Monday, March 19, 2012

Strengths-based

Last week I flew to Dallas, Texas for to deliver two lectures to other clinicians. The weather was wonderful, and the people lived up to their reputation for southern hospitality.

During the course of both talks, I asked for the participants to give a definition of "strengths-based perspective." I got two different definitions, both of which I thought were pretty clever. At one talk, a woman said that "strengths-based perspective is what's strong about a person, instead of what's wrong about a person." At the other, another woman said (in a deep Texas accent), "Even someone who's 'tore up from the floor up' has something strong about them."

I liked both of these, and I started thinking about strengths-based work. Basically, it's what these definitions suggest: Starting therapy (or anything, really) from a place of where we are strong, where we have skills and resources, and then bringing those strengths, skills and resources to bear on the problems we want to change.

One of the beautiful things about strengths-based work is that it has the potential to succeed where other interventions do not. It is extremely practical, and applicable to a client's daily problems. The downside is that it can be difficult for clinicians. It requires reframing of concepts like "non-compliant," "resistant," and "dysfunctional."

However, strengths-based perspective is becoming common practice in many different mental health settings. I have heard clinicians of all different stripes talk about how a client's behavior is only dysfunctional in a particular setting, or how a client's maladaptive coping skills were developed as a way of coping with a difficult setting.

I also want to highlight that strength is often developed as a result of stress. Sometimes, strengths from one endeavor are easily transferable to another kind of endeavor. And sometimes, it is necessary to go out and experience new kinds of stress--intentionally--to build one's strength. Part of a strengths-based perspective is an understanding of how we get strong, where strength comes from, and what we can do to build on the strengths we already have.

Photo credit: Anthony Topper, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

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