What Is the Strengths-Based Treatment Approach?

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Many therapeutic approaches are used in the realm of addiction treatment and recovery. Some treatment programs will utilize a wide variety of approaches to individualize client care. One effective approach used by treatment facilities is known as the strengths-based treatment approach.

This approach focuses on addressing an individual's unique set of strengths, abilities, and skills to help them effectively overcome addiction. Becoming familiar with this approach can reduce ambivalence that individuals may have about treatment. Choosing a facility that uses a strengths-based approach can also enhance the effectiveness of treatment.

Moving Away From the Medical Model of Treatment

No two people experience substance use disorder (SUD) or mental health disorders the same way. Similarly, no two people will reap the same benefits from the same therapeutic interventions and treatment approaches. Although this may be common sense, many treatment facilities have only recently made the shift from traditional medical approaches to individualized care.

An article from Adolescent Psychiatry (Hilversum, Netherlands) explains the necessary shift from conventional treatment to individualized treatment. It states:

In contrast to psychoanalytical theories, the medical approach emphasizes a systematic process of gathering data, identifying symptoms, creating a differential diagnosis and a working diagnostic formulation based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria, and then implementing treatment modalities that target the disorders and/or symptoms . . . However, some have suggested that medicalization of the field has diminished the conceptual richness of the inner life of patients, including aspirations, ego strengths, and complex family dynamics.

The traditional medical model of diagnosing and treating addiction and other mental health disorders raises various concerns. One of the main concerns is that it rectifies deficits rather than considering an individual's strengths and other resources that may positively influence treatment progress and lasting recovery success.

Shifting Toward Individualized Treatment With Positive Psychology

The article quoted above explains that many individuals, including the president of the American Psychological Association (APA), advocated for a shift from conventional treatment psychology to “positive psychology.”

This is further explored by the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Positive psychology researches “optimal experience, people being and doing their best.”

Additionally, it encourages healthcare professionals and clients to focus on individual strengths as much as weaknesses. This makes the good things better rather than just repairing the worst.

According to the article, some positive psychology health assets foreshadow good health. These include:

  • Optimism
  • Positive emotions
  • Life satisfaction
  • Forgiveness
  • Self-regulation
  • Vitality
  • Life meaning and purpose
  • Helping others
  • Volunteering
  • Good social relationships
  • Spirituality and religiosity

Strengths-Based Treatment in Addiction Recovery

Strengths-based treatment approaches are influenced by the use of positive psychology. Rather than focusing on an individual's weaknesses, strengths-based approaches highlight their positive skills. They harness the strengths that an individual already possesses to help them achieve and sustain sobriety.

This approach can help clients in treatment feel empowered for the things they can change. It can also increase their confidence and self-esteem throughout long-term recovery.

What to Expect in Strengths-Based Sessions

Programs and facilities that utilize strengths-based treatment encourage collaboration between a client and therapist. During therapy sessions, a therapist helps the client identify and analyze any unhealthy habits, past mistakes, and other hardships that the client is seeking to overcome. The therapist may also ask the client about their skills, strengths, and other positive attitudes that have helped them in the past.

Individuals may benefit from recognizing that strengths-based treatment approaches work to limit conflict and emotional distress. Clients can expect to feel supported and validated as they discuss their past and present circumstances with their therapist. Additionally, individuals can expect their therapists to emphasize valuable coping mechanisms during sessions. This can be much more helpful than dwelling on past mistakes or choices.

Intentions for Using Strengths-Based Treatment

There are many reasons individuals may want to consider participating in strengths-based treatment programs. For example, strengths-based treatments can help individuals increase feelings of self-love, self-esteem, and self-respect.

During sessions, a therapist's main goal is to provide compassion and empathy to the client. This compassion is essential because individuals in addiction recovery need professional support to recognize how important they (and their sobrieties) are to the world around them.

The strengths-based approach is valuable for anyone seeking recovery from substance abuse and addiction. Life is filled with uncertainty and hardships. Individuals must have the proper knowledge of skills they can utilize to prevent relapse throughout recovery, especially when they are faced with stress. Strengths-based treatment reminds individuals that no matter how challenging life can get, they have the tools to persevere. Everyone is capable of achieving healing, including lasting sobriety from addiction.

Strengths-based treatment may be used in one-on-one therapy sessions, family sessions, and other group therapy sessions. Likewise, the use of this approach in different environments can provide differing benefits for an individual's wellness and overall recovery. These benefits can be long-lasting. Additionally, by focusing on an individual's strengths in healing, they can feel more readily equipped to navigate stress and adversity as it surfaces throughout their life.

Individuals seeking recovery from substance abuse and addiction can benefit from strengths-based treatment approaches. Rather than treating someone solely by their symptoms or diagnosis, strengths-based treatment addresses how an individual's personal strengths can help them achieve and sustain lasting sobriety. We at Pathways Recovery utilize strengths-based treatment approaches within all of our programs and services. We believe that all individuals have the power within themselves to establish and maintain sobriety. Our treatment professionals can help individuals address and utilize this power by identifying their positive skills and other attributes. We are dedicated to providing a safe, comfortable, and compassionate healing experience for all of our clients. To learn more, call us today at (888) 771-0966.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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