Strengths Perspective and Mental Health

Our culture and society tend to focus on deficit based models of change. One place where this is evidenced most clearly is in the medical model. Workers involved in the medical profession focus almost completely on a problem focused framework. People generally only go to the doctors when they are sick (i.e. have specific symptoms). When they are seen by the doctor either through tests, examination, or self-report, they are given a diagnosis. If you go to an urgent care and tell them that you have these symptoms;

  • A 100°F or higher fever or feeling feverish (not everyone with the flu has a fever)
  • A cough and/or sore throat
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea (most common in children)

They will probably say that you have the flu and will prescribe medication or other treatment remedies to mitigate these symptoms. The same is frequently true in mental health. We look at the needs of the client from a negative symptom focus (i.e. depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, weight loss / gain, insomnia / hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation / retardation, fatigue / energy loss, feelings of worthlessness / guilt, difficulty concentrating, recurrent thoughts of death… etc. then that could be described as a major depressive episode). Similar to the medical model, we implement techniques and therapeutic models to treat those symptoms.

One of the foundational components of social work is the strengths perspective (also called strengths based, strengths focused… etc.). When we comprehensively implement throughout our work, it is a different and new way of working with a client.

What is Strengths Perspective?

I recently went through my notes from social work, and I found strengths perspective listed a number of places, but I couldn’t find any notes specifically focused only solely defining and discussing strengths perspective as a whole. I guess this is a part of why it’s a perspective and not a treatment theory.

The strengths perspective is made up of discovering the inherent strengths of a client, not only the attempting to mitigate the symptoms the client has. When we do this, we decide to build on the skills, abilities, and resources of our clients and try to improve and adapt these to improve the lives of our clients.