Plain Language Summary: Using a Strengths-Based Therapeutic Approach with People with Developmental Disabilities

When mental health professionals work with people who have developmental disabilities, it is important for them to use a “strengths-based approach”. This applies to the way they speak with and help their client. A strengths-based approach means focusing on what the person can do, not what they cannot do because of their disability. They should recognize traits related to their client’s disability that make them unique. This helps clients to see that these traits contribute to their identity positively.

A strengths-based approach to therapy should be “person-centered”. This means that the therapist understands that the client is the expert on their own life. They should let the client explain their own experiences. They should also help the client discover their strengths to help find solutions. There are specific forms of therapy that are both strengths-based and person-centered. Therapists can also use these basic principles to meet their clients’ needs using other forms of therapy.

An important aspect of a strengths-based approach to therapy is to encourage self-determination. Self-determination is a person’s ability to act for themselves. This includes setting goals, facing challenges, and learning from mistakes. People with developmental disabilities often do not have the chance to make their own choices because others wrongly assume they are not able to do so. Therapists can help clients with disabilities gain confidence in their own decision-making abilities. One way to do this is by giving them chances to experience it in therapy. For example, they can use age-appropriate communication with them, support them as they demonstrate their strengths, and allow the client to speak for themselves.

Clients with disabilities first need to identify what their strengths are. Then, once the client is aware of their strengths, they need to build upon them. Several interventions, or activities done as part of therapy, are explained in the fact sheet to accomplish these tasks.

For more information, read the full Using a Strengths-Based Therapeutic Approach with People with Developmental Disabilities fact sheet.

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