Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Interviewing to Understand Strengths

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Interviewing to Understand Strengths

Article excerpt

Introduction

Mental health professionals have long embraced interviewing as an important way of gathering information. There is a long history of the use of interviewing in making diagnostic decisions and better understanding client problems. More recently, greater attention has been placed on giving client strengths and resources "equal space, equal time, equal emphasis" (Lopez, Snyder & Rasmussen; 2003, p. 17) as problems and psychopathology in the interviewing process.

Including strengths is important for several reasons. One is that when adults recognize children and youths' strengths, they are more likely to actively take part in the assessment process and later treatment (Epstein, Hertzog, & Reid, 2001; Murphy, 2015 Nickerson & Fishman, 2013). Gathering information about strengths also broadens the focus of assessment to include recognizing and building competence rather than only reducing problem behaviors (Nickerson, 2007; Epstein et al., 2001). This is important because although reducing the negative impact of problems is important, evidence suggests that the presence of personal and social competence in children is a better predictor of functioning later in adulthood than the reduction of symptoms alone (Kohlberg, Ricks, & Snarey, 1972; 1984). Given this, there is a strong argument to include assessing and building strengths as part of the counseling process.

Interviewing for strengths is the mirror image of interviewing children about their problems. When interviewing for strengths, counselors make use of the same communication skills important in clinical interviewing or in psychotherapy or counseling. These include the communication skills that emerge from what has been described as a stance of not knowing (Anderson & Goolishian, 1992). Anderson and Goolishian (1992) describe not knowing as "...a general attitude or stance in which the therapist's actions communicate an abundant, genuine curiosity" (p. 29). Skills that communicate this curiosity exist on a continuum from relatively passive skills such as nonverbal attending to more active strategies like paraphrasing and accurately reflecting feelings (See Table 1 below).

In addition to these basic skills, interviewing for strengths also requires a vocabulary of strengths. Although there is no Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (APA 2013) or International Classification of Disease (WHO, 1993) for strengths, there is abundant literature that offer at least a tentative map of strengths. One source is positive psychology (Seligman, 2004). Counselors and researchers in positive psychology have developed assessments and interventions that focus on increasing subjective well-being or happiness by promoting the experience of positive emotions (Fredrickson, 2001) or enhancing qualities such as gratitude (Emmons & Stern, 2013), hope (Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2008) or optimism (Gillham, Reivich, & Shatté, 2001).

A second important contribution to a map of strengths is resilience (Masten, 2014). Research on resilience grew out of research with children whose parents had serious mental illnesses (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000). The finding that many of these children did well in life despite the challenges they faced led researchers to a set of social and psychological factors that seemed to promote positive outcomes among children who had faced adversities such as poverty or abuse (e.g., Garmezy, 1993; Masten & Curtis, 2000; Rutter, 2013). Researchers found that although it was true that children exposed to these adversities often have more psychosocial problems than those who were not exposed, the large majority still grew up to lead productive adult lives (e.g., Benard, 2004; Werner & Smith, 2001; Cicchetti, Rogosch, Lynch, & Holt, 1993).

Masten (2014) has argued there are basic psychosocial systems that, when functioning well, are universally protective of human development and form the core of resilience. …

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