I believe it’s essential to have a theoretical framework to guide our work with individuals and groups. I follow a strengths-based philosophy that creates the foundation for my practice and workshops. This approach, well known in the field of social work, is person-centered and places people, their values and preferences at the centre of care. It focuses on strengths, capabilities, and recovery and asserts that human beings are resilient and continue to learn, grow, and change throughout their lives, despite trauma and hardships (Kisthardt, 2006; Greene, 2010). It moves away from a deficit model of mental health to one that is competence and strengths based.
Best practices with trauma survivors also entail fostering collaborative relationships – listening and learning from them, identifying their needs, involving them in decision-making and problem-solving, and encouraging them to participate in providing services and helping each other. Strengths-based practice provides the framework for Trauma-Informed Care, a term used in policy and practice based on the growing knowledge base about the impact of trauma from neuroscience research. The bottom line is to employ interventions and create programs and services where survivors feel safe, empowered and in control of their lives. These are absolute necessities for trauma survivors.
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 traumatic experiences and present-day challenges. This does not mean that I am unaware of or deny their suffering. I realize that many survivors suffer from post-traumatic symptoms such as anxiety, depression, recurring traumatic memories, and a variety of other medical conditions. Many people do, especially as they age. These are normal reactions to their traumatic experiences. However, focusing primarily on these symptoms causes generalizations that do not acknowledge their resilience and adaptive coping abilities. Both the vulnerabilities and resilience co-exist in most of the survivors I’ve worked with as a professional social worker.
Greene, R.R. (2010). Holocaust survivors: Resilience revisited. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 20(4), 411-22.
Kisthardt, W.E. (2006). The opportunities and challenges of strengths-based, person-centered practice. In D. Saleebey (Ed.), The strengths perspective in social work practice (4th ed., 171-96). Boston: Pearson Education.