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Where There Is Struggle, There Is Strength

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Mary Seymour

on 19 March 2014

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Transcript of Where There Is Struggle, There Is Strength

Where there is struggle,
there is
Paying attention to "what is wrong" is common in mental health services.
According to the traditional service model, people need help because they have a problem--a problem that sets them apart from others who don't seem to have the problem.
Although identifying problems can be important in gaining services for individuals, it can also lead to...
labeling, and therefore limiting options
obscuring recognition of a person's unique capabilities and strengths
focusing on "can'ts" as opposed to "cans"
ignoring potential resulting from adversity
following prescribed programming rather than individualized care
Illness ideology portrays people as victims of intrapsychic and biological forces beyond their control, and as such, in need of benevolent helpers to manage their symptoms. Patients need experts to guide and instruct them.
Ward & Reuter, Strength-Centered Counseling
The Strengths Perspective
assesses the inherent strengths of a person or family and builds on them
uses strength to aid in recovery and empowerment
reframes personal perception to find good, even in the worst situation
If mental health providers have faith in the unique resources of people as they struggle for a better life, they will find such.
If they do not, they will not, and over time may end up cynical about the human experience of change, growth, and transformation.
~ Ward & Reuter, Strength-Centered Counseling
Strengths are not to be confused with merely wishing away problems or creating new fictions. They are not simply finding positive qualities from negative experiences (false reassurance) or providing clients with affirmations (hoped-for truths).
Strengths are truths reflected in personal struggles and often in the presenting problems that clients seek to resolve.
We typically pay more attention to our problems, personal deficits, and weaknesses than our strengths.
As adults, we may unconsciously recreate negative childhood environments. If we grew up in a negative environment, we often live with negative beliefs. A negative emotional atmosphere becomes normal to us.

It's an empowering alternative to therapies that describe individual functioning in terms of psychiatric diagnoses or deficits.
It avoids the use of stigmatizing language, which clients use on themselves and eventually accept, identify with, and feel helpless to change.
It counteracts the self-defeating "victim identity."
It fosters hope by focusing on what has been historically successful for the person.
It inventories--often for the first time in an individual's experience--positive environmental factors that can serve as a foundation for growth and change

use a
Ward & Reuter, Strength-Centered Counseling
Where there are
deficits, there are
Where there is re
sistance, there is
Where there is
despair, there is
stems from the Latin root cura, meaning "to handle with care"
is a willingness to enter into and share the world of another and to acknowledge what is remarkable in our clients
From a strength-centered perspective, every struggle and problem presented in counseling implies personal strengths about the client and her or his ability to stand up to adversity.
Strength reflections =
accurate representations of characteristics and qualities exhibited in the struggle to "keep your head above water" that go unnoticed in a crisis or ongoing "storm"
Think of a recent personal struggle and briefly describe it to the counselor.
Find a partner. Have one person play the role of counselor, the other the role of client.
Ask your client one or more of the following questions, then listen, reflect, and process.
What does your struggle imply about your values and hopes?
What does it mean to you to have this struggle?
What have you learned about yourself?
What beliefs about yourself, others, and the world around you are being challenged in this struggle?
What counseling theories focus on solutions, strengths, and self-perceptions that enhance individuals' willingness to bring change into their lives?

(in other words, are strengths-centered)
Solution Focused Therapy
Narrative Therapy
Motivational Interviewing
He knows not his own strength
that has not met adversity.
~ Ben Jonson
I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within.
~ Anna Freud
That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
~ Mahatma Gandhi
You have been told that, even like a chain, you are as weak as your weakest link. This is but half the truth. You are also as strong as your strongest link. To measure you by your smallest deed is to reckon the power of the ocean by the frailty of its foam. To judge you by your failures is to cast blame upon the seasons for their inconstancy.
~ Kahlil Gibran
Empathic curiosity
It is there all the time.
The mental health field is dominated by assesssments that seek to identify all that is wrong, problematic, deficient, or pathological in the client.
The DSM-IV, published seven years after its predecessors, had twice the volume of text on di
The mental health field is dominated by assessment that seek to identify all that is wrong, problematic, deficient, or pathological in the client.
The mental health field is dominated by assessments that try to identify everything that is wrong, problematic, deficient, or pathological in the client.
The DSM III-R was published in 1987. Seven years later, the DSM-IV was issued. It contained
as much text on disorders as its predecessor.
Strengths Assessment
offers a holistic view of an individual
is used to search for understanding and meaning from the client's viewpoint
does not deny the existence of problems, barriers, and challenges in a person's life
posits that problems are contextual and therefore not the most reliable starting place for recovery
What kind of
go on
a strengths assessment?

Personal attributes:

traits that define who we are
Talents and skills:

areas of competence
Environmental strengths:

external resources

Interests and aspirations:

areas of intrinsic motivation


Strengths Assessment
Problems Assessment
Captures a person's aspirations, desires, dreams, talents, skills, knowledge; a holistic portrait
Focuses on here and now, leading to discussion of future and past, and how client has managed so far
Is conversational

Encouragement, coaching, and validation are key to the process
Gathers information from the client, with her or his full ownership
Defines diagnosis as the problem; questions focus on needs, deficits, symptoms
Is interrogative
Focuses on diagnosis assessment to determine level of functioning
The professional asks, "What can I learn from you?"
Client is viewed as lacking insight regarding behavior or scope of problem
Is controlled by professional
The professional states what client needs to work on
Types of Strengths: Example
honest, caring, hopeful, hard-working, kind, sensitive, friendly, good memory, stands up for what is right
Skills & talents
good card player, skilled at math, works on cars, computer wizard, plays guitar, knows a lot about country music
Environmental strengths
has nice apartment, enjoys roommate, loves spending time with grandmother, gets $700 SSI monthly, attends church weekly
Interests & aspirations
wants to be NASCAR mechanic, loves to sing karaoke, likes to watch classic movies
Strengthen me by sympathizing with my strength,
not my weakness.
~ Amos Bronson Alcott
The Strengths Model: A Recovery-Oriented Approach to Mental Health Services
Rapp & Goscha, Oxford University Press, 2012
Strengths-Centered Counseling: Integrating Postmodern Approaches and Skills with Practice
Ward & Reuter, SAGE Publications, 2011
Pathways to Recovery: A Strengths Recovery Self-Help Workbook
Ridgway, McDiarmid, Davidson, Bayes, & Ratzlaff, University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, 2002
Created by Mary Seymour, MS, LPCA, NCC, CPSS
Copyright 2013
Mental Health Association in Greensboro
330 S. Greene St., Greensboro, NC 27401
336.373.1402 | www.mhag.org
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