Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Strength: A System of Integration of Solution-Oriented and Strength-Based Principles

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Strength: A System of Integration of Solution-Oriented and Strength-Based Principles

Article excerpt

The STRENGTH acronym denotes a systematic approach to the integration of solution-oriented and strength-based counseling principles and provides a mnemonic for mental health counselors, counselor educators, and students. Foundational ideas from leading theorists and practitioners in various strength- and solution-oriented therapies are organized under representative letters of the acronym. Checklists to assess the focus of counseling sessions are part of the model. The acronym is a practice tool to guide the counselor in promoting positive, collaborative change strategies that emphasize client strengths rather than clinical pathology.


This article returns to classic ideas of strength- and solution-oriented thinkers in the counseling professions; it synthesizes some of their original principles to highlight general concepts and prompts that are useful for both experienced and novice counselors. The STRENGTH acronym identifies the eight fundamental practice principles of the integrative system. After discussion of these principles, a checklist for counselors to use when planning or evaluating sessions is provided to accompany each letter of the acronym. The intent in presenting strengths and solutions principles in this way is to help counselors remember ideas that have emerged from multiple sources over several decades.

The theoretical orientations and representative authors that primarily influenced the content of the STRENGTH system are Solution-Focused (Brief) Therapy (Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg, Peter De Jong, Scott D. Miller); Possibility Therapy (William O'Hanlon); the Strengths Perspective (Dennis Saleebey, Charles Cowger); Narrative Therapy (Michael White, David Epston); and Ericksonian Hypnotherapy (Stephen Lankton, Stephen Gilligan). Other complementary influences--generally considered outside of the strengths-solutions schools of thought--are Adlerian Psychology (Alfred Adler); Person-Centered Therapy (Carl Rogers); and Reality Therapy (Robert Wubbolding).

Erickson's article, "Special Techniques of Brief Hypnotherapy" (1954b), initiated the paradigm shift away from a "correction of underlying causation" to "corrective adjustments" (p. 109) that has characterized the strengths-solutions movement ever since (Archer & McCarthy, 2007). Erickson's pioneering ideas, embedded in Solution-Focused (Brief) Therapy, Possibility Therapy, and Ericksonian Hypnotherapy, are seminal to the model described here. Like other applications of Erickson's ideas, the model focuses on a "general framework of counseling" and "counselor-client communication, not trance induction itself" (Otani, 1989, p. 203).


The STRENGTH acronym is designed to reflect highlights of the current integrated system and to trigger recollection of ideas from a body of knowledge in the helping professions that is empathic, strategic, goal-directed, future-oriented, motivational, and collaborative and that guards against negative bias. In linguistic terms, the STRENGTH acronym is "contrived" in the sense that not only does each letter represent a theoretical concept in the literature but the word itself connotes a bedrock meaning of what is being described: That is, counselors who apply the STRENGTH acronym will be following traditions that co-create solutions and build upon client strengths.

The STRENGTH system can help contemporary readers bring together a wide range of enduring practice principles into one conceptual model and add substance and structure to their counseling interventions (see Table 1).

Highly complex and intentional communicative acts like counseling can benefit from explicit reminders of theories and practice wisdom. Counselors constantly interweave ideas with practice as they try to respond therapeutically to clients in the moment of dialogue, and they often draw on knowledge accumulated over time from a variety of sources. …

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