Ten Questions for Mike Frisch, Ph.D. On His Complete Guide to Positive Psychology

BEN: Mike, it's great to talk to you. To orient us, where are you located right now?

MIKE: Baylor's campus is beautiful. I look out of my office window across a green intramural field lined with oak trees. Across the street and over a fence I can see...my house. I used Positive Psych, including a lot of risk and grit and relationship skill to secure one of the few on-campus houses at Baylor. I can literally fall out of bed and into the field house to watch basketball, the theatre which I assign my students to attend, the Brazos River, Cameron Park, or my office.

BEN: Mike, your class will be called "The Complete Guide to Positive Psychology Practice." Is it a stand-alone approach? Can it also be integrated into whatever approach the coach (therapist/change agent) is already using?

MIKE: First of all, as it says in my book, Quality of Life Therapy, when I speak of Quality of Life Therapy, I am speaking of Quality of Life Therapy and Coaching or QOLTC.

Now to your question...As Ed Diener says in his foreword to my book, Quality of Life Therapy, Quality of Life Therapy and Coaching or QOLTC represents the state of the art in positive psychology intervention. He also sees is as scaffolding upon which to hang any mainstream positive psych intervention. In reading the book with his lovely wife, Carol, who is a coach and therapist (and lawyer), Ed found that they generated many new ideas and techniques! So a warning should be on the book, "this book will give you new ideas not considered before for enhancing happiness, meaning, and quality of life".

On the other hand, QOLTC is a step by step approach for those of us, like me , overwhelmed with all of the scattershot, single positive psychology interventions and assessments out there. I am a coach and therapist who has trained other coaches and therapists over the past twenty years. As a teacher, I want to make it as clear and understandable as possible.

To me , Step By Step starts with how to greet clients and set an agenda for a session. I teach how to make a coaching contract in very specific terms and tell how to how build motivation and "sell" positive psych to new clients and organizations. Sonja Lyubomirsky's soon-to-be published research is showing just how important this is. We must "socialize" or orient clients to what we are doing or we will fail.

We must be on the same page as clients as to how their goals can be accomplished or we are dead in the water. Clients must believe, for example, that happiness, meaning, and fulfillment are important and trainable and that you are the "human relations-happiness expert" that has the "keys to the kingdom" (of happiness and success)! If they are looking for a magic pill, either literally with meds or figuratively in the form of a quick fix, you will not succeed.

I teach nitty gritty things such as how to deal with clients that don't do the homework you assign or seem unmotivated or are skipping sessions.

I also teach ethics as your number one priority even if it means losing a client or two to another practitioner or approach. The client's welfare and your reputation are much more important than keeping a client who is going nowhere, for example. Coaching is still in its infancy with respect to ethical practice and safeguards. I'd like to change that since it will boosts the profession's standing immeasurably.

Ben: There are so many approaches out there. How is yours different?

MIKE: My approach is one of the few developed by an experienced coach and therapist which is also evidence-based or empirically validated.

My approach is one of the very few that evidence-based or empirically validated in the exact, scientific sense of the word.

My approach seems to be the only comprehensive approach in the world that has been validated in grant supported research. It may be the only approach evaluated in randomized controlled trials by independent researchers who are not involved in developing or promoting the approach. The results are published in peer review journals that are instantly accessible on the USA database, Medline, just search quality-of-life-therapy and keep dashes between the words.

My approach seems to be the only approach in which positive intervention effects are "contagious" or spread to loved ones even though they are not directly taking the training.

"Caregivers [[spouses]] whose patients received Quality of Life Therapy reported vicarious gains in quality of life, mood, and social intimacy, relative to those whose patients received supportive therapy. These findings suggest that beneficial effects extend beyond patients to their caregivers." -- page 336 in... Rodrigue, J.R., Widows, M.R., & Baz, M.A. (2006). Caregivers of patients awaiting lung transplantation: Do they benefit when the patient is receiving psychological services? Progress in Transplantation, 16, 336-342.

Most other studies look at one intervention and not a comprehensive package of interventions which is what coaches need to meet the needs of varying clients.

Most studies are not randomized controlled trials.

Most studies are done by the author of the approach and/or their graduate students or associates. Qoltc randomized controlled trials were conducted by two independent researchers and laboratories and did not involve the author of the approach or his students or associates.

To be evidence-based or empirically validated in the exact, scientific sense of the word, all of the studies must be randomized controlled trials, some of which are conducted by folks not involved in the authorship, development, or promotion of the approach.

