Adam Orr, Asset Coach Lead, discusses Strengths Based Practice and how it applies to the work we do with those we support.

As Stephen Bell OBE said in his recent blog, we at Changing Lives continue to improve upon and become a Strengths Based organisation, but what is Strengths Based Practice and what does it look like in practice?

Our accredited Personal Transition Service was established in 2017 and our Asset Coaches use a Strengths Based Approach with those they work with, supporting people who have experienced homelessness across Northumberland, Newcastle, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Durham.

What Are Strengths?

Strengths Based Practice is founded on the idea that everyone possesses skills, interests, abilities, passions and characteristics which can be used to overcome challenges they might face. Think Recovery Capital if you work in the recovery field.

It is also based on the idea that support services such as ourselves can help people overcome challenges through helping them to identify, discover, nurture and apply these strengths instead of focussing directly on the problems they present with. This latter approach is what is known as deficit based and always focussing on problems and what people lack can lead them to feel demotivated, devalued and less capable of dealing with challenges.

This doesn’t mean presenting problems aren’t discussed when using Strengths Based Practice, but that they are viewed in the context of what strengths a person has to be able to deal with and overcome them.

We have put together some characteristics of the Strengths Based Approach which we hope you find useful. You may find that you work in this way already, as we are an organisation filled with passionate people who believe in the potential in those they support.

Support People to Identify and Discover Their Strengths

Sometimes those we work with feel that they aren’t good at anything, or haven’t thought about their skills and interests for a long time. We find that just talking to people can be effective at helping people identify their strengths, being curious and asking a lot of non-intrusive questions. We find getting to know people overall beyond the reason for entering your service is important as your never know where someone’s strengths may be, try talking about hobbies, music, sports, art, crafts, TV, anything! We also find it helpful to ask what someone’s like was like before entering our services, before homelessness, addictions or other challenging times.

We also use Advantaged Thinking to help with this process which is trying to see strengths in situations or experiences which may seem wholly negative. It is often said that those in active addiction are very resourceful and pour a lot of energy to fulfil addictive behaviours and this is a good example of Advantaged Thinking, the skills and motivation are there it’s just a matter of where they are applied.

We think it is also helpful to give people opportunities to explore and try new thing as they may discover strengths they didn’t know they had.

Support People to Nurture and Use Strengths

Once those we support are aware of the strengths they possess it is important that we help them to grow and use these. We all find a sense of enjoyment, engagement, wellbeing, motivation and confidence when doing something we are good at and those who use our services are no exception. If someone you are working with likes playing the guitar perhaps you could help them to get some lessons, join a group or even set one up in your project. If someone in your service likes gardening perhaps they could volunteer in your project if you have a garden, or you may be able to support them to access volunteering in their community.

It may seem insignificant to focus on these types of activities, or question what difference it would make but we don’t know what it is that might be a catalyst for change. Along with the advantages of using strengths mentioned above engaging in such activities can provide daily structure, lead to hope for the future and a sense of purpose and meaning as well as opportunities to build enduring social support networks.

An important part of supporting people to use their strengths and Strengths Based Practice is to recognise and celebrate when people apply them, after all we all like to be recognised when we do well!

Strengths Based Practice Training

We hope that you have found this useful, or that you have discovered that you are already using Strengths Based Practice! The Asset Coaches of our accredited Personal Transitions Service offer half day Strengths Based Practice training where we explore the principles of the approach and how you can apply it to your work. If you are interested in having this training for your team please contact Adam Orr at adam.orr2@changing-lives.org.uk or 07841776177.

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