Every human can achieve their goals.
We believe that anything that assists an individual in dealing with the challenges of life should be regarded as a strength. Strengths varies from person to person and, as such, it can be difficult to draw up an exhaustive list of strengths. Many researchers note that assessment tools in this field are still too often focused on deficits and inadequacies, and whilst there have been significant efforts to create and use assessment tools which incorporate strengths elements (Cowger and Snively, 2002; Early, 2001; Saleebey, 2001), these are still in the minority.
Strengths-based practice is a collaborative process between the person supported by services and those supporting them, allowing them to work together to determine an outcome that draws on the person’s strengths and assets. As such, it concerns itself principally with the quality of the relationship that develops between those providing and being supported, as well as the elements that the person seeking support brings to the process (Duncan and Hubble, 2000). Working in a collaborative way promotes the opportunity for individuals to be co-producers of services and support rather than solely consumers of those services (Morgan and Ziglio, 2007).
Why strengths-based practice, and why now? With the growing focus on self-directed support (Scottish Government, 2010a), self-management of illness and long-term conditions (Scottish Government, 2008a), and working together to achieve better outcomes (Christie, 2011), there is increasing interest in identifying and building on the strengths and capacities of those supported by services, as a means to help them resolve problems and deliver their own solutions. Strengths-based approaches concentrate on the inherent strengths of individuals, families, groups and organizations, deploying personal strengths to aid recovery and empowerment. In essence, to focus on health and well-being is to embrace an asset-based approach where the goal is to promote the positive.
Many are of the view that use of strengths-based approaches will be instrumental in successfully shifting the balance of care, and develop services that are focused on prevention and independence (Scottish Government, 2010b). This will challenge social services’ historical focus on clients’ deficiencies to a focus on possibilities and solutions (Saleebey, 2006). In effect, the strengths perspective is the social work equivalent of Antonovsky’s salutogenesis which highlights the factors that create and support human health rather than those that cause disease (Antonovsky, 1987). Both emphasize the origins of strength and resilience and argue against the dominance of a problem-focused perspective.
This above insight provides an overview of the research evidence on effective strengths-based approaches for working with individuals, written by Lisa Pattoni.
Strengths-based approaches value the capacity, skills, knowledge, connections and potential in individuals’, communities, and organizations; focusing on strengths does not mean ignoring challenges, or spinning struggles into strengths. Working in this way involves collaboration – helping people to do things for themselves. This way, people can become co-producers of support, not passive consumers of support. This approach in practice has broad applicability across a number of practice settings and a wide range of populations. Engaging the strength-based strategy improves social networks and enhances well-being.
The strength-based strategy is a work practice theory that has its foundation in social work. It focuses on the individuals’ self-determination and strength, builds their strengths, while specifically seeing them as resourceful and resilient when they are in adverse conditions. It is client led and centered on outcomes in the future individual’s set of strengths. It should be noted that when a strength-based strategy is used in any field outside of social work, it is referred to as the strengthbased approach (Strengths-Based Models in Social Work; McCashen (2005)). An interesting aspect of the strengths-based approach is that it is about getting people to affect change in them.
Change happens using positivity and affecting each person and how they handle their own attitudes about their dignity, capacities, rights, quirks, and similarities. Strength-based approach is so successful because the client is the actor or agent of change by providing the right environment for controlling change. This approach is highly dependent on the thought process, and emotional and information processing of the individual. It allows for open communication and thought process, for individuals to identify value and assemble their strengths and capacities in the course of change. It allows for habitable conditions for a person to see themselves at their best, in order to see the value, they bring, by just being them. Then moving that value forward to capitalize on their strengths rather than focusing on negative characteristics. not only examines the individual but also the individual’s environment. For example, it looks at how systems are set up, especially where power can be out of balance between a system or service and the people it is supposed to serve. It also tends to identify any constraints that might be holding back an individual’s growth. These constraints can be when the individual has to deal with social, personal and/or cultural issues in organizations that cannot be balanced fairly (McCashen, 2016).
There are 9 guiding principles that serve as the foundation of the strength-based approach.
- Everyone possesses a uniqueness that helps him or her evolve and move along his or her journey. These unique characteristics can be either:
- What receives attention or focus becomes what we (or the client) strive(s) for and eventually becomes a reality.
- Be careful with your words and language. Our language creates our (and our client’s) reality.
- Accept change, life and our world are ever-evolving; don’t resist.
- Support others as authentically as you can. You will see that your relationships are deeper and more meaningful.
- The person or client is the story-teller of their own story.
- Build upon what you know and experience to dream of the future.
- Capacity building has multiple facets and organization. Be flexible.
