Written by Jordan Meehan, LCSW

Amy has struggled to find a therapist who understands her strengths and experiences.

Amy is fed up with feeling miserable. For several months now, she has been struggling to feel happy, her stomach constantly hurts, she can barely sleep, and she fights headaches multiple times per week. Amy wants answers but has not come up with anything helpful yet. When Amy decides to visit her doctor to figure out what is causing her stomach pain, headaches, and sleepless nights, the doctor tells her that she seems stressed and should be taking better care of herself with exercise and healthy eating.

At the suggestion of a friend, Amy next decides to go talk to a therapist to see if they can determine what is wrong with her. When Amy meets with the therapist, the therapist interviews Amy about her life and all of her difficulties. At the end of the appointment, the therapist tells Amy her diagnosis and suggests multiple things that she needs to change in her life in order to feel better. Amy leaves the appointment feeling very discouraged.

All Amy wants to do is feel better, but all she feels after meeting with these two professionals is a sense of hopelessness. She wants to move forward, but now she just feels even more stuck and less motivated.

Why does Amy feel worse after getting the answers that she thought would help her? Unfortunately for Amy, the professionals that she met with only focused on the things that were “wrong” with her.

What can Amy do at this point since she feels discouraged?

Amy decides to not continue treatment with her first therapist. Instead, she decides to find a therapist that she “clicks” with better. By searching online, Amy reads some bios of several therapists that seem to take a different approach than her first therapist. Even though she feels apprehensive, Amy makes the choice to meet with another therapist. This new therapist helps Amy explore what has helped her to overcome hard times in the past. Amy no longer feels discouraged in her journey to feeling better. Now, she feels hopeful.

The Strengths Perspective and Mental Health Treatment

Many theories and approaches in the medical and behavioral health fields place a heavy focus on problems, rather than on what is going well. However, in the late 1980’s, a new approach to addressing peoples’ challenges was developed and named, “The Strengths Perspective”, by a research team at the University of Kansas (Weick, Rapp, Sullivan, and Kisthardt, 1989). The Strengths Perspective focuses on identifying the inherent capacities, talents, and skills of an individual or group to work towards self-empowerment.

From the Strengths Perspective came new ways of thinking about how to approach treatment of mental health issues. When you are faced with adversity, your inner strengths and skills tend to be revealed. Modern strengths-based practices shift the focus away from problems and onto identifying how you have been resourceful or resilient, despite difficult circumstances. As a result, you can recognize the strengths you already possess to help you make meaningful change in your life. Ultimately, a strengths-based approach allows for self-determination – a person’s ability to control their own life – to take center-stage in the treatment process.

Choose a therapist who can help you recognize your strengths.

Not all therapists are alike. When choosing a therapist to work with, it’s important to find someone who will collaborate with you and empower you to make changes. Thus, it can be helpful to know what to expect from therapists that use a strengths-based approach. When working with a therapist who operates from the Strengths Perspective, you will be able to address your challenges without having to solely focus on your problems.

Therapists like this embody the following 6 principles developed by Rapp (1993) to help create a foundation for successful treatment:

  1. Everyone has strengths.
  2. The relationship between a clinician and client needs to be one of collaboration.
  3. A person is responsible for making changes in their own life.
  4. Resources are available in every environment.
  5. Helping a client when they are in a natural setting is best to promote change.
  6. All people have the ability to learn and grow.

How to Identify Your Strengths

Like people, strengths come in all varieties, shapes, and sizes. No person is limited to the number of strengths they possess. Every situation, life circumstance, or event presents an opportunity for you to build resilience by recognizing the strengths that you have within you already. The key to identifying your strengths is to recognize that some of them might seem like they don’t matter because they seem obvious. Don’t fall into this trap!

In order to start recognizing your strengths, you can use this worksheet and ask yourself the questions below.

  • What skills do I have that allow me to navigate my life?
  • What have I achieved up to this point in my life, big or small?
  • When was a time that I solved a problem?
  • How have I managed to survive the challenges that I have faced?
  • When were things going well in my life? What was different then?
  • What positive things have people told me?
  • What helped me feel motivated in the past?

These questions only scratch the surface of uncovering your strengths. Finding and working with the right clinician will help you to further your understanding of your capacities to help you make the progress you are wanting to make in your life.

Are you finding it difficult to recognize your strengths? Restorative Counseling can help!

The entire team at Restorative Counseling believes in taking a strengths-based approach when working with you. This will empower you to make the changes that you want to see in your life. Whatever life has thrown at you, Restorative Counseling is here to support you on your path to healing. In order to get started, schedule an appointment with one of our clinicians today.

References

Rapp, C. A. (1993). Theory, principles, and methods of the strengths model of case management. In M. Harris & H. C. Bergman (Eds.), Chronic mental illness, Vol. 1. Case management for mentally ill patients: Theory and practice (p. 143–164). Harwood Academic Publishers/Gordon.

Ann Weick, Charles Rapp, W. Patrick Sullivan, Walter Kisthardt, A Strengths Perspective for Social Work Practice, Social Work, Volume 34, Issue 4, July 1989, Pages 350–354, https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/34.4.350