Therapy more effective when psychologists focus on their clients’ strengths

There’s a growing body of evidence showing that, rather than just focusing on problems, it can be beneficial for psychologists to remind clients of their strengths – an approach sometimes known as “resource activation”.

Now Christoph Fluckiger and Martin Holtforth have taken this a stage further. They’ve found that getting psychologists to think about their clients’ strengths for a few minutes before a therapy session is great for the quality of the therapist-client relationship and leads to improved recovery for the clients.

Twenty trainee psychotherapists practising an eclectic form of therapy, including CBT, each saw a client for twenty sessions. Before and after each of the first five sessions, the therapists had a five minute chat with a colleague about their client’s strengths and how successfully they had managed to remind their client of his or her strengths.

The researchers dug out comparison data on twenty similar therapist-client pairs treated at the same clinic in the past. Compared with these previous therapist-client pairs, the trainee psychotherapists primed to think about their clients’ strengths subsequently had a better relationship with their clients (as judged by videotapes of their sessions) and their clients showed greater improvement by their twentieth session.

“Future studies need to investigate further which specific resource-activating therapist behaviours are most effective for which patients and for which specific therapist,” the researchers said.

Fluckiger, C., Grosse Holtforth, M. (2008). Focusing the therapist’s attention on the patient’s strengths: a preliminary study to foster a mechanism of change in outpatient psychotherapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 64(7), 876-890. DOI: 10.1002/jclp.20493

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

3 thoughts on “Therapy more effective when psychologists focus on their clients’ strengths”

  1. Practitioners of Solution Focused Therapy (developed by Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg, and others) have been doing this for years. Not just speaking with colleagues about strengths, but making the client’s strengths, resources, and preferred future the focus of treatment. It’s nice to see some wider application of these very helpful practices!

  2. I agree with the comment about SFBT and the solution focused practitioner’s genuine interest in the client’s strengths. When you look at the mass of evidence that indicates if we focus on the client’s strengths, use of resources and self mastery the outcomes tend to be be better, it seems peculiar that for years we have focused on the disease!Welcome to an uplifting world of working with strengths and as research indicates, better long term outcomes and less burn out for the worker for doing so!

  3. Taking this idea a little further, if you are a manager, focusing on the strengths of your team could increase their performance! This ties in with the < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Appreciative Inquiry<> approach, which shares a lot of assumptions with Solution Focused approaches.

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