How Strengths-Based Assessment Can Help You Overcome Challenges

Posted on July 11, 2017
When seeking or receiving psychological treatment or assessment, it can be all too easy to feel like there’s something “wrong” with us. Sometimes it seems that the focus of an assessment is on everything that’s going wrong. This is understandable to some extent, because we often seek treatment to address a problem or difficulty we’re facing. But psychological assessment doesn’t have to be solely focused on what’s wrong. In fact, it’s incredibly helpful to also talk about what’s going right, and to focus on moving toward positive goals as well as solving problems. This approach to assessment is often referred to as “strengths-based.”

What is a strengths-based approach?

A strengths-based approach to psychological assessment is rooted in the field of study known as positive psychology. Positive psychology is defined as “the scientific study of human flourishing, and an applied approach to optimal functioning.” (1) It is concerned with “the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organisations to thrive.” (1) This growing field expands the focus of psychology beyond pathology and diagnosis into a focus on how psychological science can help people live their best and brightest lives.

We take a cue from positive psychology in our belief that, in order to create lasting change for our clients, it is important to focus on emphasizing and expanding their strengths, rather than simply focusing on problems and challenges. We want to help you flourish! And in fact, by assessing and highlighting your strengths, we can harness their power to help manage difficulties and overcome barriers.

What does a strengths-based approach look like in practice?

When you come in for an evaluation, we want to get to know you - beyond your challenges and struggles. We want to understand your learning style, what makes you tick, and your natural skills and passions. Throughout the evaluation process, we consider which tasks you perform with greater ease and enjoyment. We carefully assess evaluation results with an eye for not only where you struggled, but also what was done well.

When we meet to share feedback and discuss your evaluation, we want to communicate a clear picture of why you’ve been experiencing difficulty at home, work, or school. But we also want to empower you by sharing cognitive strengths we’ve identified, and thinking together about how to capitalize on these strengths to better manage your challenges.

For example, you may be struggling to organize your time effectively, resulting in lower productivity and maybe even missed appointments. But perhaps we discover during your evaluation that you are a visual learner with a creative and flexible mind. With this knowledge, you might tap into this creative side in order to craft artistic visual reminders throughout your work space that remind you to stay on task.

Perhaps you’ve been struggling with low self-confidence and social anxiety, but you’re gifted with an excellent command of written language. Finding outlets that allow you to share your gifts, which also enable you to connect with others in a supportive space - such as a writing group or open mic night - may help you build a greater sense of confidence and ease.

Maybe you’re having a great deal of difficulty with your math class, but you’re friendly, extroverted, and a great networker. You might consider making use of these strengths to create a math study group in which you and your classmates can help each other succeed. You may also thrive in a small tutoring group.

These are just a few examples of how one might utilize strengths to manage difficulties. During your assessment journey, we will brainstorm with you to collaboratively create a tailored plan that will help you move forward with greater clarity and confidence. Our hope is that rather than feeling there is something “wrong” with you, you can begin to feel empowered that you have the tools and resources to overcome your struggles and, ultimately, to thrive.

Reference: Positive Psychology Institute. (2012). What is positive psychology? Retrieved from

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