Reflections on Research Vol. 36, No. 3, 230-237

By Andrea Banton, LSW, MSW, Intern and Scott Timmerman, Vice President Planning & Organizational Excellence

Assessing Strengths, Resilience and Growth to Guide Interventions
Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 2005, Vol. 36, No. 3, 230-237

Clinical psychologists and other mental health practitioners have traditionally focused on what goes wrong for the client and how to treat it. More recently, the field has seen a growing emphasis on wellness enhancement, the development of competence, and human strengths and growth.

Informal qualitative methods for assessing strengths like listening to clients’ narratives for evidence of strengths, interests, hope etc., can be a part of any assessment process and clinicians from a variety of perspectives have informally practiced strengths-based assessment. In addition to addressing presenting concerns, many clinicians integrate non-pathology-oriented questions (“why don’t we pause for a moment and talk first about what Johnny does well”; “Let’s discuss what goes well between you two and what drew you to him”; Tell me what you are good at and what makes you proud”). VandenBerg, J. E., & Grealish, E. M (1996) Individual services and supports through wraparound process: Philosophy and procedures. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 5, 7-21

When assets and risks are both assessed, clients are more likely to experience the intervention as affirming, empowering, and motivating. Such an approach sends a clear message that one is recognizing a client’s identity and competencies beyond his or her presenting concerns and diagnostic profile. Therefore, the assessment process carries substantial weight, and attending to the whole person can create a different, more positive set, influence the power differential between client and professional, and positively impact client-therapist rapport.

Clinicians can use questions during intake or evaluation that home in on or reflect potential protective factors, such as self-efficacy or perceived social support. For instance, in attempting to understand a client’s sense of efficacy, a clinician could ask, “How sure are you that things will work out for you when you have to try something new and challenging?” Follow-ups could include prompts assessing one’s belief about meeting task demands when someone counts on you to do something important,” “you have to figure something out by yourself,” or “you are faced with a problem in an important relationship.” VandenBerg, J. E., & Grealish, E. M (1996) Individual services and supports through wraparound process: Philosophy and procedures. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 5, 7-21; and Cowen, E. L., Work, W. C., Hightower, A. D., Wyman Cowen, E. L., Work, W. C., Hightower, A. D., Wyman, P. A., Parker, G. R., & Lotyczewski, B. S. (1991). Toward the development of a measure of perceived self-efficacy in children. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 20, 169-178.
Strategies for coping could be assed in a similar manner. Questions such as “what do you tend to do when you’re face with a problem or stressful situation?” “How do you handle it?” What do you do when you’re stressed?” When you’re upset, what do you usually do?” Clinicians can inquire about times when things felt more under control or a client’s life was going more smoothly and may wonder “what got you through that?” Research and experience may help workers choose maximally sensitive items that may yield predictive power similar to that obtained with the sometimes lengthy global measures. Work, W. C., Levinson, H. R., & Hightower, A. D. (1987). What I Usually Do: A measure of elementary children’s coping strategies. Unpublished manuscript, University of Rochester.

In the long run, the article suggests it may be beneficial to work and establish means by which clinicians can build on client’s strength, harness and promote the development of empirically identified factors associated with resilience. Such efforts may not only enhance the health and well-being of i in the context of their current presenting concerns but potentially reduce their need for formal mental health services in the future.