What is a Strength-Based Approach? (Incl. Examples & Tools)

What is a strength-based approachWhen you consider the word “strength” what comes to mind? Hold on to that for a moment.

For me, the word and image of “strength” make me think of synonyms like “sturdy” “solid” and antonyms like “weak”.

I also think of my personal strengths. For example, a person can believe their strengths are patience, optimism, and persistence.

Now if we go a step further, we will be reviewing everything there is to know about a strength-based approach. The strength-based approach is focusing on the positive attributes, of a person or a group, rather than the negative ones. There are multiple ways in which the strength-based approach can be applied in, including leadership, counseling, community and social work, pediatrics, and much more.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Strengths Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients realize your unique potential and create a life that feels energized and authentic.

What is a Strength-Based Approach?

The strength-based approach has its foundation in social work. The Strength-Based approach is a “work practice theory” which focuses on an individuals’ self-determination and strength (Strengths-Based Models in Social Work; McCashen (2005)).

This type of approach builds the clients on their strengths, specifically seeing them as resourceful and resilient when they are in adverse conditions (Strengths-Based Models in Social Work; McCashen (2005)).

Another unique characteristic of this approach is that it is client led and centered on outcomes in the future individual’s set of strengths.

It should be noted that when a strength-based approach is used in any field outside of social work, it is referred to as the strength-based approach (Strengths-Based Models in Social Work; McCashen (2005)).

An interesting aspect of the strengths-based approach is that it is about getting people to affect change in them.

Change happens using positivity and affecting each person and how they handle their own:

  • Attitudes about their dignity
  • Capacities
  • Rights
  • Quirks
  • And similarities

Strength-based approach is so successful because the client is the actor or agent of change by providing the right environment for controlling change. This approach is highly dependent on the thought process and emotional and information processing of the individual. This approach allows for open communication and thought process for individuals to identify value and assemble their strengths and capacities in the course of change.

The strength-based approach allows for habitable conditions for a person to see themselves at their best, in order to see the value they bring, by just being them. Then moving that value forward to capitalize on their strengths rather than focusing on negative characteristics.

Strength-based approach not only examines the individual but also the individual’s environment. For example, in the strength-based Approach, it looks at how systems are set up, especially where power can be out of balance between a system or service and the people it is supposed to serve.

In addition, strength-based approach identifies any constraints that might be holding back an individual’s growth. These constraints can be when the individual has to deal with social, personal and/or cultural issues in organizations that cannot be balanced fairly (McCashen, 2016).

Rapp, Saleebey and Sullivan (2008) suggest six standards for determining what is a strengths-based approach. If in agreement, practitioners can use the list when considering what method they will use when practicing the strength-based approach.

  1. Goal orientation: It is crucial and vital for the person to set goals.
  2. Strengths assessment: The person finds, and assesses their strengths and inherent resources.
  3. Resources from the environment: Connect resources in the person’s environment that can be useful or enable the person to create links to these resources. The resources could be individuals, associations, institutions, or groups.
  4. Different methods are used first for different situations: In solution-focused therapy, clients will determine goals first and then strengths. In Strengths-Based case management individuals first determine their strengths using an assessment.
  5. The relationship is hope-inducing: By finding strengths and linking to connections (with other people, communities, or culture).
  6. Meaningful choice: Each person is an expert on their strengths, resources, and hopes. It is the practitioner’s duty to improve upon choices the person makes and encourage making informed decisions.

Principles of the Strength-Based Approach

There are 9 guiding principles that serve as the foundation of the strength-based approach.

  1. Everyone possesses a uniqueness that helps him or her evolve and move along his or her journey. These unique characteristics can be either:
    1. Potential
    2. Strengths
    3. Capabilities
  2. What receives attention or focus becomes what we (or the client) strive(s) for and eventually becomes a reality.
  3. Be careful with your words and language. Our language creates our (and our client’s) reality.
  4. Accept change, life and our world are ever-evolving; don’t resist.
  5. Support others as authentically as you can. You will see that your relationships are deeper and more meaningful.
  6. The person or client is the story-teller of their own story.
  7. Build upon what you know and experience to dream of the future.
  8. Capacity building has multiple facets and organization. Be flexible.
  9. Be collaborative. Be adaptive and value differences (Hammond, 2010)

4 Examples of a Strength-Based Approach

Given the definition and principles of the strength-based approach, let’s review some examples.

