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Processes and Skills of the Strengths Approach

Posted: 03/10/2016

Building a relationship of trust is the foundation for all respectful and constructive helping processes. This is facilitated by genuine interest in, and validation of, people’s experiences, strengths, capacities and aspirations. It is also facilitated by transparent practices and assisting the person to take ownershipNature of Strengths card fronts changes22 of their own change process. 

Good listening is an essential skill in working with people.

The strengths-approach invites us not only to listen well, but to listen for three essential things:

  • People’s lived experience, the meaning they give it and the context in which the experience takes place
  • People’s aspirations, preferences and goals
  • People’s strengths and capacities and the stories behind them.

Strengths-based listening assists people to reframe their realities and experiences, establishing a springboard for ways forward.

Stages of the strengths approach

A simple but consistently useful framework has emerged from solution-focused ideas and other principles discussed in The Strengths Approach. It consists of six key stages for reflection, planning and action:

  • Listening to people’s stories, exploring the context and the meaning they give their experience, and identifying the core issues (including cultural and structural constraints)
  • Developing a picture of the future and setting goals through an exploration of people’s aspirations
  • Identifying and highlighting strengths and exceptions to problems
  • Identifying additional resources that complement people’s strengths and goals
  • Mobilising strengths and resources through a plan of action
  • Reviewing and evaluating progress and change.

There are dangers in being too prescriptive or simplistic in using this strengths-based framework of stages. Sometimes people are not able to get in touch with their aspirations or describe a picture of the future because they don’t feel hopeful enough. They can feel so overwhelmed by the problems they face that it is difficult to imagine that things can be different. This is typically the case in instances of abuse, depression, or trauma. Taking people down the path of ‘future picture exploration’ in this situation can be disrespectful, unhelpful and counterproductive. In this case giving priority to validating experiences and exploring strengths and exceptions is more likely to help bring enough hope to describe a picture of the future. In these circumstances the process looks like this:

  • Listening to people’s stories, exploring the context and the meaning they give their experience, and identifying the core issues (including cultural and structural constraints)
  • Identifying and highlighting strengths and exceptions to problems
  • Developing a picture of the future and setting goals through an exploration of people’s aspirations
  • Identifying additional resources that complement people’s strengths and goals
  • Mobilising strengths and resources through a plan of action
  • Reviewing and evaluating progress and change.

Sometimes people do not need to explore and analyse their past. They may already be sufficiently in touch with positive experiences or take little to get in touch with strengths and exceptions. In this case priority is given to exploring people’s aspirations. Consideration of strengths and exceptions occurs within the context of these aspirations. The process in these circumstances is like the one outlined at the beginning of this article.

Of course, there are always situations where people are ready to explore exceptions and develop a picture of the future.

It is important to emphasise that the framework provides a versatile map for conversation, reflection and planning. It should be used according to people’s readiness. It is meant as a guide to be used flexibly in responding to people’s sharing. Too much structure can lead to the worker driving the process. At the same time, too little structure can become unhelpful.

(Extract from The Strengths Approach, by Wayne McCashen. Chapter 4, pp 47-51, St Luke’s Innovative Resources, 2005)

Other related blogs:

What is “the Strengths Approach”?

Strengths-based Supervision

#strengths

 

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