- Be collaborative. Be adaptive and value differences (Hammond, 2010)
Four Examples of a Strength-Based Approach
Given the definition and principles of the strength-based approach, let’s review some examples.
In the corporate world, many Human Resource (HR) managers will conduct performance appraisals on the employees. These appraisals are to hopefully benefit the employees, their supervisors, and the overall flow of the organization. Some of the key benefits can be improved performance, communication opportunities, and data on decision-making (Coens & Jenkins, 2000).
Each of us has those times that are really hard. We are in crisis mode and the last thing we want to think about are our strengths. However, when these trying situations arise, we need help in identifying our strengths. For health care professionals working with people going through these crises, it is vital for them to listen and identify strengths, and resources.
For certain clients, pursuing support and attending an appointment is a big task, and it should be recognized as a strength. For instance, if you are helping someone who does not have housing that is safe and secure. It is important to empower the person to build strong relationships with their family and friends. Another great way to empower your client is to remind them to utilize their resources and use their resilience and strength to tackle any challenges.
A great part of going through this conversation is that people’s strengths will crop up. It becomes natural for the client to share their strengths, and in giving back to the client – acknowledge and validate their strengths.
A distinct attribute of the strength-based practice is that it is mutual between the client and the practitioner (Duncan & Hubble, 1999). The relationship between the practitioner and the client is heavily dependent on the quality of their relationship (Duncan & Hubble, 1999).
In counselling, strength-based therapy is engaged to introduce positive psychotherapy. The practitioner is focusing on the internal strengths, resourcefulness, and not as much on weaknesses, deficits, or failures (Basic Counseling Skills, n.d.). Doing so, helps the person build a mindset which helps to set their intention and focus on positive capacity building. Also, when they understand that they are resilient, they make more reasonable expectations not only of themselves but of others too (Basic Counseling Skills, n.d.). Strengthbased therapy is a form of talk therapy where the client is the story-teller. The story can include traumas, pain, and any stressors (past or present). The practitioner guides the person to have the mindset of a survivor rather than a victim. Doing so gives the person understanding and control of the skills and strengths they possess (Basic Counseling Skills, n.d.). These skills and strengths enable them to survive and flourish no matter how tough life gets.
What are the Benefits of this Approach?
- Focusing on strengths rather than problems offers control to the person and a new mindset (Hammond, 2010).
- Resilience is improved as well as the overall function of the person in their family and community (Hammond, 2010).
- Offers a shared language and precautionary philosophy (Hammond, 2010).
- Resilience is the goal, which offers a theoretical map to lead the person to make efforts for prevention and evaluation, respectively (Hammond, 2010).
- Intervention tactics are client driven and relationship-minded, which in turn has these additional benefits:
- Distressed people are engaged with respect and compassion (Hammond, 2010).
- Respects that in order to build someone up, including their capacities, it takes time and there is a process of evolvement (Hammond, 2010).
- Sees people as creating and rebuilding, rather than broken or failing (Hammond, 2010).
- Focusing on strengths of a person also introduces and molds a person into being resilient. With resilience there are some added benefits, like feeling special and valued, optimistic, understand life is a journey (Hammond, 2010).
- Learn how to set goals and expectations (Hammond, 2010).
- Learn how to cope in a productive method that can foster growth (Hammond, 2010).
- Learn that when faced with a challenge it is better to confront than avoid (Hammond, 2010).
- Awareness of vulnerabilities and weaknesses, but focus on strengths (Hammond, 2010).
- Builds self-esteem and competence (Hammond, 2010).
- Learn effective interpersonal skills in order to look for assistance and support when needed (Hammond, 2010).
- Understand what can and cannot be controlled (Hammond, 2010).
- Understand supporting others and giving time to those that we care about (Hammond, 2010).
- Encourages connecting to a person’s social support like family, or community to spur on his or her own transformation (Hammond, 2010).
The practice of using the strengths-based approach is ever-evolving and has many configurations when delivered (Foot & Hopkins, 2010). For instance, sometimes there is a combination of methods used, or in other cases, just one solo method is used (Pattoni, 2012). All is dependent on the client and their needs (Pattoni, 2012). In order to meet the needs of the client, the practitioner must be able to support them.
When dealing with a client encourage them to lead the conversation and the decision-making process (Embedding a strengths-based approach in client conversations). Use these activities to help along the way:
- Work on what’s most important and meaningful to the client (consider their values, motivations, and readiness to change).
- Ask open-ended questions so the client has the opportunity to tell their story.
- Ask the client what they’d like to get out of your conversation/work together.
- Encourage the client to share their ideas about possible solutions, opportunities etc.
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