What Is Strengths-Based Therapy?

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What Is Strengths-Based Therapy?

Strengths-based therapy is a theoretical orientation and approach to psychotherapy treatment based in positive psychology. A strengths-based therapist focuses on the client’s existing resources, resilience, and positive qualities in an effort to use these abilities to improve quality of life and reduce problematic symptoms.

Strengths-based therapy can be utilized in conjunction with other orientations, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, humanistic therapy, and narrative therapy. Therapists might also use a strengths-based approach if they are engaging in solution-focused therapy, brief motivational interviewing, or interpersonal therapy.

The aim of strengths-based therapy is to improve the client’s mindset and instill a positive world view so they can perceive themselves as resourceful and resilient when they are experiencing adverse conditions.What makes this approach different is its focus on identifying factors that might be holding back the person’s growth. It empowers clients to be the agent of change by creating an inductive environment for change.

A strengths-based therapist focuses on the client’s existing resources, resilience, and positive qualities in an effort to use these abilities to improve quality of life and reduce problematic symptoms.

Techniques of Strengths-Based Therapy

As with all therapeutic approaches, a therapist will choose techniques based on the client’s unique needs. A strengths-based therapist might use some of the following techniques in their sessions:

  • Identifying Client Strengths: The therapist will provide a list of strengths with definitions and work with the client to identify which strengths apply. Clients can use the list as a starting point to identify their strengths.
  • Looking for Signs of Strength: This intervention is more open-ended and involves asking questions such as, “What are you good at?” This helps the client identify pre-existing areas of strength. It is less structured than identifying strengths from a list, which might allow the client to identify strengths that might not have been included on the list.
  • Re-Framing: A strengths-based therapist will encourage the client to examine weaknesses and identify ways that these qualities can be re-framed as strengths. For example, someone who worries about what others are thinking might be very compassionate and caring. This is used as a starting point to identify how behaviors or qualities can be used to improve the client’s mindset or quality of life.
  • Strengths Journaling: The therapist will ask the client to keep a journal tracking their strengths to help practice identifying these strengths and the situations where the strength benefited them. This improves mindfulness and helps the client notice existing strengths in their daily life.
  • Asking Strengths Growth Questions: The therapist will ask questions to help the client identify how and when a strength benefits them to help channel and use the strength in the most effective way possible. These questions can include things like, “When is a time I could have used this strength?” or “When is a time that I relied too heavily on this strength?”

What Strengths-Based Therapy Can Help With

Strengths-based therapy can be helpful for many different presenting concerns. It can help boost self-esteem and confidence, and there is evidence that this approach can be beneficial for individuals with depression or anxiety. In addition, it can help individuals recovering from trauma. Building resilience and improving worldview can help alleviate many symptoms associated with these diagnoses.

Couples and families can benefit from a strengths-based approach to their treatment, as it can help re-frame challenges and boost healthy communication skills. Individuals can both learn to recognize how their own strengths contribute to the relationship and identify their partner or family member’s strengths.

Teenagers can also benefit from a strengths-based approach, as this can help with identity development and insight. For similar reasons, strengths-based therapy can help with career counseling and determining what kinds of jobs might be a good fit for an individual.

Benefits of Strengths-Based Therapy

Many people find strengths-based therapy beneficial in their mental health journeys. One reason for this is that positive psychology changes the traditional therapy narrative from “What do we need to fix about you?” to “What is the good that is already in you, and how can we bring that out?”

Strengths-based therapy also fosters resilience by cuing you to the strengths you have used in the past but might not have defined as strengths at the time. The approach teaches you that you are already strong, and you already have the skills needed to survive. You simply need to learn how to tap into those skills and use them intentionally in your life.

While strengths-based therapy still uses skill building to amplify your strengths, you enter therapy with the assumption that you already have strengths.

Positive psychology changes the traditional therapy narrative from “What do we need to fix about you?” to “What is the good that is already in you, and how can we bring that out?”

Effectiveness of Strengths-Based Therapy

Research surrounding strengths-based therapy has shown that it is an effective treatment for a variety of conditions, including depression, and trauma. It is also beneficial as an early intervention for serious mental health issues, such as psychosis.

Although people of all ages can benefit from this approach, teenagers in particular find strengths-based therapy effective, partially by focusing on the development and utilization of resilient beliefs and behaviors instead of identifying and challenging cognitive distortions.

Strengths-based therapy can be effective for both in-person and telehealth sessions.

Things to Consider

As with all therapeutic approaches, strengths-based therapy will not be an ideal fit for everyone. A balanced approach to strengths-based therapy will not completely ignore a client’s weaknesses but rather will emphasize strengths in the context of the whole person.

Some criticism of strengths-based therapy includes that the approach lends itself to toxic positivity, or focusing so intensely on a positive mindset that there is no space left for negative emotions or thoughts.

Some weaknesses might not be strengths in disguise, and some clients might feel invalidated if the therapist suggests otherwise. Additionally, strengths-based therapy emphasizes qualities and skills that are already present, and so individuals looking to make changes in their lives might not find this intervention helpful. If this approach is not the right fit for you, that is OK.

Some criticism of strengths-based therapy includes that the approach lends itself to toxic positivity, or focusing so intensely on a positive mindset that there is no space left for negative emotions or thoughts.

How to Get Started

If you feel that a strengths-based approach would benefit you, and you do not already have a therapist, you can search for a therapist who indicates that they specialize in this approach. Therapists who have training in a strengths-based approach will often indicate this on their website or profile.

You can also ask your current therapist if they are familiar with this approach and talk about whether these interventions might be a good fit for you.

In the intake, the therapist will gather information about your history and symptoms. If they take a strengths-based approach, they may ask additional strengths-based questions. They might also have you complete a strengths-based assessment to gather more information about your individual strengths. You and your therapist will work together to create a treatment plan that focuses on your strengths and positive qualities.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Amy Marschall, PsyD
Dr. Amy Marschall is a clinical psychologist who works with children and adolescents. She is certified in TF-CBT and telemental health.