The Contribution of a Strength Based Approach to Counselling

The field of social services and mental health have been solely focusing on an individual’s pathologies, deficits and problem behaviours; yet, the need for a more holistic model of development has become more necessary during the last decade (Trout, Ryan, La Vigne, & Epstein, 2003). Historically, deficit-based approach has been embraced by the field of counselling and has not been focusing on the healthy self, providing interventions that would promote the positive aspects of it, rather than focusing on an individual’s strengths (Smith, 2006). However, a new paradigm in the field of counselling has been introduced, where individuals are viewed under a lens that projects their strengths and leaves out diagnosis of any possible problems (Smith, 2006). Instead, with strength-counselling, a professional would have to identify a client’s strengths (Smith, 2006) and promote a different intervention that would bring awareness to individuals of their existing strengths, with all deriving positives from such approach (de Shazer, 1985).With strength-based approach, practitioners are provided with a tool to access one’s competencies, which makes asking the right questions an important factor that can determine an intervention’s effectiveness (Clark, 1997).

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The starting point of strength-based counselling is the fact that everything that is taking place at this moment has positive aspects in it and the target is to develop an outlook that good and positive things actually DO happen in life and that individuals or families that seek help from clinicians can indeed direct the positive things right into their own lives (Guterman, 2006). Encouraging positive interpretation of events happening in one’s life, can only help creating a better reality for an individual (White, 2002). It becomes obvious that by bringing positive human qualities on the surface, can only help people build assets and better their lives.

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During strength-based counselling, people are usually motivated to change into a better self, given that practitioners are focusing on their clients’ strengths rather that weakness, which creates hope for a better life and self or future (Smith, 2006). Another important factor that enforces the positive outcome of strength-based approach counselling it the fact that therapy process is not only guided by clinicians, but clients also intervene and their perspective is brought on the table, unlike deficit-based approach (Smith, 2006). Strength-based counselling can as well become a powerful platform that will generate and sustain a positive look into life and also help prevent any unfortunate future events (White, 2002). That way, at-risk individuals stand a good chance to avoid unpleasant situations and use their skills, qualities and characteristics, amplify them, and make them become a strong shield against any negative outcome in a future event. Of course, this is a process that an individual cannot perform alone, which is why counsellors bear a heavy duty and responsibility detecting their clients’ strengths and, like a magnifying glass, project them to their clients, building successful alliances with them that would help the effectiveness of strength-based counselling (White, 2002).

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In strength-based intervention, each problem is externalized, rather than been considered completely integrated into an individual’s identity, and is given a name, helping the individual perceive the particular problems as something external that has nothing to do with their identity (White & Epson, 1990). Then, the client is asked to retrieve any memories of effective ways to deal with this particular problem that has brought them to the clinician’s door (Guterman, 2006). By doing so, the client would have already started bringing on the behaviours and strengths that have helped them deal with the problem in the past and not allow it to dominate their life, and set the foundations of an approach that would help them manage the problem again (White & Epson, 1990). Of course, the key to success is the counsellor’s encouragement during the entire process (White & Epson, 1990).

In strength-based counselling resilience is also under the microscope. Resilience comes from an individual’s struggle with hardships that is combined with small moments of success that balance setbacks and disappointments (Smith, 2006). With resilience research, an individual gets to know of a strength they possess that can help them bounce back and manage to develop that strength at any given occasion (Smith, 2006), which in turns develops self-esteem and builds a strength-storage place that a person can turn to whenever there is a problem on sight (Smith, 2006).

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Taking all the aforementioned under consideration, one can understand that mental illnesses can also be controlled. People with mental disorders tend to believe that they have insufficient strengths to overcome an obstacle that directly affects their psychological well-being (Smith, 2006). If an individual has become aware of their internal resources that can be a powerful weapon towards hardships, they can manage to keep mental disorders under control and not allow them to dominate on their lives (Smith, 2006).