  1. In the corporate world, many Human Resource (HR) managers will conduct performance appraisals on the employees. These appraisals are to hopefully benefit the employees, their supervisors, and the overall flow of the organization. Some of the key benefits can be improved performance, communication opportunities, and data on decision-making (Coens & Jenkins, 2000).
  2. Each of us has those times that are really hard. We are in crisis mode and the last thing we want to think about are our strengths. However, when these trying situations arise, we need help in identifying our strengths. For health care professionals working with people going through these crises, it is vital for them to listen and identify strengths, and resources.
  3. For certain clients, pursuing support and attending an appointment is a big task, and it should be recognized as a strength. For instance, if you are helping someone who does not have housing that is safe and secure. It is important to empower the person to build strong relationships with their family and friends. Another great way to empower your client is to remind them to utilize their resources and use their resilience and strength to tackle any challenges.
  4. A great part of going through this conversation is that people’s strengths will crop up. It becomes natural for the client to share their strengths, and in giving back to the client – acknowledge and validate their strengths.

A distinct attribute of the strength-based practice is that it is mutual between the client and the practitioner (Duncan & Hubble, 1999). The relationship between the practitioner and the client is heavily dependent on the quality of their relationship (Duncan & Hubble, 1999).

Using the Approach in Counseling

Counseling uses strength-based therapy as a way to introduce positive psychotherapy. The practitioner is focusing on the internal strengths, resourcefulness, and not as much on weaknesses, deficits, or failures (Basic Counseling Skills, n.d.).

Doing so, helps the person build a mindset which helps to set their intention and focus on positive capacity building. As well as, understanding that they are resilient, and make more reasonable expectations not only of themselves but of others too (Basic Counseling Skills, n.d.).

Strength-based therapy is a form of talk therapy where the client is the story-teller. The story can include traumas, pain, and any stressors (past or present). The practitioner guides the person to have the mindset of a survivor rather than a victim. Doing so gives the person understanding and control of the skills and strengths they possess (Basic Counseling Skills, n.d.).

These skills and strengths enable them to survive and flourish no matter how tough life gets.

What are the Benefits of this Approach?

  • Focusing on strengths rather than problems offers control to the person and a new mindset (Hammond, 2010).
  • Resilience is improved as well as the overall function of the person in their family and community (Hammond, 2010).
  • Offers a shared language and precautionary philosophy (Hammond, 2010).
  • Resilience is the goal, which offers a theoretical map to lead the person to make efforts for prevention and evaluation, respectively (Hammond, 2010).
  • Intervention tactics are client driven and relationship-minded, which in turn has these additional benefits:
  • Distressed people are engaged with respect and compassion (Hammond, 2010).
  • Respects that in order to build someone up, including their capacities, it takes time and there is a process of evolvement (Hammond, 2010).
  • Sees people as creating and rebuilding, rather than broken or failing (Hammond, 2010).
  • Focusing on strengths of a person also introduces and molds a person into being resilient. With resilience there are some added benefits, like feeling special and valued, optimistic, understand life is a journey (Hammond, 2010).
  • Learn how to set goals and expectations (Hammond, 2010).
  • Learn how to cope in a productive method that can foster growth (Hammond, 2010).
  • Learn that when faced with a challenge it is better to confront than avoid (Hammond, 2010).
  • Awareness of vulnerabilities and weaknesses, but focus on strengths (Hammond, 2010).
  • Builds self-esteem and competence (Hammond, 2010).
  • Learn effective interpersonal skills in order to look for assistance and support when needed (Hammond, 2010).
  • Understand what can and cannot be controlled (Hammond, 2010).
  • Understand supporting others and giving time to those that we care about (Hammond, 2010).
  • Encourages connecting to a person’s social support like family, or community to spur on his or her own transformation (Hammond, 2010).

Are There Any Disadvantages to the Model?

Possible disadvantage actually lies with the main focus of the strength-based approach. Dr. Jason Jones (2017) explains this very well by asserting that while it’s great to focus on strengths, there should not be utter neglect of the weaknesses. If weaknesses are poorly or not managed at all they can be unmonitored, and can eventually influence the individual to where they are less effective in whatever the scope of work is in (Jones, 2017).

