Psychologist/author spotlights hope

By Catherine Robertson Souter
March 1st, 2010

Hope – it’s one of those words that brings to mind different ideas for different people. There are many definitions of hope – from blind faith to a wish for something better, to a certainty that everything will work out for the best. A strictly human emotion, hope is the ability to see a better future, to see a path out of darkness, and, as such, is key to an individual’s survival.

For Anthny Scioli, Ph.D., a professor of clinical psychology at Keene State College and member of the graduate faculty at the University of Rhode Island, hope is so crucial to the way that humans work, he has devoted his professional life to its study.

Finding little research being done on the importance of hope in emotional, spiritual and mental health, Scioli created a comprehensive Hope Measurement Scale, completed in 2004. He has recently co-authored, with Henry Biller, Ph.D., two books for the general public, “Hope in the Age of Anxiety” and “The Power of Hope: Overcoming Your Most Daunting Life Difficulties – No Matter What” and is working to develop an integrative, hope-centered therapy protocol.

Scioli completed Harvard fellowships in human motivation and behavioral medicine and co-authored the chapter on emotion for the Encyclopedia of Mental Health. He has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Positive Psychology and currently serves on the editorial board of the new APA journal, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.

He spoke with New England Psychologist’s Catherine Robertson Souter about his work.

Q: How did you get started in the study of hope?

A: I’ve had an interest in emotions for a long time, especially positive emotions. I am Italian and we are a very emotional culture and that’s not a bad thing.

I grew up in a Catholic, religious family and I was frustrated by the fact that it seemed so important for people to have that spiritual aspect in their lives but that psychology was completely missing the boat. For a lot of people, hope is grounded in spirituality.

I am also an immigrant, I was born in Italy and so I am interested in resilience and how people overcome adversity.

It’s kind of a selfish passion because I can get into things that I am interested in, from behavioral medicine to mind body issues. It allows me to talk about that and how hope is grounded in faith and spirituality.

Q: You define hope as being active, not passive, and outline four key components that make it up.

A: Hope is powerful but not magic. I distinguish true hope as a collaborative and empowered mastery towards higher goals, an attachment in the form of trust and openness, survival skills in the form of self-regulation and the ability to generate options and a spiritual foundation. [This differs] from false hope or blind optimism. Hope is a powerful ally in healing, particularly if viewed as part of a complementary protocol of mind and body interventions.

Q: Tell us about the comprehensive hope scale.

A: What I wanted to do was take the best of what has come out of philosophy, psychology and theology to develop a comprehensive measure of hope. I saw need for a broader, deeper measure of hope.

Q: On your Web site,, you point out that unlike many online “psychological tests,” the hope scale has been designed using statistical procedures. What research supports your work?

A: One of most the most interesting findings we got was with research we did in New Hampshire with the AIDS Services of the Monadnock region. We gave patients the hope scale, then took blood samples to test the measures of CD4 at eight months and then two years. This is the immune system measure they focus on with people with HIV. We found that people with higher hope scores also had higher CD4.

We believe there is a health/hope connection but it’s hard to go beyond anecdotes. This was an example of linking self-report measures with real world behavior.

We have some research that shows that people who are more hopeful are in more active stages of change with respect to diet and exercise. They eat more fruits and vegetables and exercise more. If you don’t have hope, why would you care what happens to you in 10 or 15 years? Also people with higher levels of hope have a more favorable body mass index.

In addition, hope has been related to school achievement. Researchers found that it was a better predictor of college grades than SAT scores.

Q: You have released two books – one just this month. What are the differences?

A: If you want to recommend something for a client, something a little more accessible, go with “The Power of Hope.” It is a bit more of a self-help book where they can take a pretest, then read the book and then take a post test.

For a therapist, educator or parent, the Oxford Book, “Hope in the Age of Anxiety” is a more comprehensive book. It includes more on spirituality and parenting and the development of hope in children.

Q: How would therapists use your scale?

A: I believe the hope scales can be a valuable tool for assessing treatment goals, treatment progress and treatment outcomes. One of the advantages of the hope scale is that it is multidimensional. You can find out where the weak points are – mastery or attachment or survival or spiritual – and there are different things you can do depending on which of those four it is.

Some of the things we talk about in the book are traditional cognitive therapy and exercises to identify the kind of distortions that tend to go along with a weakness in one area.

I borrowed from existing therapies and fit them in to different parts of the theory. For example, in survival coping, we borrow from dialectical behavior therapy, which is good for self regulation. Solution focus therapy is another one we can incorporate and use in helping people who are low in the survival/coping aspects of hope. Then, we come to spirituality. People who are low in this area don’t feel any spiritual connection or empowerment. You can help people become clearer on what spiritual systems might fit their particular needs.

Q: Is anyone using the scale in practice yet?

A: There are agencies in South Dakota, Md, and Westborough State Hospital and in Vermont who have started to take some of my ideas and put together hope-based programs. A program in England is interested in developing a set of materials that can be used for medical professionals.

I have also started to have conversations with the military – there is a big need for hope. I met a guy who works in HR for the Army and he put me in touch with a psychologist in Texas to talk about how we can put it to good use.

Q: What is the next step?

A: I am now working on the development of an integrative, hope-centered therapy protocol. This will address both the left and right brain of hope, and will include attachment theory and psychodynamic components as well as cognitive-behavioral strategies. 

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