Untangling Hope and Optimism: Implications for Counselors

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Counselors often help clients gain insight that allows them to view the world through a new lens, cope with emotionally painful and complex issues, and change behaviors that are not effective in achieving desired life goals. However, counselors, as well as other mental health professionals, often respond to clients' distress by relying on a medical model of psychopathology to reduce negative symptomology and increase quality of life. Positive psychology emerged as a new approach in the 1980s, focusing on clients’ strengths, rather than deficits, which seems to be more congruent with most counselors' professional identity. Although relationships between positive psychology constructs such as hope, optimism, life satisfaction, and self-esteem have been investigated, questions remain regarding whether empirical evidence supports a distinction between them. More specifically, questions still remain regarding whether hope and optimism are the same fundamental human expression or distinct concepts, each adding unique value to learning more about clients' outlook and worldview.

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