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  • Simple steps to unleash strengths

    Have you ever read a research-based report and thought, "I don't recognise this person, are you sure you wrote about the right person?"

    This was the premise of a session I attended at the American Occupational Therapy (AOTA) conference in April titled: Strengths-Based Coaching: Learn how to Implement this Evidence Based Practice. I have to declare my reason for attending the session – one of the presenters is an author I have had the honor of working with, someone who has inspired and taught me so much over the years – Dr. Winnie Dunn (Professor and Chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy Education, University of Kansas), along with her co-presenter Dr. Ellen Pope (Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy Education, University of Kansas). As an Occupational Therapist and mother of a child in receipt of many services over the years, the takeaway messages from the session struck both a professional and personal note.

    For the purposes of this piece I’ll refer to my child as “A*”…Perhaps subconsciously I am saying my child is “A star”!

    Countless times my husband and I have met with a professional to be told:

    • “A* can’t do this”
    • “A* has not reached this milestone”
    • “A* exhibits this negative behaviour”

    Countless times, we have turned it around to ask:

    • “What is A* good at?” 
    • “What are A*’s strengths?” 
    • “How can we use these strengths to support A*?” 

    By knowing the answers to these questions, we, as parents, feel more engaged in the process. Instead of being defeated by what our child can’t do, we embrace the positives; we see opportunities instead of challenges; we share A’s* potential with others!

    As Drs. Dunn and Pope demonstrated in their workshop, current evidence illustrates that strengths-based coaching leads to significant changes in both participation and self-efficacy; seeing the positives and strengths in a person helps focus on a more functional approach to intervention, it helps people to thrive with greater life satisfaction often in quite challenging situations, and in line with Csikszentmihalyi’s work on the Flow experience, helps people persist at an activity when it presents just the right challenge.

    Drs Dunn and Pope challenged the audience to consider practical examples of working with families to implement a strengths-based coaching model, to shift from a deficit based method of assessment and intervention to using positive approaches. As a takeaway, I decided to look at some reports I’d read over the years, and have a go at implementing this approach.  What do you think?

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