We talk a lot about strengths here at Innovative Resources. But how does recognising strengths relate to the practice of a strengths-based philosophy?
In this definitive publication, Wayne McCashen provides a practical guide to the Strengths Approach as it is used by social workers, psychologists, counsellors and many other people in the human service professions. The Strengths Approach is a model of intervention that shifts the focus of work with clients from power-over to power-with, from deficits to capacities, from expert-focussed to the-client-as-expert.
Wayne McCashen clearly describes the ideas, values, beliefs and frameworks that help create respectful ways of working with people. His book is full of anecdotes and examples of strengths-based practice in action. Noticing strengths and exceptions, creating ‘pictures of the future’, using the column approach, measuring change and client-owned recording are just a few of the topics explored.
This is an accessible, comprehensive text and one of our best-selling publications.
Click here to view the Foreword and Contents pages of The Strengths Approach.
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Stories and Reviews
‘Strengths-Based Practice made easy,’ Early Childhood Australia, SA newsletter, July 2006
Wayne McCashen’s work in counseling and social work in rural Victoria has led to the production of a number of useful resources that are available via the St Luke’s website—you may be familiar with their strength-based and angel with attitude cards, or their bear stickers. Wayne’s latest book, The Strengths Approach, works from the premise that individuals or groups construct meaning from their own experiences, that they know what their key issues are and can tailor-make their own solutions using their own resources.
Beginning with the strengths-based values base, the book describes a flexible five column framework that enables facilitators to work with, rather than on, people’s issues. Using this framework, the facilitator asks questions to evoke concrete descriptions of situations, of what is working, available resources and strengths and, importantly, a desired future state. Attention is shifted from perceived issues towards achievable solutions that draw from the knowledge, the skills and resourcefulness of the client rather than the worker. The aim is transformation through self-determination.
In keeping with the philosophy, the processes are seen as simply a means and not placed above the basic principles of accountability and user-ownership. The book has ample examples of how users can adapt the techniques and remain in control of information and activity.
The philosophy of building on strengths is very familiar to those of us with experience of early childhood education and care. It endears me to this successful model that can make it work for all. It fits well with the constructivist perspective of the South Australian Curriculum and Standards Accountability Framework, the appreciative enquiry model and the work of Virtual Village enabling committees. Most importantly, it is dependent on the identification and diffusion of power imbalances, both within organisations and between them and those they work with.
DECS Family Day Care has been working with Wayne McCashen over the last two years to improve its ability to work through day-to-day and long-term planning at a local and organisational level. We are now working with partners to encourage and develop the use of strengths-based practice by both staff and careproviders. I recommend this very practical book to all.
John Buckell, Family Day Care Policy Officer
‘A strength-based resource for sharing power and creating change’
‘Relief and gratitude have replaced the anticipation and barracking over the many years that ‘Wayne’s book’ has been in the making. And yet there are no surprises in Wayne McCashen’s book, The Strengths Approach. It’s not the latest text heralding the latest research to support the latest in therapeutic effectiveness. In his foreword David Epston has described The Strengths Approach as ‘modest but remarkable’. This could not be higher praise. Most of our clients live modest but remarkable lives.
Having been part of the development of the strengths approach at St Luke’s Anglicare (Bendigo, Australia) and having offered training in this approach with Wayne and now solo, this book is like a talisman. It is a significant reference book for anyone studying or working in human services. Dozens of people have, like Oliver Twist, asked for more at the end of training workshops because they too are hungry for what is essential nourishment for the human services practitioner. And what is that? A deep respect for human beings and a socially-just work ethic based on values and beliefs necessary for empowerment and self-determination. It’s about liberation and valuing commonalities as human beings and a framework in which to apply these values.
The Strengths Approach will inspire confidence in those new to the human services, be a reminder to those who have strayed and be a gift to anyone who is interested in a philosophy for living that grows an environment of hope—and in which change is possible. It shows how to work with others in a way that honors an individual’s uniqueness and respects their right to self-determination. It is a workbook for practice, supervision, and community development. It provides a structure for any solution-finding exercise using socially-just and client-driven practice.
Wayne’s generosity in creating examples, tables and diagrams in the book provides an inbuilt tutor. It is an invaluable resource for every team or work group for learning and reflection.
Wayne shows us just how to ‘get into the corners’ of our practice in human services work. He takes us beyond current ‘models’ of practice to illuminate the broader constraints to change, which can involve the misuse of our privileged and power-laden roles in assisting those with less power and influence. This is reinforced powerfully in the discussion about parallel practice. He has thrown down a challenge to managers and organisations to ‘walk the talk’ of social justice.
Thank you, Wayne, for what you have given to us and to hundreds of clients and workers over a lifetime. Your book will help keep the values of respect and partnership alive. It is an immeasurable gift.’
Bernadette Glass, trainer and consultant in strengths-based practice
Michael Bishop, ‘The Strengths Approach: A Strengths-based Approach for Sharing Power and Creating Change [Book Review],’ Communities, Children and Families Australia, vol. 1, no. 1, July 2006, p. 55
Although the notions and language associated with “strengths based practice” are being increasingly replaced with language of “responsive practice”, the logic, processes and examples provided in this excellent book are recommended to child and family protection practitioners. This book represents Wayne McCashen’s experience and wisdom as a senior trainer and consultant for St Luke’s nglicare. Wayne has inspired and challenged many workers over the years to examine their practices and really think about their clients’ needs and wishes in a positive and constructive manner. St Luke’s Anglicare is described as major provider of child and family services throughout New Zealand and Australia and Wayne’s work on strengths based approach to working with families, children and communities has been seminal to contemporary social work and community practice in this country and the book reflects a depth of practice wisdom.
The book has nine chapters providing practical tools and simple explanations to the strengths based approach. Each chapter is laden with examples of strengths based practice and child and family welfare case examples. In my opinion there are possibly too many examples but each is relevant and builds the novice reader’s understanding of strengths based practice. There are also some strong examples from the statutory child protection situations highlighting strategies to improve the power imbalance between workers and clients.
From the first chapter which describes the philosophical base for strengths based practice to the last chapter which focuses on community building, the dominant underlying theme of the book is about addressing power imbalances and engaging clients in the process of helping themselves. Other themes of enabling people to be their own agents of change and the identification of social, personal, cultural and structural constraints to self-determination are also evident in all chapters. By focussing on strengths as opposed to problems or issues, the book convincingly argues that the more positive approach both empowers and energises the relationship and improves the efficacy of interventions. In particular the brief section examining strategies for overcoming the power conferred by “expert” status should resonate with College members.
As alluded to previously, the book is more suited to beginning child and family practitioners and would be a useful addition to many community and statutory services’ libraries. Because the book and content is based on Australian and New Zealand’s child and family welfare systems, it would also provide a valuable resource for the academics in both undergraduate social work and post-graduate child protection courses.
St Luke’s Innovative Resources section publishes a wide variety of tools and information to support good child and family practice.
Michael Bishop, Relate Human Services Pty Ltd. Mackay, Queensland