Jones is not the only one to carefully and constructively point out some flaws in the method, researchers (McMillen, Morris, Sherraden, 2004 and Staudt, Howard, & Drake, 2001) pointed out that the strength-based approach is not really offering anything novel, nor is it based on evidence of efficacy.

Can it Improve Mental Health?

The strengths-based approach can improve mental health but only if it is fully embraced.

The biggest determination to know if this approach will be effective is the person. If a person has any type of mental health issues, these will have to be taken into consideration. However, this approach can still be effective as it has a strong focus on recovery and positive psychology (Petersen and Seligman, 2004).

A Look at Strength-Based Interventions

strength-based interventions

There are quite a few strength-based interventions. Each of these interventions is designed and meant for a different type of client or group.

For example, some approaches are better for individuals, associations, organizations, or perhaps communities (Foot & Hopkins, 2010).

The practice of using the strengths-based approach is ever-evolving and has many configurations when delivered (Foot & Hopkins, 2010). For instance, sometimes there is a combination of methods used, or in other cases, just one solo method is used (Pattoni, 2012). All is dependent on the client and their needs (Pattoni, 2012).

In order to meet the needs of the client, the practitioner must be able to support them. Some examples of practitioners using the strength-based approach are below.

Solution Focused Therapy (SFT)

SFT focuses on what solutions can help them rather than on the problems that need solutions. SFT and Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) have been used in a variety of settings (family service, mental health, public social services, child welfare, prison, and residential treatment centers, schools, hospitals (Miller, Hubble, & Duncan, 1996).

You can find a list of SFT techniques and worksheets here.

Strengths-Based Case Management

Strength-Based Case Management strives to focus on the individual’s strengths. Most importantly it uses three principles:

  1. Promotes the utilization of informal support networks.
  2. Suggests solid community involvement by case managers.
  3. Stresses the relationship between the client and case manager.

Application of Strengths-Based Case Management has been utilized in a diversity of fields, like substance abuse, mental health, school counseling, elderly care, children, young families (Rapp, et al., 2008).


Practitioners can use the method of narrative to get the client to tell a story. During their story, the practitioner will tease apart the client’s strengths and resilience. The basis of this method is that we each live our lives based on our experiences or our story. However, we often forget that we are the main actor and that we are good and have many strengths.

Aside from us, so not included in us, is any and every problem. When a person can learn to separate themselves from their problems, they learn how they can face it and are resilient (Epston and White, 1992).

Family support services

Family support services aim to support the family when there are dangerous issues that arise and can immediately affect the child’s welfare. Family support services work to empower and connect the family as a team or unit so that they have the same end goal, of being together. (Green, McAllister, & Tarte, 2004).

Interesting Studies

A strong and suitable critique for the strength-based approach is that there is a lack of strong supporting evidence (Lietz, 2009). However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any. More and more studies have been completed and more evidence is showing the real effects of the strength-based approach.

Strength-based approach and improving social connections

Foot and Hopkins (2010) found that there is power in support. Communities that have local associations that can be supportive, and develop strength-based approaches in their services and functions can empower their residents (Foot & Hopkins, 2010).

They also found that when you cheer people on or encourage them to be proud of their achievements and contributions there is an increase in confidence (Foot & Hopkins, 2010). People that are more confident in their ability add more to the community (Foot & Hopkins, 2010).

Researcher, Gilchrist (2009), argues the same point at Foot and Hopkins (2010). Gilchrist (2009) makes note of the importance of communities networking amongst one another. This networking helps the individual and families build their community even wider (Gilchrist, 2009). This wider community allows for an increase in resilience, which then improves well being and a greater quality of life (Gilchrist, 2009).

“’Go Well‘ is one instance of a research and learning program that utilizes an assets method to examine the impression of investment in housing, regeneration and neighborhood renewal on the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities over a ten-year period” (Scottish Government, 2008).

Preliminary findings show “increases in social harmony, community empowerment, and adult employment” (McLean, 2011).

The strength-based approach is also used in the family justice research realm. Researchers, like Shapiro (1996) have found that this approach can improve or reduce drug use, rates of arrest and conviction. Also, this approach can help increase the level of social functioning for an individual (Shapiro, 1996).

Utilizing the strength-based approach, case managers are able to make lasting effects on individuals. The case managers aren’t really the main actors, its actually the community or network (family) of the individual that make the biggest impact (Shapiro, 1996).

