Concept 5: Focusing on Strengths & Potential

Focusing on strengths and potential invites us to shift the narrative from “what’s wrong” to “what’s strong.” Identifying and nurturing individual strengths can create a positive and hopeful environment for recovery. Every person has unique talents, skills, abilities, and potential that can be harnessed for their growth and well-being.

In a recovery-oriented approach, we help our peers recognize and build upon their strengths, where challenges are opportunities for growth. This strengths-based approach aligns with the core values of peer support, where we focus on the whole person, not just their mental health challenges. It supports self-determination, too.

Strengths-based approaches are not just hopeful, but they have been studied for years and have been shown to have promise. Many social workers use strength-based assessments nowadays, and so do people in leadership positions to grow their employees into stronger performers. Rather than looking for problems to solve, a professional – including peer support workers – can ask “What do I need to know about you? How can we use your strengths to get you where you want to go?”

These questions can be extended to the people surrounding and supporting our peers, too. What strengths do they have that can help our peers move ahead in their recovery journey?

When we show our peers how to turn to the strengths, skills, and abilities they already have to meet their goals, they can turn away from feelings of helplessness and towards hopefulness.

This isn’t an exercise that focuses solely on the future in an optimistic, glass-half-full way. It looks at the current challenges faced by an individual and asks how they can tackle them with what they already know how to do – their capability, not their limited ability. This way of looking at an individual can rebuild confidence and hope.

▶ Take action

Review the example in your handbook describing how a strengths-based approach can be used in peer support. Turn to the section called “Focusing on Strengths & Potential” in Lesson 8, under the heading “What does the strengths-based approach look like in practice?”