What is a Strength-Based Approach?

When was the last time you felt empowered to create a positive change in your life, when all the while someone is only pointing out were your flaws or lack of potential are? Probably never. So, where do you find your strength and empowerment to be your best self or overcome challenges? Usually, it takes seeing the best in yourself first, and often we encouragement and support from others to see this potential.

In the field of therapy or social work, when you build on your client’s best qualities to help them create change, it is called a strength-based approach. When applied to the field of social work, a strengths-based approach or practice is utilized when the social worker highlights their client’s strengths, resourcefulness, and self-determination to evoke lasting change. There are times when the situation that brought the social worker into the client’s life has been a negative experience, and this strengths-based practice can be essential when working to build trust and change in this relationship. When strengths-based practice is applied to psychotherapy, it is similar in that the therapist is working with the client to better see their own strengths to achieve the therapeutic goals that brought the client into therapy. No matter which setting it’s used in, the ideology, techniques, principles, and intended outcomes are the same.

A strength-based approach operates based on the idea that change happens from a positive psychological place and is dependent upon how people feel about themselves and their own capabilities. Before this positive space can be achieved, often the client must work through how they process emotions and information, clearly identify their own values, acknowledge their own best qualities, and have trust and open communication with their therapist.

With a strength-based approach, an individual can create and control change by taking advantage of their capacities and strengths, rather than focusing on their failures, negative characteristics, weaknesses, and shortcomings. Part of what makes the strength-based approach so successful is that the individual is given the ideal environment to acknowledge what they bring to the table merely by being who they are, rather than focusing on fixing something that is “broken” or “damaged” within themselves.

How Does A Strength-Based Approach Work? 

Say you’re a therapist working with someone who has low self-esteem; perhaps it’s a result of their body image or an abusive relationship with their partner. This approach can benefit them by helping that patient focus on and cultivate a positive mindset. With a positive mindset and attitude, that person can build confidence by recognizing they already have the strengths, capabilities, and skills to rewire their thoughts or deal with the challenging issues in their life. 

How is a Strength-Based Approach Applied to Therapy and Counseling?  

The strength-based practice evolved from various other social work and psychology theories and practices, including counseling psychology, positive psychology, narrative therapy, and solution-focused therapy (SFT). When this practice is applied to therapy, the idea and goal behind it are that people discover their inner strengths in the face of adversity. With a deficit mindset or focus on the negatives, only so much can be achieved, while a strength-based perspective encourages positive thinking patterns to influence positive behaviors. This approach is highly dependent on the individual and all about figuring out what works for them. Strength-based therapy can help a client see themselves for who they are instead of being identified by their situation, condition, or diagnosis. 

What Can You Expect From Strengths-Based Therapy and Counseling?

Often when someone is coping from trauma or another pain or stressor in life, they are referred to as “victims,” and they begin to identify themself with that label. It helps to understand strength-based therapy as a form of talk therapy that views a patient as a survivor, not a victim. During a strength-based therapy session, there is more emphasis on the survival skills of a client and promoting the understanding that they have resilience (an ability to bounce back from difficulties). This type of therapy session is also a time when the client tells their personal story, history of trauma, or whatever their challenge may be. The therapist or counselor will help them foster a survivor’s mindset. From this place, they gain a more profound understanding of the strengths and skills they possess and create reasonable expectations for themselves and others. The more resilience they believe they have and are capable of, the more resilience they can attract – the better they can frame their mindset around possibility and not powerlessness, no matter what life brings their way. The more resilience a person sees within themselves, leads to more resilience that they attract to their lives—therefore, the better they can frame their mindset around possibility rather than powerlessness. No matter what life brings their way. 


What are Some of the Benefits of a Strength-Based Approach? 

  • It can help improve mental health as it has a focus on positive psychology and recovery.
  • It helps to improve psychological resilience, self-esteem, and self-determination.
  • The techniques are client driven.
  • The focus is on open communication and strengths that give the patient control to form new mindsets.
  • It builds upon the client’s strengths to address their issues while allowing them to become more aware of their weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
  • The client comes to understand their resources and abilities.
  • The goal is to create and rebuild, not look at a patient as broken or a victim.
  • The patient learns to set expectations and goals, along with understanding what can and cannot be controlled.
  • The goal is to learn how to cope in productive ways, leading to self-growth and positivity.
  • The patients learn that it’s better to confront their issues or pain than to avoid them.
  • The patient learns how to ask for help and support when needed. They are encouraged to connect to their support groups, such as their family or community, who can promote their journey and transformation.

In Conclusion, What Should You Look for in a Strength-Based Therapist? 

As mentioned, this approach can be limitless as it is applied to counseling, therapy, or social work practice. A strength-based approach can be incorporated by anyone with training in this type of therapy, whether it’s a licensed counselor, psychotherapists, or other mental health professional.

If you seek to work with someone who can guide you through this approach, look for someone who has the experience and education in this therapy and someone you feel comfortable discussing your personal history with.

No matter what we go through, most of us see ourselves through the lens our experiences and how they define us – the story we create in our mind. A strength-based approach reminds us that we are the storyteller. We are the main actor in our story, and we have many strengths that we too easily forget about – just as we forget that we are in control. Through this therapy style, we can learn to separate ourselves from the story and remember that our experiences are not who we are. Once we step outside of that picture, it’s like we are looking from the outside in. We see the solutions and resources more clearly, we develop the resilience, and we build the confidence we need to move forward.

About the Contributor

Mandy Paysse

Proofed and Verified by: Erica Aina, LCSW

Erica is the Clinical Supervisor and one of many therapists at Elliott Counseling Group. As the Clinical Supervisor she supports clinical growth, oversees protocols, and provides mentorship, monitoring, support, and supervision to therapists. As a therapist, she specializes in trauma work, depression, children/teen issues, and crisis management.


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