The reasoning behind why networks (families, communities) can have a larger impact on an individual is that the social network “can provide unparalleled insight into the strengths, talents, and challenges of a loved one, as well advice about how best to connect with that individual” (Shapiro, 1996).

Strength-based approach and Enhancing well-being

A pilot study, conducted by Ralph, Lambric, and Steel (1996), looked at people with severe mental illness and the strength-based approach to see what effect it had on their hope.

The participants were asked to select and define factors they thought were needed for recovery (Ralph, Lambric, & Steel, 1996). The most important elements identified included the ability to have hope, as well as developing trust in one’s own thoughts and judgments (Ralph, Lambric, & Steele, 1996).

Smock et al. (2008) and Park and Peterson (2009) have found that using the strength-based approach helps individuals develop and keep a strong sense of well-being. People that can find hope and inspiration using their strengths have a stronger sense of well-being (Smock et al., 2008).

The Clifton StrengthsFinder (CSF)

Like many of us, we have taken different personality tests or even offered personality tests to others to help gain insight into who we are. A widely regarded test is the Clifton StrengthsFinder (CSF) and it is much different than the others. Rather than focusing on personality traits, it focuses on strengths.

Donald Clifton, an American psychotherapist, is the ‘father of strength-based therapy (Clifton and Buckingham, 2001).’ He developed the Clifton StrengthsFinder (CSF) (Clifton & Buckingham, 2001). Prior to developing the CSF, Clifton worked many years in social work, counseling psychology, positive psychology, solution-focused therapy, and narrative therapy (Clifton & Buckingham, 2001).

The CSF assessment helps you or your client to:

  1. Discover what you naturally do best
  2. Learn how to develop your greatest talents
  3. Use your customized results to live your best life.

Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS)

Peterson, Park, and Seligman (2005) created a self-report questionnaire, the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS). The VIA-IS questionnaire “measures 24 widely valued character strengths” (Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2005).

In progress towards creating the VIA-IS, Peterson, and Seligman (2004) created a handbook. In psychology and medicine, the two respected and regarded handbooks for diagnoses are the Diagnostic Symptoms Manual (DSM) and the Internal Classification of Diseases (ICD) (Ruch et al., 2010).

Both of which focus more on the negative aspects of diagnosis, and symptomatology (Ruch et al., 2010). Peterson and Seligman (2004), wrote the positive psychologists handbook to focus on the positive aspects of an individual, it’s called the Manual of the Sanities.

The Manual of the Sanities focuses and explains in detail human strengths. The Manual does not focus on weaknesses and pathologies (Ruch et al., 2010).

Peterson and Seligman (2004) classified six universal virtues and 24 character strengths.

Dahlsgaard, Peterson, and Seligman (2005) decided on the core virtues of courage, justice, humanity, temperance, wisdom, and transcendence by research philosophy spirituality writings from China, South Asia, and the West.

In this handbook, Peterson and Seligman (2004) defined ten specific criteria for a positive trait to have in order to be included as a strength of character “(e.g., it is fulfilling; it is morally valued in its own right; its display does not diminish other people; it should be trait-like, and so on)” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).

Now character strengths are the “processes and mechanisms that lead to the virtues,” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). They are thought of as distinct routes to one or more of the virtues. For instance, Peterson and Seligman (2004) claim, that wisdom (a virtue) can be attained through creativity and curiosity.

Table 1. Classification of 6 Core Virtues and 24 Strengths of Character

Virtue I. Wisdom and knowledge: cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge.

(1) Creativity: thinking of novel and productive ways to do things
(2) Curiosity: taking an interest in all of an ongoing experience
(3) Open-mindedness: thinking things through and examining them from all sides
(4) Love of learning: mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge
(5) Perspective: being able to provide wise counsel to others

Virtue II. Courage: emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal.

(6) Bravery: not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain
(7) Persistence: finishing what one starts
(8) Honesty: speaking the truth and presenting oneself in a genuine way
(9) Zest: approaching life with excitement and energy

Virtue III. Humanity: interpersonal strengths that involve “tending and befriending” others.

(10) Love: valuing close relations with others
(11) Kindness: doing favors and good deeds for others
(12) Social intelligence: being aware of the motives and feelings of self and others

Virtue IV. Justice: civic strengths that underlie a healthy community life.

