In yesterday’s article, I described how clinical psychologists could expand the “what’s wrong?” model to include “what’s strong?” Today, I give the specific ten strategies recommended by Tayyab Rashid of the University of Pennsylvania and Robert F. Ostermann of Farleigh Dickinson University in their paper, “Strength-based Assessment in Clinical Practice.”
10 Strategies for Incorporating Strengths into Clinical Assessments
Rashid and Ostermann give us ten very clear and simple ways to adopt a strength-based approach in the process of clinical assessment:
- Positive assessment scales. Use a positive assessment scale to measure specific positive constructs such as hope, love and forgiveness e.g. PANAS, Hope Scale, SWL, Life-Orientation Test-Revised. These and other measures can be found in Positive Psychological Assessment: a Handbook of Models and Measures, and the Oxford Handbook of Methods in Positive Psychology.
- Strengths survey. Ask your client to complete the VIA-IS (strengths survey) online and use the resulting report for further discussion.
- Strengths-based questions during informal interviews. These need not be complex! Asking your client “What gives your life a sense of meaning?,” Let’s pause here and talk about what you’re good at,” “What strength would it be useful to have right now?” and “What are you doing when you are at your best?” are simple, but incredibly powerful, questions for a client to consider.
- Icons of particular strengths. Use icons from history, films, or literature to depict strengths and use these as discussion points. Rashid and Ostermann suggest icons such as Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King but you could easily suggest other more contemporary examples. You could also include relevant good news stories or books which clients identify with.
- 360-feedback session. Complete a 360-feedback on the client’s strengths by seeking information (with permission of course) from the client’s family, friends and colleagues.
- Strengths during challenges. Use formal and informal measure of strengths displayed during challenges i.e. measure client’s resilience e.g. “What have you done to overcome a serious difficulty?” or “Tell me about a setback from which you learned a lot about yourself?” and so on.
- Assessment of flourishing. Assess the criteria for flourishing e.g. using the following measure:
A. The individual must not have had episodes of major depression in the past year.
B. The individual must possess well-being defined by:
i. High emotional well-being (measured by positive/negative affect and life satisfaction);
ii. High psychology well-being (measured by self-acceptance, personal growth, purpose in life, environmental mastery, autonomy, positive relations with others); and
iii. High social well-being (measured by social acceptance, actualization, contribution, coherence and integration).
- Using strengths. Having identified their strengths, Rashid and Ostermann suggest you encourage your clients to utilize them as a way to experience flow, which counteracts the boredom, listlessness, brooding and rumination which often accompany mental disorder. Empirical research suggests that using your strengths in new ways provides a long-term boost to your well-being.
- If you’re a clinician who prefers not to use formal strengths measures, you can use a narrative strategy, such as the Positive Introduction – i.e. get clients to introduce themselves using a real-life story of about 300 words which shows them at their best or a peak moment in life. If they have trouble doing this, have them ask a friend or family member to help them.
- Real-life issues. Encourage clients to apply their strengths to real-life issues e.g. “Let’s discuss the strengths that you displayed in your Positive Introduction – what role might they play in your current challenging situation?”
The Rashid and Ostermann paper concludes which a case study of Riba, a 38-year-old with a major depressive disorder. Identifying her strengths using the VIA strengths survey, completing a Personal Introduction (which she was initially reluctant to do), finding out where to focus on using her strengths to shift the focus from deficit and helplessness, and noticing the genuinely good aspects of her life were central to enabling her to recover from depression and return to work. Over about 20 sessions, her scores on the depression scale reduced significantly and she no longer met the criterion for major depressive disorder.
Rashid and Ostermann’s closing advice to clinicians is to “adopt a flexible approach of strengths assessment, incorporating both qualitative strategies and objective measures and integrating strengths with weaknesses.”
Baumeister, R.F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K.D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5, 323–370.
Lopez, S.J. & Snyder, C.R. (Eds). (2006). Positive psychological assessment: a handbook of models and measures. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Ong, A.D. & Van Dulmen, M.H.M. (2007). Oxford handbook of methods in positive psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rashid, T. & Ostermann, R.F. (2009). Strengths-based assessment in clinical practice. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(5), 488—498.
Spring Blossoms courtesy of Noël Zia Lee