When we talk about being strengths-based in therapeutic work, what do we mean? Strengths-based is a theory of counseling that comes from a team of researchers at the University of Kansas that noticed an overemphasis on pathology in psychotherapy and wanted to bring balance by emphasizing instead strengths, that which we are good at, that which we already possess and can use as a toolset in working with what we want to change.
How does this work in practice? When someone comes in to a therapy office seeking help, oftentimes they bring the misconception/stigma that there is something “wrong” with them, that they are flawed in some serious way that the therapist can fix (or might not be able to). Strengths-based approaches work to dismantle this belief right from the start. When a client comes to me with something that they believe is inherently flawed about themselves (for example, a general lack of motivation) the first thing we do together is explore where that belief comes from. Was it something that they were told over the course of their lives, or something picked up from one key relationship? Is it a judgment that they themselves hold about others, which strengthens the judgment they aim at themselves? We look this belief over together until there’s a bit of room to challenge it.
Challenging a belief about oneself makes room for seeing the other possibilities, the other nuances. Are there aspects of the client that they’re proud of having to do with motivation? Have they had moments where they felt good about what they accomplished in a given time? Even if absolutely nothing comes to mind, are there other strengths that they’ve used to overcome the lack of motivation, and can those strengths be used to build muscles around motivation?
Looking at ourselves in this friendly fashion leads to a lighter, more accepting growth process.