(13) Teamwork: working well as a member of a group or team
(14) Fairness: treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice
(15) Leadership: organizing group activities and seeing that they happen

Virtue V. Temperance: strengths that protect against excess.

(16) Forgiveness: forgiving those who have done wrong
(17) Modesty: letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves
(18) Prudence: being careful about one’s choices; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted
(19) Self-regulation: regulating what one feels and does

Virtue VI. Transcendence: strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning.

(20) Appreciation of beauty and excellence: noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life
(21) Gratitude: being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen
(22) Hope: expecting the best and working to achieve it
(23) Humor: liking to laugh and joke; bringing smiles to other people
(24) Religiousness: having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of life

(Table from Ruch et al., 2010)

The VIA-IS is a helpful tool when trying to understand fully what a person has to offer in a very systematic way.

The VIA-IS does not add up all the strengths “theoretically assigned to a virtue” (Ruch et al., 2010). For example, the strengths assigned to wisdom, all have a similar characteristic in that they all require the “acquisition and use of knowledge” (Ruch et al., 2010). Significantly, it is very rare for an individual to display all the “strengths assigned to a virtue” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).

9 Useful Activities

When dealing with a client encourage them to lead the conversation and the decision-making process (Embedding a strengths-based approach in client conversations)

Use these activities to help along the way:

  1. Work on what’s most important and meaningful to the client (consider their values, motivations, and readiness to change).
  2. Ask open-ended questions so the client has the opportunity to tell their story.
  3. Ask the client what they’d like to get out of your conversation/work together.
  4. Encourage the client to share their ideas about possible solutions, opportunities etc.
  5. If you’re doing a home visit, actively acknowledge that you’re a guest in the person’s home. Ask them where they’d like to sit and be guided by them. When a client visits your workplace, ask them where they’d be most comfortable sitting etc.
  6. Consider the cultural, religious or social groups that the client identifies with and think about how to create a safe and inclusive conversation with the person.
  7. Utilized your skills of observation and pick up on cues in the home environment to build rapport, improve conversation flow and direct the conversation in meaningful ways. (Embedding a strengths-based approach in client conversations).
  8. A very useful strength-based activity is to write in a gratitude journal.

Here is the breakdown of how you can start a gratitude journal:

Part One – Day End.
At the end of the day, the person is asked to list four things that she/he is grateful for, that went well. And they must always be stated in the positive. Here is what I might write down even on a day where lots of things have gone wrong:

  • Really good cup of coffee at 10 am
  • Rode my bike to work, there and back
  • Watched a youtube video about a cat that made me laugh and laugh and laugh
  • Hubby made a great salad at suppertime

A person doesn’t have to limit the list to four things – I aim for ten.

Part Two – Day Beginning.
Over their breakfast, your client can be encouraged to write down four things she/he has to look forward to today. Again, here is how my list might look even if my day is likely to be very stressful:

  • Am going to watch a movie tonight
  • Will have a peanut butter and banana sandwich at lunch – yum, yum
  • A colleague and I will have a lunchtime walk
  • Can listen to classical music today while writing (overdue) reports.
  1. Another great exercise is called “Peak Exercise”. It is simple, and very motivating, and used by coaches (Strength-Based Positive Coaching).

Steps for the “Peak Exercise”

  1. Ask the coachee to name two or three times when they’ve been at their best. The times they recall can be of any interval of time (a few minutes to a year) (Strength-Based Positive Coaching).
    1. If needed, specify that ‘at your best’ needs to be something special and meaningful to the coachee and the coachee only. Remind them that this is not a time to impress anyone or to compare themselves and their special moments to anyone (Strength-Based Positive Coaching).
    2. A great example of this step is someone “talked about learning to ride a bike, aged 43. For them, this represented courage, perseverance and a commitment to learning – and the fact that many people learn to ride before they start school was irrelevant” (Strength-Based Positive Coaching).
  2. Have the coachee share their experience, by recalling exactly what happened with details from start to end (Strength-Based Positive Coaching).
  3. Keep track of each example and how it is a possible strength as they are talking (Strength-Based Positive Coaching).
  4. Once they have told the full story offer for them to look at the list you’ve written and discuss the strengths they have (Strength-Based Positive Coaching).

