Mindsets in the clinic: Applying mindset theory to clinical psychology

Clin Psychol Rev. 2021 Feb;83:101957. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2020.101957. Epub 2020 Dec 11.


Beliefs about the malleability of attributes, also known as mindsets, have been studied for decades in social-personality psychology and education. Here, I review the many applications of mindset theory to clinical psychology and psychotherapy. First, I review social psychological and cognitive neuroscience evidence that mindsets and mindset-related messages are, to a large extent, focused on emotional tolerance. Specifically, the growth mindset, or the belief that attributes are malleable, encourages confronting and tolerating anxiety, frustration, and disappointment in healthy and adaptive ways that promote resilience, whereas the fixed mindset and related messages discourage the experience of these emotions and often leads to helplessness. Second, I review the emerging research on the anxiety mindset and discuss its relevance to clinical work. A model is proposed illustrating connections between mindsets, emotion regulation strategies, treatment preferences, and outcomes. Case examples are used to illustrate practical applications. I conclude that mindsets can inform psychotherapy, research, and public policy.

Keywords: Mindset; fixed mindset; growth mindset; implicit theories; public policy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Personality
  • Psychology, Clinical*