Is SF a strengths based approach?
Well, that may seem an easy question to answer, and for many people in and outside SF the obvious answer would be ‘yes’.
Ok for something to be strength based we would need to focus on strengths, we would need to focus on resilience, and competencies, resources etc. so surely that is SF right? The clue here is ‘we would need to focus’. As soon as ‘we focus’ the session where we think it should go, whether it is counselling, coaching or another area of SF work, the session becomes our agenda, our lead, our direction.
Remember, one of the main underlying practices of SF is that it is paying close attention to where the client sees the best hopes/preferred future, where they are now, and basing our interventions and questions on the last answer we hear in relation to those best hopes/preferred futures.
So…scales, exceptions, noticing may or, may not be ‘strength based’ we do not go looking for strengths though could certainly highlight them when heard. If we go hunting strengths we have a real danger of not hearing other things that the client may be telling us, for instance, instances of exceptions….”when the sun was shining I felt better”; this is not a ‘strength’, though it is an illustration of times when best hopes or preferred futures may have been slightly closer?
Bear with me……
Looking for strengths when someone feels weak may lead to a lack of acknowledgement or validation of their current situation, common currency in any therapeutic intervention.
Ok…and who decides what are strengths or not?
And……do we need to ‘make’ our clients acknowledge strengths and resilience to combat their disruptive thought patterns…..beginning to sound a bit CBT.
Do we use our terminology and words to replace those that others might use?
However to ask a client “how did you get through that” or “was that somehow useful”, “was there anyone who was helpful”, “Is there anything you know that might be helpful going forward”; exploring pre session change, exploring scaling where there is a preferred point on a scale, a current point and perhaps a previous point, and clarification of any event/events that aided that change point (if there is one) means that we do not ‘assume’ strengths but enquire about movement. Not just movement in action, but movement in thought, observation, even, dare I say it, feelings.
When we hear strengths, resources, resilience it seems that it may be useful to take note of that and maybe reflect it in a way that is not our value base or frame of reference, but aligned to what the client feels about that….”was that somehow helpful?”
So we are certainly not strengths phobic, nor do I believe strengths based, as a model descriptor. Personally I feel a little hackle when I hear ‘strength based’ in the same way I do when I hear ‘positive psychology’; only in that it means, to me, we base all we do within a particular assumptive framework that is directed by us looking for things that meet our assumptions, at the expense of missing a little of the client directed session.
Is SF a strengths based approach then? I would not call it that but I am not going to have massive arguments about it, I might reflect back “SF is an approach where someone’s best hopes, once clarified might be supported by recognition of strengths where highlighted by the client”.