17 Strength-Based Questions

…meaningful questions that will combat the relentless pursuit of pathology, and ones that will help discover hidden strengths that contain the seeds to construct solutions to otherwise unsolvable problems

(Graybeal, 2001, p. 235)

  1. What do you like to do in your spare time?
  2. What energizes you?
  3. How would your close friends describe you?
  4. Do you most like starting tasks or finishing them?
  5. Do you prefer the big picture or the small details?
  6. Describe a successful day. What made it successful?
  7. What are you good at?
  8. What are your weaknesses?
  9. What did you enjoy studying at school or university?
  10. When did you achieve something you’re really proud of?
  11. What do you enjoy doing the least?
  12. Do you find there are enough hours in the day to complete your to-do list?
  13. What tasks are always left on your to-do list?
  14. How do you stay motivated?
  15. How do you feel about deadlines?
  16. Have you ever done something differently the second time around?
  17. Do you think this role will play to your strengths? (Smith, 2017)

Strength-Based Approach Applications

using strength based approach with aged care

Using the Approach in Disability and Aged Care

Similar to the strength-based questions above that can be asked across disciplines. Here are some additional questions that can be asked to those that are disabled or receiving aged care.

Exploring the current situation:

  • What are you doing/managing well?
  • What are you currently doing independently?
  • What are you feeling good about?
  • What’s working well for you at the moment?
  • What does a good day look like for you? What makes it a good day?

Skills, personal qualities/ attributes, knowledge:

  • Tell me something you are really proud of.
  • What do you like about yourself?
  • What do you think you do really well?
  • What is something that your friends and family would say you’re great at?
  • What would the people closest to you describe as your superpower?

Exploring interests, hobbies:

  • What do you enjoy?
  • What are your interests?
  • How do you like to spend your time?

Support network, community connections:

  • Who’s important to you?
  • What connections do you have in your community? (e.g. family, friends, groups, services)
  • What role do you play in the lives of the people you care about?
  • Who supports you in your day-to-day life? In what way?
  • Who can you count on?

Resources (e.g. physical, financial):

  • What resources do you have around you to make this easier?
  • Do you have any equipment, aids or tools that are helpful for you?
  • Is there anything in your environment that you do/can use?

Understand challenges in context:

  • Are there times when ‘the problem’ isn’t happening or ‘positive behavior’ does happen? What happens on those days? What does that look like?
  • How have you managed ‘the problem’ until now?

Exploring values and motivation:

  • What is important to you?
  • What are the things in your life that you really value?
  • What would you like to get out of our work together?

Exploring opportunities/ strategies:

  • What’s worked for you in the past/ what have you tried? (e.g. strategies/tools/resources/supports/skills)
  • What strategies have you put in place?
  • How have you adapted?
  • What have you learned so far that could be helpful moving forward?
  • How can we build on where you are now?
  • What’s one thing that you could do to take a step in the right direction?’ (Embedding a strengths-based approach in client conversations)

These questions allow the social worker or related health care professional to understand the experience the client is receiving at the moment. In addition, it allows for conversation about their environment, needs, and their inherent resources and strengths are.

A Strength-Based Focus in Social Work

The key to helping people is to have them recover and then to feel empowered and committed to the change or process that needs to happen (Pulla, 2017). Utilizing the strength-based approach – social workers have found that three pertinent questions have been the most useful in getting the conversation started:

  1. What has worked for you before?
  2. What does not work for you?
  3. And what might work in the present situation for you? (Pulla, 2017)

Once starting the conversation between a social worker and client, four core elements can be expanded on, these include:

  • All people have strengths and capacities
  • People can change
  • People change and grow through their strengths and capacities
  • Problems can blind people from noticing their strengths
  • People do have the expertise to solve the problem (Pulla, 2017)

“Empowerment theories identify and assist individuals and communities to recognize barriers and dynamics that permit oppression to persist including circumstances and actions that promote change, human empowerment, and liberation”

(Cowger, 1994).

Furthermore, here is a list of questions that social workers can use to direct attention to identify strengths (Pulla, 2017; Saleebey, 2006). Each question or set of questions is classified into a type:

  • Survival Questions
    • How have you managed to survive this far given all the challenges you have had to contend with?
  • Support questions
    • Who are the special people on whom you can depend?
  • Exemption questions
    • When things were going well in life, what was different?
  • Possibility questions
    • What are your special talents and abilities?
  • Esteem questions
    • When people say good things about you, what are they likely to say?
  • Perspective questions
    • What are your ideas about your current situation?
  • Change questions
    • What has worked in the past to bring a better life for you?

