I believe it’s important to have a theoretical framework to guide my work with individuals and groups. I follow a strengths-based philosophy that creates a foundation for my practice and workshops. Listening to survivors and learning from them provides me with valuable insight that influences my approach when responding to their needs. Strengths-based practice is person-centered and includes concepts like: personal attributes and capabilities, empowerment, healing, and recovery. It asserts that human beings are resilient and continue to learn, grow and change throughout their lives, despite trauma and hardships.
Conventional perceptions of Holocaust survivors, as reflected in the mental health literature, focus on their pathology and deficits. Such perceptions often lead to assumptions that survivors are permanently scarred and cannot recover. A strengths perspective requires a shift in thinking. I view survivors, not as debilitated victims, but as competent, adaptive, resourceful, and resilient individuals who cope as best they can with their Holocaust experiences and present-day challenges. This does not mean that I am unaware of, or deny, their suffering. I recognize many survivors suffer from post-traumatic symptoms such as anxiety, depression, recurring traumatic memories, and a variety of medical conditions. To deny that these symptoms exist is to deny the atrocities perpetrated against them. However, to focus exclusively on these pathological aspects causes generalizations which do not acknowledge their adaptive coping abilities and resilience. Every individual has strengths – positive attributes, knowledge and skills – that coexist with their weaknesses and vulnerabilities.