In social work, we call it “asset mapping”, and it can be done with communities or organizations. In counseling, it’s about helping clients recognize and use their strengths.
Key thought: Your clients’ strengths are like a force of nature. Help them free up and focus the forces that are already there.
In a recent Helping Without Hurting seminar, we learned about “asset-based participatory development.” It wasn’t a social work or social justice workshop – it was a lecture from the good people at Food for the Hungry! It’s a spiritually-based organization dedicated to ending poverty, and speaker Brian Fikkert talked a lot about helping people discover and use their gifts to promote their dreams.
How can you – as a counselor – help your clients discover and use their gifts to promote their dreams?
Helping Your Clients Find Their Strengths
Put your assumptions aside. No matter what type of counselor you are, or who your client is, you can’t assume you know what they need from your counseling sessions. More importantly, you can’t assume you know who they are, what they want out of life, and how they can achieve their dreams. The first tip on how to help clients find their strengths is to remember that they are the expert on themselves.
Look for opportunities to ask clients to contribute to their own growth and healing. Say your client is struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction. You can’t cure her, “fix” her, or save her. You can’t counsel her out of the cravings. But, you can give her the tools she needs to keep choosing sobriety and recovery.
Ask your clients what they need from you. When you prepare for a counseling session, remind yourself that your client has the answers. Your job is to help her discover what she already knows, by asking her the most “appropriately unusual” questions.
Teach your clients what “strengths” and “resources” are. Here’s a list of strengths and resources – it’s just a quick list, to get you thinking about how vast our clients’ resources are:
- Time (eg, being single can be a strength because it offers time for personal growth, volunteering, etc)
- Personality Traits (eg, optimism, intellect, friendliness, loyalty, caring, etc)
- Abilities and Gifts
- Hobbies (eg, knitting, writing, painting, reading, baking, crafts, playing an instrument, etc)
- Office Skills
- Support Network (eg, counselors, teachers, social workers, etc)
- Family members
- Cultural knowledge
- Past experiences
- Volunteer Work
- Physical Health
Knowing how to help clients find their strengths is about recognizing even the smallest assets, and learning how to capitalize on them. For instance, I didn’t know that having a schizophrenic mother (which I do) can actually be an asset in many ways!
Help clients connect their strengths to their goals and dreams. The most exciting part about helping clients find their strengths is watching them come alive. I talked with a young man who relapsed after a few days in an alcohol and drug addictions recovery program; one of his strengths is the insight and self-knowledge that comes from entering and prematurely leaving an addictions program. He didn’t realize that his “failure” to complete the program is actually a strength, because it ultimately lead to more growth and learning.
Sometimes clients need counselors to point out their strengths, and encourage them to use them to pursue their dreams. Clients need counselors who believe in them, and who see their best qualities.
Have you done a “strengths assessment” on yourself? Mapping your own assets may increase your confidence as a counselor, and help you help your clients identify their strengths.