Social work has a long tradition of advocating for practice from the strengths perspective. However, it is unclear whether schools are truly preparing students for strengths based practice or whether they are simply teaching them to use the vocabulary of strengths without the clinical reasoning skills to switch paradigms from deficits to strengths, moving beyond lip service to real strengths-based practice. To explore this issue, data from an exercise in an MSW course was explored using qualitative methodology. The findings support that in addition to using a strengths vocabulary, other components are necessary for true implementation of a strengths approach. First, the data revealed a strengths-oriented structural model of an ideal process of clinical reasoning for approaching a client situation. Second, the process includes recognizing client strengths, reflecting on them with the client, and encouraging repetition and reinforcement of the client’s positive attitudes and actions. Finally, true strengths based understanding requires moving from social worker in the role of expert to social worker engaged in collaborative empowerment practice. These findings have implications for social work practice and education.
Key Take Away Points
- MSW students do use the vocabulary of strengths in their clinical assessments and planning
- True implementation of the strengths approach requires development of clinical reasoning skills
- The ideal process of strengths oriented practice includes recognizing client strengths, reflecting on them with the client, and encouraging repetition of positive attitudes
- Strengths based understanding is evident when there is a shift from the use of the expert role to collaborative empowerment practice
Lynn Milgram Mayer, MSW, PhD is an Associate Professor and serves as an Assistant Dean at The Catholic University of America, National Catholic School of Social Service. Her administrative responsibilities include chairing the BSW program. Her teaching includes courses on theory, ethics, clinical practice, and research. Her clinical practice has primarily been with children and families. She has experience working in early childhood development programs that focus on both the child and the family.
Barbara P. Early, MSW, PhD has retired as an Associate Professor and Assistant Dean at The Catholic University of America, National Catholic School of Social Service. Her administrative responsibilities included chairing the MSW and PhD programs. Her teaching included courses on theory and clinical practice.She developed the strengths-based family practice course for the advanced clinical curriculum in the MSW program. Her clinical practice has been with families using strengths-based models. She has extensive experience in family preservation and school social work.
Aidan H. Bohlander, MSW, is currently a doctoral candidate at The Catholic University of America National Catholic School of Social Service. She has taught BSW and MSW courses on diversity and generalist practice. Her clinical practice has primarily been with adolescents in the child welfare system.
Mayer, Lynn M.; Early, Barbara P.; and Bohlander, Aidan H.
"Moving Beyond Lip Service: The Clinical Reasoning Behind Practicing Strengths,"
Journal of Family Strengths: Vol. 13
, Article 8.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.library.tmc.edu/jfs/vol13/iss1/8
Responses to this Article:
Joel A. Levine, Commentary on "Moving Beyond Lip Service: The Clinical Reasoning Behind Practicing Strengths" (December 2013)