In This Article Strengths-Based Models in Social Work

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Assessment

Social Work Strengths-Based Models in Social Work
Jacqueline Corcoran
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0006


“Strengths-based” practice in social work takes on a variety of meanings. It is a philosophy and a way of viewing clients as resourceful and resilient in the face of adversity. It is also considered a method of practice, although there is no strengths-based model of practice per se. Instead, various practice models may be categorized under the rubric of strengths-based practice as long as they hold, as their fundamental assumptions, that the social worker’s relationship with the client is one of collaboration and that people are resourceful and are capable of solving their own problems. Prior to the advent of strengths-based perspectives and practices, the dominant ideology involved an “expert” practitioner diagnosing clients and determining what needed to be done. People were viewed largely in terms of their pathologies, weaknesses, limitations, and problems. In strengths-based models, in contrast, the helper, in collaboration with the client system, identifies and amplifies existing client system capacities to resolve problems and improve quality of life. Strengths-based approaches can be viewed as respectful toward and empowering of the oppressed and vulnerable people to which the field of social work traditionally has been committed.

General Overviews

These overview works provide foundational material on what it means to be strengths-based in social work. Saleebey 2005 is considered the voice for the philosophy of the strengths-based perspective in social work. Rapp 1997 is an early and influential work for the strengths-based approach and is often cited. McMillen, et al. 2004 discusses how to balance both strengths and problems when working with clients. In a workbook format, Corcoran 2008 shows how to implement strengths-based techniques in social work group intervention.

  • Corcoran, Jacqueline. 2008. Groups in social work: A workbook. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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    As well as guiding the reader step-by-step in how to formulate and run groups, the book integrates strengths-based principles and techniques throughout.

  • McMillen, J. Curtis, Lisa Morris, and Michael Sherraden. 2004. Ending social work’s grudge match: Problems versus strengths. Families in Society 85.3: 317–325.

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    Offers a balanced appraisal of both strengths and problems when working one-on-one with clients.

  • Rapp, Charles A. 1997. The strengths model: Case management with people suffering from severe and persistent mental illness. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An influential writing on the strengths-based perspective in social work. Principles and specific actions are suggested for case management involving people with severe mental illness.

  • Saleebey, Dennis. 2005. The strengths perspective in social work practice. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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    The classic text on the strengths-based perspective in social work. Saleebey writes beautifully about the philosophy of strengths-based practice in terms of both the individual and the environment. He makes the point that taking an environmental view depathologizes individual blame.

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