A strengths-based perspective emphasizes the abilities and resources people have within themselves and their support systems to more effectively cope with life challenges. When combined with new experiences, understandings and skills, these abilities and resources contribute to improved well-being and outcome, which is comprised of three areas of functioning: individual, interpersonal relationships, and social role. Strengths-based practitioners value relationships and convey this through respectful, culturally-sensitive, collaborative, practices that support, encourage and empower. Routine outcome monitoring (ROM) is used to create and maintain a culture of feedback—a responsive, consumer-driven climate to ensure the greatest benefit of services.
Principle 1: Expectancy and hope are catalysts of change
Key Competency: Demonstrate faith in the restorative effects of services
Of the factors that contribute to eventual outcome, none may be as difficult to grasp as expectancy and hope, which is derived from the expectations of clients about services, the creation and sustainment of hope, and the credibility placed on the rationale for the use of specific techniques. The expectations that accompany behavioral health services regarding its potential to influence positive change is substantial. First, clients expectations that services are at minimal, safe, and at best, able to change their lives for the better, help to act as a placebo to counteract demoralization, activate hope, and advance improvement. Providers’ attitudes can promote or dampen hope. For example, an attitude of pessimism or an emphasis on psychopathology or the long-term process of change can negatively affect hope. In contrast, providers who have the attitude that positive change can occur even in difficult situations coupled with an emphasis on possibilities tend to instill and promote hope in every interaction, however small. Processes and practices that are respectful, collaborative, honor clients’ ideas about change, and create or rehabilitate hope increase the prospects of change.
Principle 2: Clients are the most significant contributors to outcome
Key Competency: Evoke and utilize client contributions to change
Clients are what make services work. They are the engineers of change. The contributions of clients are referred to as client factors, which according to research estimates account for between 80-87% of the variance in outcome, far more than any other factor. Client factors primarily involve the internal strengths and external resources. Internal strengths include optimism, persistence, resilience, protective factors, coping skills, and abilities utilized in vocational, educational, and social settings. Resilience and protective factors are qualities and actions that allow clients to meet the difficulties and challenges of life. Growth and maturation relate to the ability of clients to move through or mature out of individual and lifecycle developmental phases, manage the trials and tribulations of life, overcome problems, and cope with trauma.
Principle 3: The therapeutic alliance makes substantial and consistent contributions to outcome
Key Competency: Engage clients through the working alliance
The most researched area in psychology and psychotherapy is the therapeutic relationship and alliance with over 1100 studies to date. Findings from these studies have helped to define the alliance, which is considered an expansion of the therapeutic relationship, comprised of four empirically-established components: 1) The client’s view of the relationship (including perceptions of the provider as warm, empathic, and genuine); 2) Agreement on the goals, meaning or purpose of the treatment; 3) Agreement on the means and methods used; and, 4) Accommodation of the client’s preferences.
Principle 4: Culture influences and shapes all aspects of human life
Key Competency: Communicate respect for clients and their cultures
Culture specifically refers to a system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts among various groups within a community, institution, organization, or nation. From generation to generation, members of society use their cultural references to cope with their world and with one another. Cultural competence is a cornerstone of a strengths-based perspective. As providers we work with clients who are who culturally differ from ourselves. Such persons come from an array of backgrounds, and their customs, thoughts, ways of communicating, values, traditions, and institutions vary accordingly. In our work with clients we emphasize awareness and learning, forming new patterns of response and ways to effectively apply those responses to appropriate settings. Further, providers with diverse backgrounds can draw on their experiences and their general cultural knowledge to match clients' ideas about problems, possibilities, and potential solutions. Thus, knowledge of different cultures and perspectives is beneficial by allowing providers to view situations differently without having to align with any one viewpoint. This knowledge also brings with it an expanded repertoire of methods to use that may be helpful in delivering services.
Principle 5: Effective services promote growth, development, well-being, and functioning
Key Competency: Utilize strategies that support and empower clients to achieve meaningful improvement
Instead of attempting to provide explanations about the nature of problems or pathology, a strengths-based perspective emphasizes positive change in the form of growth, development, and well-being. Central to this notion is a commitment to the possibility of clients experiencing positive change in the present and future. Providers concentrate on efforts to identify and mobilize factors responsible for change, focusing more on change as a process and less on providing explanations or theories of causality. A perspective based on growth, development, and well-being correlates with improvement in individual, interpersonal, and social role functioning. To assist with improvement of functioning we consider how clients can flourish in society by concentrating on exceptions to problems—times when things have gone better in relation to challenges—and building on those often subtle differences in the present and future. Focusing on exceptions and the prospects of future change does not mean dismissing past events. Just as some will prefer to search for explanations to problems, some may prefer to study the past and past events. From a strengths-based perspective providers acknowledge the role of the past and other potential influences as much or as little as clients want while placing attention on the prospects of an improved future.
Bertolino, B. (2018). Effective counseling and psychotherapy: An evidence-based approach. New York: Springer.
Bertolino, B. (2015). Working with children and adolescents in residential care: A strengths-based approach. New York: Routledge.
Bertolino, B. (2014). Thriving on the front lines: Strengths-based youth care work. New York: Routledge.
Bertolino, B. (2010). Strengths-based engagement and practice: Creating effective helping relationships. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon/Pearson.