Building upon the work of previous scholars, the KU School of Social Welfare formally named and articulated the Strengths Perspective for social work practice in the 1980s, and it has grown to be a pervasive influence on our profession. Following is a brief summary of the Strengths Perspective’s major principles, early history, and applications based on examples of the work of our faculty, researchers, and students since the 1980s.
The Strengths Perspective is an approach to social work that puts the strengths and resources of people, communities, and their environments, rather than their problems and pathologies, at the center of the helping process. It was created as a corrective and transformative challenge to predominant practices and policies that reduce people and their potential to deficits, pathologies, problems, and dysfunctions. The Strengths Perspective emphasizes the human capacity for resilience, resistance, courage, thriving, and ingenuity, and it champions the rights of individuals and communities to form and achieve their own goals and aspirations. While acknowledging the difficulties that clients experience, the Strengths Perspective never limits people to their traumas, problems, obstacles, illness, or adversity; rather, it addresses them as challenges, opportunities, and motivators for change. Social workers are enjoined to collaborate with clients, their families, and communities to discover and generate hopes and opportunities, to mobilize inner and environmental strengths and resources, and to act for individual and collective empowerment and social justice. Thus, the helping relationship is characterized by alliance, empathy, collaboration, and focus on clients’ and communities’ aspirations and goals.
Further, our school has long joined the Strengths Perspective with commitments to honor diversity, to promote empowerment and justice, and to engage in critical inquiry and thinking.
The main principles of the Strengths Perspective are for social workers to:
- Recognize that every individual, group, family, and community has strengths and resources
- Engage in systematic assessment of strengths and resources
- Realize that while trauma, abuse, illness and struggle may be injurious, they may also be sources of challenge and opportunity
- Honor client-set goals and aspirations for growth and change
- Serve clients’ and communities’ interests through collaboration with them as directors of their own helping process
- Mobilize the strengths and resources of clients, relationships, and environments
- Link goals to specific doable actions that activate strengths and resources
- Engage in social work with a sense of caring and hope
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Rapp, C.A. & Sullivan, W. P. (2014). The strengths model: Birth to toddlerhood. Advances in Social Work, 15(1), 129-142.
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