Core Ideas about Strengths-Based Practice
- Everybody – every individual, family, group, or community – has strengths.
At the least this means that we must help the individual articulate, acknowledge and affirm his or her
strengths, and assets. This includes resources both within the individual and in the environment – relationships, supports, institutions, etc. There should be a
systematic way to do this, but one that doesn’t get in the way of the client’s own narrative. Strengths, capacities, and assets can be assessed and, often,
measured fairly precisely. A key to operating from a strengths-based stance is in fact generating a thorough assessment of capacities, reserves, resilience
along with an honest appraisal of the barriers and obstacles to their realization; along with ideas about how these barriers may be surmounted. This is a
collaborative and ongoing project (project in the sense of work and project in the sense of foretelling-projecting oneself through to the future.
- We do not know the upper limits of a person’s ability to grow and change. We probably don’t know that about ourselves, and the person surely doesn’t.
Diagnoses are most often proposed to set limits, but if there are a thousand ways to suffer from schizophrenia, there are a thousand ways to overcome it.
A focus on problems, deficits, and maladaption can similarly constrict over possibilities.
- The dynamic that drives the work in a strengths-based practice is awareness of hopes and dreams. At times, it is rekindling lost aspirations.
These have to be painted vividly and also must be transposed into sets of doable, practical, goals – steps on the pathways to the dream. But they should
never be so limited that they defy what Freire called the “untested feasible”.
- Every environment, even the seemingly most impoverished and desolate, is regarded as a luxuriant topography of resources. For example, in the
Cabrini-Green public housing community in Chicago often cited as one of the worst public housing developments in the US, in an 8 square block area
McKnight and Kretzmann found some 400 associations and groups that were active and functioning and contributing in small ways and large to the civility
of the community. These are the resources that when coupled with the strengths of the individual or family, become the leverage to achieving goals.
- A person’s behavior and achievement is often a function of the resources available to a person or perceived to be available. Efforts are therefore
made to increase a person’s resources or alter the settings in which a person lives, works and plays. This may include the creation of new settings
(e.g. self-help group, creating an Eden environment as an alternative to traditional nursing home care, helping clients create their own business).
- Strengths of the individual and the environment are used to help the client attain the goals that they set themselves. Examples could include using
a person’s profound interest in animals to garner a job in a veternarian clinic or identifying resolutions based on times when life is going well or
expanding a role in their faith community from attendance at services to singing in the choir.
- Generating options and alternative pathways to a goal is fundamental to
strengths-based practice. Furthermore, clients should be allowed or given
the authority to choose among options within a shared decision-making
approach. In fact, efforts should be made to help clients have the
confidence to make such decisions.
- It will be difficult if not impossible to operate from a strengths
vantage point if you do not have an appreciation of your strengths and those
of your colleagues. Likewise the agency must create a strengths-appreciating
atmosphere (including support, training, in-service, etc.)
- Hears the voice, the story, the theories, the ideas of the
clients and takes them seriously.
- Adopts the resilience attitude: that is having a genuine,
driving belief in the client whether individual family or community –
that they can become what they hope for or move in the direction they
want to or must. (I find this is really difficult for a lot of
- The Four As: you have to believe in your capacities, those
of your clients and colleagues and you have to account for, appreciate,
affirm and act on them in as many ways as you can.
- Represent the views, narratives, perspectives wherever
possible – staffings, in-service trainings, rounds, bulletin boards,
newsletters, celebrations, etc.
- Challenge views of clients, families, and the community
that demean them or diminish their humanity or simply assign them to a
heap of diagnoses, and marginalizing labels.
- Celebrate ritually, officially, and informally, personally
and publicly, accomplishments and successes of clients.
- Invite clients to contribute to the extent feasible in the
workings of the agency – to be liaisons, board members, mentors, tutor,
- Create organizational narratives that document both client
and worker heroics, capacities, leadership, ingenuity, accomplishments
and strengths. This is the opposite of the usual coffee room discussions
that enhance negative stereotypes and fears.
- Help foster an organization culture that is collaborative
and appreciative with respect to clients and their world.
- Write records in such a way that you would not mind clients
reading them. Better yet write them with clients or give clients a
chance to emend them. This is about trust and collaboration and a way of
supporting individual and family “theories” as opposed to official ones.
Criteria for Nomination