What is the Strength-Based Approach

I try to plan out my posts on this website, but sometimes I notice common themes in my week so I write about that. This week, I reflected a bit about what it means to be strengths-based.

On Monday, I had a teacher ask me for feedback about her attempts to be strengths-based. This came after a discussion we had about how to support a student. I realized that I was not immediately sure how to explain what the strengths-based approach is. 

I ended up explaining to her how I approach a meeting with clients and their caregivers or teachers. 

Here is what said to her and asked of her:

  • Try to look for strengths and build on them (ie the client creates chaos in class can change to the client is a leader in class)
  • Be honest, but start and end with the positives (ie client is smart and kind. He just has trouble sitting still and completing all his work, but I know he can do it.)
  • Remember that the student is more than just his behavior

The strengths-based approach is for all ages

Although I am writing about this from the lens of a school-based social worker, I am aware that the strength-based approach is for adults, babies, children, adolescents, families, and other groups. 

Even macro social workers can take this perspective. What is working well in a system, policy, or population?

At a training on Wednesday, I took home this quote: Look for what is strong, not what is wrong. When we take that mentality into our work, we are being strengths-based.

Common Pushback

The strengths-based approach can seem to others like we are ignoring the problem or rewarding bad behaviors. The teacher expressed this concern when I talked about possible solutions to help my client focus in class. (I wanted to prep the teacher and gauge her willingness before bringing in the client to express what he needs.)

Even for those who accept the approach, many people, including social workers, have expressed frustration in having to watch their words. You may hear it in their voice when they try to be strengths-based. They may say things like “they have a very interesting way of coping.”

The way I see it: we are addressing the what (the “problem”) by looking at the why. Moreover, we are doing this for the client, not for us. We often jump too quickly to “fix” the problem as we see it.

Please let me know what kind of articles you’d like to see in the future!Check me out on Instagram @eagersocialworker for post updates!

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