The strength-based approach finds a nice home in social work because “the principals of caring and caretaking, nurturing and ensuring that members of our society and our organizations, in turn, become resilient and hopeful is clearly within the scope of strengths approach” (Pulla, 2013; Pulla, 2014;  Pulla, 2017).

Using a Strength-Based Approach in Early Childhood

Early childhood is such a beautiful time. Children are learning how to do things, and what they like. When using the strength-based approach in early childhood practice the same aspects you would for an adult, and pay attention to what the child likes, and offer a variety of ways for the child to learn (Bronfenbrenner, 1994).

A great way for children to develop their strengths is to live expressively (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). Children (and adults) can express themselves in all sorts of ways, and this can lend well to understanding what someone truly enjoys and is good at (Bronfenbrenner, 1994).

How to Use the Approach in Childcare and Preschool

The strength-based approach fits really nicely with childcare and preschool. As every child is different, children have their unique strengths. Using the strength-based approach, early childhood educators are able to “fit” the curriculum to the child (Bronfenbrenner, 1994).

The strength-based approach falls in line with the Ecological Model of Child Development where children, not the curriculum, are at the center of education (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). As children are learning and developing, their capabilities, competencies, and strengths and talents are maturing (Bronfenbrenner, 1994).

Due to children constantly developing, and inherently placed in multiple learning environments (home and school) their home language and culture should be acknowledged. The child’s home language(s) and culture(s) are meaningful contributors to their development and their learning experience (Bronfenbrenner, 1994).

For early childhood professionals that work with children that speak more than one language, recognizing the child’s linguistic abilities is important. Early childhood professionals should support children to preserve their primary language while learning English (Bronfenbrenner, 1994).

In addition, each of us can learn in different ways, and there are certain ways of learning that really speak to us. For children, while they are learning everything it is really best to show them all that they can in “multiple ways (i.e., by what they make, write, draw, say, and do)” (Bronfenbrenner, 1994).

Howard Gardner’s (2011) theory of multiple intelligences theorizes that children create meaning by engaging in a variety of methods. The different methods include linguistic, special, interpersonal, logical-mathematical, etc. (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). Each of the methods not only offers variety but also offers multiple ways to make learning meaningful and engaging (Bronfenbrenner, 1994).

It’s really interesting that the strength-based approach not only molds or shapes itself to what would be meaningful to the child but also to the practitioner (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). Practitioners utilized the strength-based approach have to practice self-reflection (Bronfenbrenner, 1994).

In this self-reflection, they need to understand their own values and how their professional practice can affect each unique child’s learning style and their strengths (McCashen, 2005).

As is the basis for the strength-based approach in general, the same approach of describing the child by their strengths and how to support them rather than their deficits applies here as well (Strength-Based Approach to Equity in Early Childhood).

5 Tips for Using it with Youth

  1. Emphasize a positive outcome
    1. Focus on the positive and healthy outcomes like self-confidence, connectedness or having a healthy relationship with family, friends, and their community (Resiliency Initiatives). Other positive outcomes could be a strong character, caring and compassionate (Resiliency Initiatives).
  2. Youth should be involved in decisions
    1. Youth should be voicing their opinions and reasoning for decisions and development for any community care programs (Resiliency Initiatives).
  3. Long-term involvement teaches sustainment
    1. Youth that can maintain a long-term commitment learns how to create sustainable and supportive relationships and how to be effective in the long term (Resiliency Initiatives).
  4. Community involvement
    1. Building youth on their strengths is highly dependent on their involvement with the community (family, friends, neighborhood etc.) (Resiliency Initiatives).
  5. Emphasis on collaboration
    1. Echoing the previous tip is an emphasis on collaboration, and utilizing different resources (Resiliency Initiatives). Youth need to feel empowered and supported to engage their strengths (Resiliency Initiatives).

A Take-Home Message

I hope this piece gave you a thorough and complete overview of the strength-based approach and provided you with some insightful information. The great thing about the strength-based approach is that it is so relatable when being used, especially when the activities can help pull out these strengths.