For the sake of transparency, I think the studies should be listed here, they all involve challenging coaching populations, that is, everyday people with stressful life circumstances such as severe chronic illnesses in themselves or their children. Of course, there are many case studies involving professionals in business, teaching, medicine, the law, etc. :

FIRST NIH coaching STUDY conducted by James Rodrigue of Beth Israel and Harvard Medical Centers:

Rodrigue, J. R., Baz, M.A., Widows, M.R. , & Ehlers, S.L. (2005). "A
Randomized Evaluation of Quality of Life Therapy with Patients Awaiting Lung Transplantation". American Journal of Transplantation, Volume 5, #10, 2425-2432.

--QOLTC's intervention effects are significantly greater than the usual intervention.
Rodrigue, J.R., Widows, M.R., & Baz, M.A. (2006). Caregivers of patients awaiting lung transplantation: Do they benefit when the patient is receiving psychological services? Progress in Transplantation, 16, 336-342.

--In an unprecedented finding, QOLTC's positive effects are "contagious" to spouse-caregivers who never get the intervention themselves:

"Caregivers [[spouses]] whose lung patients received Quality of Life Therapy reported vicarious gains in quality of life, mood, and social intimacy, relative to those whose patients received supportive interventions. These findings suggest that beneficial effects extend beyond patients to their caregivers."--
page 336

SECOND NIH coaching STUDY JUST COMPLETED by James Rodrigue of Beth Israel and Harvard Medical Centers:

Rodrigue JR, Mandelbrot DA, Pavlakis M. (May 2010). The Quality Of Life And Psychosocial Functioning Of Adults Awaiting Kidney Transplantation Can Be Enhanced With A Brief Positive Psychology Intervention. Paper accepted for presentation next month to the American Transplant Congress, San Diego CA.
--Quality of Life Therapy's treatment effects are significantly greater than the usual intervention, and greater than a placebo condition.

"Quality of life as measured by the Quality of Life Inventory or QOLI,
psychological distress, and social intimacy change scores from baseline to both the 1-wk and 12-wk post-treatment assessments for kidney patients receiving Quality of Life Therapy and Coaching showed significantly more improvement compared to those for patients receiving Supportive Counseling or Standard Care (all p's < 0.05). ). A majority (81%) of QOLT and ST patients received a full
treatment dose (i.e., 7 or 8 sessions), although less than full dose was associated with more modest improvement in psychological distress (r = -.31, p = 0.05).

"Conclusions: Quality of Life Therapy and Coaching, a brief, positive psychology intervention can produce positive quality of life and psychological functioning benefits for adults awaiting kidney transplantation. Supportive Counseling may help to reduce psychological distress as well, although its impact is less
robust than that of Quality of Life Therapy and Coaching.

Note: A publication version of this summary about the second NIH grant funded trial of Quality of Life Therapy and the QOLI is under review.


Abedi, M.R. and Vostanis, P. (2010). Evaluation of Quality of Life Therapy for parents of children with obsessive-compulsive disorders in Iran. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. doi: 10.1007/s00787-010-0098-4 .

"This study described the application and evaluation of QOLTC for mothers of children with OCD...the findings indicate a positive impact on maternal and even child-rated outcomes following intervention."

BEN: At times, positive psychology books seem to offer a hodge podge of interventions that someone might try. But there is no overall model for what to do in actual work with clients. How is your "complete" guide to positive psychology practice any different?

MIKE: Qoltc is based upon an empirically validated theoretical model which guides practitioners in a clear, step by step fashion.

The model reflects the very latest in positive psychology research as well as thirty years of previous well-being and quality of life research.

For example, new published and as yet, unpublished research, based on the Gallup World Poll suggest that their are 3 kinds of happiness or three elements to happiness. My approach may be the only one that addresses all three, that is, satisfaction with life, positive affect, and low negative affect.

BEN: Why is it important to start with some form of assessment?

MIKE: First let me say that some of us are intimidated by assessment. But I maintain that positive health assessment is the province of any professional. In fact, my test is published by the largest test/assessment publisher in the world, who makes it available to clients and laypersons! Anyone can learn enough assessment basics to handle these tests. It makes coaches and therapists feel more professional to have some evidence-based assessments at their disposal. Frankly, it also impresses clients!

