Strengths-based therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that draws on what is going well in your life.
While you might identify and work on problems in strengths-based therapy, the focus of treatment isn’t on what’s wrong. Instead, the focus is on what’s right.
For example, if you’re working on improving relationships as one goal of therapy, a strengths-based approach might start by identifying positive relationships you already have and figuring out why they work well for you.
Strengths-based therapy is not a specific treatment in and of itself, but rather an approach or mindset that therapists commonly use as part of many different kinds of therapy.
What can strengths-based therapy help with?
Strengths-based therapy is used as part of many different kinds of therapy, so it can be used to treat a wide variety of mental health conditions.
You might find strengths-based therapy especially helpful if you’re dealing with any of the following:
How does strengths-based therapy work?
The idea behind strengths-based therapy is that you can make progress toward your goals more easily when you focus on your positive qualities.
That’s not to say that strengths-based therapy denies your challenges or shortcomings. Rather, it acknowledges the parts of your life that aren’t as great while emphasizing the parts that are more positive. By focusing on your strengths, you can put yourself in a mindset that makes positive change feel more achievable.
Particularly if you have a diagnosed mental health condition, a strengths-based approach can be a helpful way to remember that you are not your diagnosis. That is, you have plenty of skills and strengths to draw on, no matter what you’re struggling with.
What are some different kinds of strengths-based therapy?
A strengths-based approach can be used in many different kinds of therapy and counseling.
Some of the most common kinds of therapy that tend to be strengths-based include:
- Solution-Focused Therapy
- Motivational Interviewing
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
- Narrative Therapy
What happens in a typical strengths-based therapy session?
Because a strengths-based approach can apply to so many different kinds of therapy, there’s no set format for strengths-based therapy sessions.
That said, you’re likely to experience some of the following activities in a strengths-based therapy session:
- Finding the strengths within your past challenges: Strengths-based therapy often involves looking at past experiences that seem negative and finding the strengths within. For example, you might reexamine a traumatic family experience to focus on how you successfully kept yourself safe.
- Reframing current situations: You’ll also work with your therapist to look at your current challenges through the lens of your strengths. For example, if you’re struggling at work, you might work with your therapist to notice how well you relate to co-workers and consider how that skill can be helpful.
- Storytelling: Thinking of your life as a narrative that you control can help you view yourself as the hero of the story rather than the victim.
- Identifying resources: Your therapist will likely also help you identify people and systems in your life that you can rely on when things get tough. For example, you might build a list of loved ones you know you can call if you’re having a difficult time.
What should I look for in a strengths-based therapist?
Therapists who use a strengths-based approach may be social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, or another kind of mental health professional. No matter what kind of therapist you choose to work with, make sure that they meet the following criteria:
- An advanced degree in a mental health field;
- Licensure to practice in the state where you live;
- Additional experience and/or training in the particular kind of therapy you’ve chosen. For example, if your therapist offers interpersonal therapy with a strengths-based perspective, make sure that they have had additional training in interpersonal therapy specifically.
- If applicable, experience working with people who share your specific concerns (if you’re dealing with a certain mental health condition) or identity (if you feel that any aspect of your identity may be relevant to treatment).
Finally, as with any therapy, it’s important to make sure that your therapist is a good fit for your unique needs. Be sure to evaluate the following in your initial calls with therapists:
- How will you pay for therapy? Does the therapist take your insurance or otherwise offer rates that will work with your budget?
- When and where will you attend sessions? Does the therapist offer treatment at a location that is convenient for you and at times that work with your schedule?
- Most importantly, do you feel comfortable talking to this therapist and sense that you have the potential to develop a therapeutic alliance?
New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.