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A Strengths-Based Approach to Therapy (and Life)

We see the Facebook re-posts and receive the chain emails in our inboxes almost daily—“Be Grateful to just be alive, for someone else somewhere is struggling just to survive,” “Count your blessings,” or “You must love yourself before you can love another.” The emphasis on Self Love or Acceptance is abundant, and perhaps there is something to be said for focusing on the positive in one’s life as opposed to fixating on the problematic areas.

As a clinician, one aspect of therapy I struggle with is the question of “how much grieving (be it, focusing on problems, self-loathing, etc.), is healthy?” Is this person seeking a diagnosis so that they can be a victim and perpetuate a cycle of victimization in their life, or is this amount of “grieving” necessary in order for them to be able to eventually move on from the problem?

While a balance of grieving and “moving on” does need to be reached, I’ve recently found myself more in favor of the first probability. While many patient-specific factors play into my appraisal, I have found that a Strengths-Based approach to therapy (and thus, to our lives in general), is ultimately a healthy and mobilizing one.

Most people come to therapy to change something in their lives, and they recognize that in order to change, it needs to come from within. However, if we maintain that we are sick, have a debilitating mental illness or are otherwise incapable of the change, we simply will not change. The Strengths-Based approach places focus on what’s going right in a person’s life. Instead of focusing the conscious mind on the bad, the sad and the ugly, if we are to focus instead on what is good, right, and what we are capable of, we may be more inclined to adjust our thinking and our actions this way.

It also seems that “successful” or “happy” people tend to be Strengths-Based intuitively, as do many therapists in their practices. Many exercises exist placing emphasis on Self Love/Acceptance, such as, “Name 10 things you like about yourself,” or “List 3 things you can and will do today to take action toward your goal.” Life Coaching, for example, is very Strengths-Based.

Whereas it is completely therapeutic to authentically allow catharsis to occur in therapy and in life—letting the negative out along with the positive—it may be also in our interest to be more mindful of our strengths. Or, if we at least do some more thinking in this direction, it might begin to lead to that change we’ve been saying for so long that we’ve been wanting to make.

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