Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

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Volume 90 Issue 3 (September 2017), Pages 245-509

Dispositional optimism as predictor of outcome in short‐ and long‐term psychotherapy (pages 279-298)


Dispositional optimism predicts various beneficial outcomes in somatic health and treatment, but has been little studied in psychotherapy. This study investigated whether an optimistic disposition differentially predicts patients’ ability to benefit from short‐term versus long‐term psychotherapy.


A total of 326 adult outpatients with mood and/or anxiety disorder were randomized into short‐term (solution‐focused or short‐term psychodynamic) or long‐term psychodynamic therapy and followed up for 3 years.


Dispositional optimism was assessed by patients at baseline with the self‐rated Life Orientation Test (LOT) questionnaire. Outcome was assessed at baseline and seven times during the follow‐up, in terms of depressive (BDI, HDRS), anxiety (SCL‐90‐ANX, HARS), and general psychiatric symptoms (SCL‐90‐GSI), all seven follow‐up points including patients’ self‐reports and three including interview‐based measures.


Lower dispositional optimism predicted faster symptom reduction in short‐term than in long‐term psychotherapy. Higher optimism predicted equally rapid and eventually greater benefits in long‐term, as compared to short‐term, psychotherapy.


Weaker optimism appeared to predict sustenance of problems early in long‐term therapy. Stronger optimism seems to best facilitate engaging in and benefiting from a long‐term therapy process. Closer research might clarify the psychological processes responsible for these effects and help fine‐tune both briefer and longer interventions to optimize treatment effectiveness for particular patients and their psychological qualities.

Practitioner points

  • Weaker dispositional optimism does not appear to inhibit brief therapy from effecting symptomatic recovery.
  • Patients with weaker optimism do not seem to gain added benefits from long‐term therapy, but instead may be susceptible to prolonged psychiatric symptoms in the early stages of long‐term therapy.

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