A popular strength-based model is called Solution Focused Counselling (Iveson, 2002) and its main principal is that every individual holds problem-solving skills and primarily focus on what is working in a person’s life, rather than the opposite (Iveson, 2002). People passing a counsellor’s door tend to believe that when a problem occurs, it is always happening, which makes them overlook the times when this problem does not exist (Iveson, 2002). Solution-focused counselling brings both the problem and the exception together on the table, which can start creating a concept that the problem has hidden solutions as well, if taking the times that everything is working clockwise into account (Iveson, 2002). Then, the instances of exception are widely encouraged by the counsellor to develop awareness of the exceptions and their significance (Iveson, 2002). And, the greater awareness an individual gains, the better the troubled individual can cope with their problem; they even might reach the utmost levels of awareness, when the problem does not exist anymore (Iveson, 2002).

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Concluding, strength-based counselling can indeed bring the best out of people, with the help of a knowledgeable clinician. Counsellors are provided with a reliable means to effectively identify and magnify an individual’s skills, strengths and characteristics that can assist in coping with problems. Allowing an individual get in touch with their better and more powerful self and being able to retrieve the existing power lying inside them to manage hardships, one can also prevent mental health problems as well. With a cultivated sense of accomplishment, a person can enjoy satisfying relationships and well-being at their fullest. Finally, perhaps the most important in strength-based approach in counselling is asking the right questions, rather than getting the right answers, which makes the work of professionals extremely sensitive and important.

One of the most common mental health conditions nowadays is depression. It is estimated that approximately 350 million people suffer from depressive disorders, with an average of 1 in 20 people reporting experiencing depressive symptoms (WHO, 2012). Since depressive disorders start at a very young age (WHO, 2012), teenagers are usually brought down by depression. Strength-based approach or solution-focused approach has proven effective, when used as a means to decrease depression among teenagers. In particular, a study that was conducted in 2013 has reached the conclusion that strength-based approach is indeed effective when dealing with teenage girls with depression (Javanmiri, 2013). For the goals of the aforementioned study, a total of 20 teenage girls were randomly drawn and assigned to two groups, one of which received solution-based counselling and the other irrelevant teachings (Javanmiri, 2013). Results showed that strength-based approach has contributed in decreasing depression in teenage females (Javanmiri, 2013).

Strength-based counselling is a practice started that helps young people reach out for their goals (Schmied and Tully, 2009). During solution-focused approach a teenager is setting achievable goals that can be easily reviewed for their progress, while the adolescents’ perspective is closely taken into consideration, as a means to gain their participation and allow them to look into themselves and dig up the necessary strength and mechanisms to cope with depressive disorders (Schmied and Tully, 2009). It is interesting to note that strength-based approach is believed to provide “a way of identifying and fostering resilience in young people, focusing on what is important and not what is urgent” (Hammond, 2005), which poses a positive and effective parameter in intervening. Moreover, children and teenagers are valued as being the rulers and “experts” in their lives and are more than capable of finding solutions that can help them effectively deal with life’s challenges (Hammond, 2005). Furthermore, it is proven that progress comes easier when clinicians try not to focus on the pathology, and focus more on the thing a client is doing well, or the achievements they have accomplished in their lives (Trotter, 2004).

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Based on review of literature, it is found that “increased family stress was associated with a longer and more intense initial episode of depression in the adolescent and factors such as high parental criticism and over-involvement were associated with adolescent depression” (Asarnow, 2001). This is a reason why family focused interventions also use strength-based counselling to help treat depression of the young members of the family. Modifying the risk factors of poor parenting that have a direct link with teenage depression, a clinician can effectively help a suffering adolescent (Dishion and Andrews, 1995).

Unfortunately, despite the developments brought by strength-based counselling, there still continues to be a deficit-approach (Hammond, 2005). Also, there is an intense need for further future research, since current research on the effectiveness of strength-based therapeutic approaches are mainly focused on adults and children and limited research conducted with teenagers (Schmied and Tully, 2009). Up to date, there are limited numbers of interventions in regards children and teenagers that are empirically supported (Schmied and Tully, 2009), which makes the necessity for more research, more requisite than ever.

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