The profound and very simple belief at the core of strengths-based practice is that everyone has strengths. What are our strengths and where do they come from? These two questions have fascinated philosophers, psychologists and everyday thinkers for centuries.
At first glance many of us tend to think of strengths as personality traits that we inherit or learn as we journey through life. These certainly are great strengths, but that is not the sum total of our strengths. Our qualities, capacities, relationships, actions, values, stories, experiences, skills and material resources can all be strengths as well. The ‘strengths approach’ holds that all of these strengths are our greatest assets to call on for making the most of the ups and downs of everyday life.
Fundamental to the use of strengths as catalysts for change is the concept of freedom: freedom to choose. In fact, we can also think of our strengths as the choices we make. While things are constantly happening in our lives (much of which may be beyond our control), we are still able to make choices about what we think and how we behave.
Choosing Strengths is a set of 32 cards from Innovative Resources in the rich tradition of strengths-based conversation-building tools. The Choosing Strengths cards are powerful reminders that our use of strengths is in our own hands. We can choose to adopt for ourselves any number of strengths from a huge array of possibilities.
Notwithstanding the significance of conditioning, our environment and our genetic makeup, we remain a species for whom choice gives meaning. Choosing Strengths clearly puts the responsibility of ‘making meaning’ back onto each of us. While events will always happen, it is our choice as to how we make sense of these events. We are not victims of circumstances even though it is easy to attribute events as the causes of our thinking, feeling and behaviour.
Viktor Frankl writes in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:
‘Everything can be taken from a man [sic] but one thing: the last of his human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances – to choose one’s own way.’
Many readers will know that Viktor Frankl was imprisoned by the Nazis and lost his wife and all other family members in the German concentration camps. But for Frankl it was the very denial of so many choices in his internment that led to his discovery of his ultimate and immutable choice: who he actually WAS.
‘When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves,’ he writes.
It was Frankl, Rollo May, and others, who developed ‘Existential Therapy’ which has influenced all humanistic psychology including the work of William Glasser who went on to expound his own theories of human behaviour in Reality Therapy and Choice Theory.
Thinking about strengths as being available for choice can be very liberating. One does not have to feel trapped in any limited repertoire of strengths, there are many to choose from. Neither does one have to feel oppressed by fatalism. Choosing strengths is a long way from feeling like one is merely a parcel of knee-jerk reactions.