Strength-Based Therapy

Strength-based therapy is an approach to positive psychotherapy that draws on what is going well in your life and your personal strengths.

While you might identify problems, determine goals, and overcome challenges with a strengths-perspective, the focus of treatment isn’t on what’s wrong. Instead, the focus is on the positive psychology of what’s right.

For example, if you’re working on improving relationships as one goal of therapy, the treatment plan of a strength-based approach might start by identifying strengths in positive relationships you already have and figuring out why they work well for you.

Strength-based therapy is not a specific treatment in and of itself, but rather an approach or positive mindset of internal strengths that therapists commonly use in the therapeutic process of many different kinds of therapy.

What can strength-based therapy help with?

Strength-based therapy is used as part of many types of therapy for a counseling psychologist to find a client’s strengths and ultimately establish their well-being. So, it’s positive psychology 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 a strength-based approach work?

The idea behind strengths-based intervention is that you can make progress toward your goals more easily when you focus on the positive aspects of your character.

That’s not to say that strengths-based therapy denies your challenges or shortcomings. Rather, it acknowledges the parts of your life that are challenging while emphasizing the parts that are more positive. By focusing on your character strengths, you can put yourself in a mindset that makes positive change feel more achievable.

Particularly if you have a diagnosed mental illness, a strengths-based approach can be a helpful way to remember that you are not your diagnosis. That is, you have plenty of positive processes, skills, and strengths to draw on, no matter what you’re struggling with.

What are some different kinds of strengths-based therapy?

A strength-based approach can be used with many different treatment modalities of clinical psychology.

Some of the most common kinds of therapy that tend to be strength-based include:

What happens in a typical strengths-based therapy session?

Because a strength-based approach can apply to so many kinds of talk therapy, there’s no set format for therapy sessions.

That said, you’re likely to experience some of the following activities in strengths-based interventions:

  • Finding client strengths within past challenges: Strength-based therapy often involves looking at past experiences that seem negative and identify strengths within those challenges. 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 own 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 for positive outcomes.
  • Storytelling: Thinking of the client’s life as a narrative that they control can help them view themselves as the hero of the story rather than the victim, bolstering self-confidence and minimizing challenging cognitive distortions.
  • 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 strong relationships or loved ones you know you can call if you’re having a difficult time.

What should I look for in a strength-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 strength-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 works 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.