Another reason to start with assessment. A good test also treats. It tells you where and how to intervene so you are not presenting the same positive psychology package to everyone whether they need it or not! this wastes time and annoys clients... Graciela, for example, did not need gratitude or forgiveness interventions. She was like Mother Teresa already and loved visiting with engineers on the job. What she needed was guidance in setting up her own consulting business and how to be tougher, not nicer! Another reason then is that a test allows you to tailor interventions to the needs of your clients.

A good (evidence-based) test will also document a postivie outcome-what you do works and is worth something!-in a credible scientific way. Happiness seems
ephemeral to many people. You need a respected test to show that you impacted it positively with your interventions.

A good test tells you your baseline--where am i starting from? And to an extent, tells you where to begin. Is the overall baseline well below the average for the general population or is it higher than most people? In the former case, our health, relationships and success in work or retirement pursuits are at immediate risk. In the latter case, your interventions are "icing on the cake" which nevertheless can lead to greater happiness, meaning and fulfillment as well as improved health and relationships along with greater success in work or
retirement pursuits.

BEN: It always is crucial for me to have an overview of what I'm trying to learn. Can you give me one?

MIKE: After temperament and what I call Scars of Abuse, happiness and meaning and joy come from finding fulfillment in the parts of life we care about. The Sweet 16 are the sixteen areas of life found to be crucial to overall happiness and meaning in cultures around the world. In qoltc, we simply apply Evidence-Based Interventions to specific areas of Unhappiness in order to boost overall happiness, fulfillment and meaning. The Quality of Life Inventory or QOLI gives us a profile of fulfillment or "life list" success in these 16 areas as well as an overall score we can compare to a nationwide (USA) sample of people aged 17 and older.

BEN: What makes your assessment, the Quality of Life Inventory, unique? Why can't folks just use, for example, the VIA?

MIKE: First we have to ask, what is a positive outcome in positive psychology intervention research and theory? Almost every study ever done, uses satisfaction with life as one of, if not the only, outcome measures. Thus, life satisfaction is an intervention endpoint or outcome which we all agree signifies success. The QOLI gives you your overall level of life satisfaction (such as that used in previous studies) and shows you what specific parts of life contribute or detract from your overall satisfaction, meaning and fulfillment.

Strength tests like the VIA are intervention tools and not outcome measures. They tell you what strengths to mobilize...but mobilize to what end? Satisfaction with life is one of these ends. Furthermore, I argue that the greatest positive psychology stregnght is happiness, meaning and fulfillment. The second greatest is goal setting and achievement in valued parts of life. QOLI captures both of these. It also measures overall "life list" success if you will , like in the movie, The Bucket List - see http://thebucketlist.warnerbros.com/

BEN: What's an example of interventions you might use around "Goals and Values"?

MIKE: I like your Blue Sky approach actually! In addition, I help clients identify their most cherished needs, goals, and wishes with the Quality of Life Inventory or QOLI, Vision Quest, Happiness House, etc. I would also say that there is a science to goal setting that is generally unknown. For example, it is usually best to have high and specific goals rather than to tell yourself to "just do your best."

BEN: If there were one thing you'd say to someone who wants to use positive psychology in their work with clients, what would it be?

MIKE: To riff off of the old "Be like Mike" commercials with Michael Jordan, I would say "Be like Siggy (Freud) or Al (Albert Ellis)". Try it on yourself first to feel what it is like for your clients and whether it really works! Also, don't be afraid to get help, therapy, medication, or coaching for yourself. Form a "professional cuddle group" of fellow coaches you can trust, look up to, and hang out with once a month to talk about cases and ethical challenges. When it comes to ethics, none of us have what Nietzsche called "immaculate perception"!

BEN: How have you used QOLTC in your own life?

Have you got a few weeks or hours?! Here is one example. Over my desk, I have a Vision Board or bulletin board of "Believers", friends who really believe in me, stand by me, encourage me, teach me, role-model for me and inspire me to be a better person, like them! Ed Diener who nominated me to be a Research Fellow in the International Society for Quality of Life Studies is there as is Ron Beal, a law professor I run with every day who is the hardest working, most reliable and loving, generous, and in-shape person I know...He is also an "Expert Friend" in positive psych parlance because he knows how to cope with the arcane politics of academia as well as how to raise a family, fix a faucet or paint a bedroom. He is also very funny and a faithful reader of the New York Times which gives us something to talk about each day. I use the Thank Everyone for Everything Tenet of Contentment or Happiness Habit to show gratitude to these folks and to all of my friends and "helpers" every day.