This summer, my husband and I are spending a few weeks caring for his father. This experience is reminding me of the benefits of caregiving through a strengths-based lens. Essentially, a strengths-based approach considers what is working well in someone’s life, rather than focusing on what is wrong, to determine what resources can be tapped into to help them cope, grow, and thrive.
Unfortunately, our culture tends to be more deficits-based. We are inclined to see a person’s annoyances more than their advantages, and target problem areas before celebrating successes.
Strengths-based care pushes us to spotlight an individual’s personhood—their face, their voice, their unique attributes and qualities—not just their presenting symptoms or diagnoses.
But what if the person is new to you or, as is the case with my current situation, the effects of aging threaten to block our view of the person’s strengths? Thankfully, there are still some excellent tactics we can use to go on a bit of a strengths-spotting expedition with those in our care.
If possible, ask the person (or their loved one) to tell you a story of when they were at their best. Grab a few mugs of your favorite beverages and listen for clues using the 5 E’s…
- Enjoyment—what makes them smile or laugh?
- Efficiency or Ease—what can they do without thinking about the steps? What do they do more quickly than others?
- Effectiveness—what are they doing when they are most impactful? Or most satisfied?
- Encouragement—what helps them carry on, even when the going gets tough? And in what ways do they encourage others?
- Energy—what gets them excited and renews their energy when they are down? What is something for which they seem to have limitless energy?
For example, I see the strengths of ideation, intellection, relator, and significance in my father-in-law. (This terminology comes from Gallup’s CliftonStrengths®.) He loves to think about ideas, all sorts of ideas, and then to have one-on-one conversations about those ideas. In addition, he especially wants to make a difference in the life of another. Even at 86, affected by dementia, these strengths help him cope and connect. And when we can draw these out in him, we all reap the rewards of hope and joy.
With ALICEhelps, you can record and share your loved one’s strengths with the rest of the caregiving team.