Social Work Strengths Perspective
Colin Ward
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0165


Traditional theories of mental health and therapy have been the primary influence on the training of professional counselors. Whether cognitive, behavioral, systemic, or psychodynamic in nature, these theories highlighted psychological deficits so that problems associated with their pathologies could be addressed. Contrasting these traditional, linear models of counseling, strength perspective approaches are founded on social constructivism and postmodern theories of change that accept the unique and varied worldviews of others, accentuate assets, focus on developing solutions in concert with clients, and view change as a dynamic and fluid process. Early examples of this shift away from traditional psychotherapies were solution-focused, narrative, and change-directed counseling models. The recent emergence of positive psychology, resilience, and strength-based counseling approaches specifically infuse a strengths perspective into the practice and understanding of social work and mental health counseling. A strengths perspective is a set of ideas and practices seeking to recognize and utilize the inherent personal strengths to promote change and lifelong resilience. The following article serves as an overview to the evolution of a strengths perspective within the field of mental health. The introductory works highlight the emergence of social constructivism, postmodernism, resiliency, and strengths perspectives in providing a bridge to counseling models founded upon these theoretical ideals. The final section highlights recent developments in social work and counseling approaches specific to a strengths perspective. A list of relevant professional journals is also included.

Introductory Works

A strengths perspective represents a paradigm shift away from traditional deficit- and pathology-based models. A strengths perspective emerged from the field of social work and it is grounded upon the principles consistent with social constructivism and postmodernism. It stands in stark contrast to traditional theories of the human experience and provides a roadmap to the emergent postmodern counseling models and recent strength-based counseling approaches. Furthermore, the inclusion of resiliency research is consistent with the nonlinear models of postmodernism, social constructivism, and a strengths perspective to human change.

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