If there’s one thing you should take away from this piece, it’s that your strengths have been with you from the very beginning. Sometimes it takes thinking back to when you were a kid and thinking about what you were good at and what you enjoyed to remember your strengths.

Feel free to refer back to this piece if you ever find yourself in a place of feeling like you aren’t good enough, or don’t have any skills or traits that make you useful, because you absolutely do. If you find any of this information helpful, please leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading, and I wish you the best and hope that you can find your strengths and use them daily because it makes you feel good, and it’s energizing.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Strengths Exercises for free.


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What our readers think



  2. Mariah S

    Thank you for the wonderful insight. I am drafting a paper on Strength-Based Approaches and your article, along with your resources, have helped me back up my findings.

  3. Peggy Chartier

    Good refresher !

  4. Acidria Ashanty

    This is wonderful Erika it has improved my understanding easily great work

  5. sruti kar

    Amazing piece of work Erika !

    I might cite your work in my BSW assignment. Thank you so much for sharing your great write up ! And could you guys please guide me how to receive newsletters ?

    Regards- Sruti

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Sruti,

      So glad you found this post useful! If you scroll down to the very bottom of the page, you’ll find a form on the bottom right hand corner where you can enter your details to sign up for our newsletter and free materials.

      Thank you 🙂

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  6. rosie

    Where is the Duncan and Hubble (2000 ) Reference ?

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Rosie,

      Thank you for bringing this to our attention! The reference should have been Duncan & Hubble (1999). Details as follows:

      Duncan, B. L., & Hubble, M. A. (1999). The heart & soul of change: What works in therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

      Hope this helps!

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  7. Okon Kingsley

    Helpful and enjoyable, really ignite my strength. Thank you so very much am grateful

  8. Samuel Mamea

    This was very thorough and insightful..

  9. Mary Maddux

    Thank you so much for being really thorough and clear here. I am also a student and will cite you, bookmark this page and return to see and learn more. Once again, thank you Ms. Celestine and crew!


  10. Ngum Mabel FONUTCHI

    This is very insightful. Great write up

  11. Miss Belle

    Thank you very much for this article. This is a very helpful reference.

  12. Rashee

    Hi, I am a student and would like to reference this article but, the article is dated is December 10, 2020.

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Rashee,

      Glad you found the article helpful and want to cite it. We use the DD/MM/YYYY format on this blog, so this publishing date is actually 12 Oct, 2020. 🙂

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  13. Mason Russell

    It’s cool that you’ve provided in text references, but you have no end-text reference list…

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Mason,

      Below the last section (A Take-Home Message), you’ll find a button you can click to expand the reference list.

      Hope this helps!

      – Nicole | Community Manager

  14. David

    This as helped build awareness and reflection on the patterns and positive habits v Negative bias setting new intention which help and form solutions to address relations and solving embracing resonance and reduction in stress and the environment


    Enjoyed the article much, detailed and very useful with examples.
    Easy to understand and follow the explanations.

  16. Tarryn

    Great article, unfortunately I could not get the PDF to open. Can this please be amended? Thanks 🙂

    • Nicole Celestine

      Hi Tarryn,
      Sorry you had trouble with this link. I assume you mean the Positive CBT Exercises pack? You will get instant access to this by providing your email address (they will be sent to your inbox). Trying clicking this link (and please let me know if you meant a different link wasn’t working).
      – Nicole | Community Manager

      • MariCarmen

        HI NIcole,
        i cannot access the PDF,
        Thanks for your support

        • Nicole Celestine

          Hi Mari,
          Thank you for spotting this. I can see which link is no longer working. Our editing team are working to address this now and we hope to have the issue resolved soon.
          – Nicole | Community Manager

  17. joanne nepia

    Thanks Erika. This has been very helpful.

  18. Nicolle Fitzgerald

    Very informative, practical and useful

  19. Jibril Mohammed

    This has become very useful in my intervention recently.

  20. Elizabeth

    The information is incredibly good, I have gained more insight about the approach, thank you

  21. B.Carter

    This is very interesting and edifying. I, too, would like to receive the news letter. –Thanks

  22. Angelina

    Thank you for the guide, it helped me a lot to understand the huge gap between strength based feedback and practices which I applied before.

  23. Kimberly Moore Turner

    I would like to receive the newsletter please


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