Labelling: Handle with care

Posted: 23/04/2015

“People, especially children, respond much better when given positive labels, even if it is a label they intend to pursue.”

I have been working with this family for several weeks, and using the Solution Focused Approach we had seen marginal and inconsistent improvement in the boy’s behavior both at home and school. He was able to participate in therapy, but it would be a stretch to say he seemed to be enjoying each session. I think it would be more accurate to say he tolerated the process. That is, until I used the Strength Cards for Kids in a session with him.

The boy is about 9 years old and, as we began to talk, I asked him to find a card that represented who he would like to be going forward. He chose a card and began to describe to me why he wanted to demonstrate the skill it represented in the future. Then I asked him what he would catch himself doing in the future that would fit with this skill being a bigger part of his life. For the first time since I knew him he seemed to enjoy the therapy. He seemed to have a true sense of joy as he answered the questions, and was very detailed as he described the behaviors he would be exhibiting in the future.

As I sit here writing this piece about our interaction, I am compelled to reflect on what I think happened and why my young client responded the way he did. It seems to me that people, especially children, do not like being given negative labels such as having ‘ADHD’ or ‘depression’. People, especially children, respond much better when given positive labels, even if it is a label they intend to pursue.

In this case, my 9-year-old client left the session elated, and two weeks later the parents reported that it was as if they had a whole new child. He was turning in his work in school, following the rules at home and school, and seemed happier than he had been in years.

I have to be honest. When I was originally told about Innovative Resources’ strength cards I was not sure I would like them. To be even more honest, I sort of anticipated I would find them somewhat useless. Not that I had any particular problem with the concept; it was just that I have never really found tools useful in my work. I have been working with children and their families for years and it is one my great professional joys. In this time, I had never used a tool that I found helpful—until now.

Once the cards arrived in my office I decided to use them in the session with the boy above, who had been having a particularly hard time in school following rules and getting good grades. He was also having a hard time following the rules of the house and staying out of trouble at home. His parents have become more and more frustrated dealing with him and his issues.

I believe in strength cards and the Strength Cards for Kids now because I see the power of assessing clients for positive labels that will allow theStrength_Cards_For_Kidsm to feel empowered and valued. Such tools have a role to play, and it is about time they found their way into our practice.

Elliott Connie is a family and marriage counsellor based in Keller, Texas. He’s also a bestselling relationship author and an internationally-known speaker and presenter, who has trained clinicians around the world to use Solution Focused Brief Therapy.

 Elliott grew up in Boston and has worked with leading solution-focused practitioners in the US, UK and Sweden. When we got in touch with Elliott, he had recently returned from a teaching stint in Moscow, Russia. For our special Americas issue of SOON, he  kindly contributed his story about using Strength Cards for Kids.

To learn more about Elliott’s work, publications and to tune in to his YouTube presentations, visit

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