…
Strengths by Mahalie StackpoleStrengths

Here Robert offers some fresh and unique ideas on how to develop a more extensive strengths vocabulary and expand your capacity to recognize and identify strengths in clients. He demonstrates good strengths-spotting with real case studies from his practice, and he explains the research that supports a strengths-based approach. He uses a brilliant analogy using a sailboat to illustrate why a strengths focus is important: if you focus all of your time on fixing the leaks (your weaknesses) even if you fix 100% of leaks, you still aren’t going anywhere. It is the sails (your strengths) that will ultimately take you to where you want to go.

Harnessing Positivity

He not only talks about happiness as a goal for clients, if indeed this is on their agendas, but he also shows how to leverage the use of positive emotions in the coaching session itself. He presents his case for the fact that not all interventions work with every client and presents often counter-intuitive research to support his methods.

Joan Freeman, CEO Pieta HousePositive Diagnosis

It is in this chapter that Robert clearly establishes himself as an exceptional thought leader in the field of positive psychology coaching. He defines Positive Diagnosis as “identifying the cause of a phenomenon, rather than being problem or deficit specific.” He details his own multiaxial model (similar to the multiaxial nature of the DSM system) which provides a comprehensive answer to the question “what is going right (rather than wrong) with this individual?” The model includes an in-depth diagnosis of a person’s capacities, well-being, future orientation, situational benefactors, and values. While he admits it is in its initial stages, the assessments and model offer coaches, therapists, and educators a rich and fresh perspective on how to perform a positive diagnosis.

Positive Assessment

In this chapter he gives an extensive list of assessments, inventories and scales – reprinted in full – to assess various aspects of well-being. Finding an assessment in positive psychology is not that difficult; one trip to the Authentic Happiness Site will show you that. What I often find missing is an explanation of what to do with the assessment once the client has completed it. Robert explores the types of discussions you can have with clients about assessment results, providing further questions you can ask to deepen the discussion.
The Practice of Positive Psychology Coaching



Robert defines positive psychology coaching as a practice that is deeply rooted in the science of positive psychology. This means that coaches have the added responsibility of being active consumers of research and should continually update their interventions and approaches. From an ethical standpoint, this is important so that clients are not led astray by false hopes or exaggerated claims. He begins and ends the book with what is almost a call for more formal credentialing in the field of positive psychology coaching, stressing the importance of understanding how to interpret, incorporate, and stay abreast of the latest research in positive psychology. In the first chapter of the book he gives a good list of journals, courses, and degree programs where one can educate oneself. 

Final Words

Robert has designed each chapter as a stand-alone reading experience so readers can focus on the topics that are of most interest. Normally this is exactly how I would approach such a book, but I was so captivated by his literary style and his riveting stories about Mt. Kilimanjaro and slums in India (to name only two) that I found it hard to put down. Robert has traveled the world researching well-being. He is a master storyteller, and his stories beautifully demonstrate the concepts he teaches.

Whether you are a seasoned coach or very new to positive psychology coaching, you will find this book extremely useful. I believe that every coach, positive psychology practitioner, and educator should have this book on the shelf.



Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching: Assessment, Diagnosis, and Intervention. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Biswas-Diener, R. (2009). Invitation to Positive Psychology.

Biswas-Diener, R. & Dean, B. (2007). Positive Psychology Coaching: Putting the Science of Happiness to Work for Your Clients. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Strengths by Mahalie Stackpole

Joan Freeman, CEO Pieta House

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czander 14 September 2010 - 9:35 am

Happiness coaches are part of the great conspiracy that began some 20 years ago when CEO’s , hedge fund managers and bankers discovered if they outsourced jobs to China and India it would increase the bottom line and they would all get rich. If they could not outsource they discovered another way. They terminated half the workforce and piled the work on those who remained. They followed this by bringing in the happy coaches to put smiles on these overworked underpaid miserable employees. Remember “smile or your fired.” Executives, bankers and hedge fund managers took over the once proud manufacturing industry in America and broke it up, outsourced the work and shipped entire factories offshore for obscene profits while destroying the lives of millions of employees. They don’t need happy coaches. I wonder why?


Robert Biswas-Diener 14 September 2010 - 10:36 pm

@czander, Most responsible coaches working in organizations and in the life coaching industry use positive psychology only to help with outcomes that are of interest to clients. These typically mean things like finding more meaning at work, raising performance, dealing effectively with workplace stresses, communicating effectively with others, and achieving personal and professional goals. Happiness is often used as a vehicle to achieve these desirable outcomes becuase positive affect is so widely beneficial for people.

lisa jacobson 27 September 2010 - 1:35 pm

I’m an HR and career consultant. The combination of practical information and academic rigor in this book serves me well as a “go-to” reference. Biswas-Diener shares many stories and coaching experiences, each one pointing out the keen insights and nuanced observations of a practitioner who has mastered the subject matter. Clearly this is his niche! And readers like me will find his approach refreshingly humble and unpretentious. The book brims with information, techniques and research. It is so much more that a how-to book. It is a thoughtfully written manual by a practitioner who lends wisdom, applied knowledge and credibility to the field of positive psychology.

Thank you Robert Biswas-Diener!


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