Therapy more effective when psychologists focus on their clients' strengths

There's a growing body of evidence showing that, rather than just focusing on problems, it can be beneficial for psychologists to remind clients of their strengths - an approach sometimes known as "resource activation".

Now Christoph Fluckiger and Martin Holtforth have taken this a stage further. They've found that getting psychologists to think about their clients' strengths for a few minutes before a therapy session is great for the quality of the therapist-client relationship and leads to improved recovery for the clients.

Twenty trainee psychotherapists practising an eclectic form of therapy, including CBT, each saw a client for twenty sessions. Before and after each of the first five sessions, the therapists had a five minute chat with a colleague about their client's strengths and how successfully they had managed to remind their client of his or her strengths.

The researchers dug out comparison data on twenty similar therapist-client pairs treated at the same clinic in the past. Compared with these previous therapist-client pairs, the trainee psychotherapists primed to think about their clients' strengths subsequently had a better relationship with their clients (as judged by videotapes of their sessions) and their clients showed greater improvement by their twentieth session.

"Future studies need to investigate further which specific resource-activating therapist behaviours are most effective for which patients and for which specific therapist," the researchers said.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchFluckiger, C., Grosse Holtforth, M. (2008). Focusing the therapist's attention on the patient's strengths: a preliminary study to foster a mechanism of change in outpatient psychotherapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 64(7), 876-890. DOI: 10.1002/jclp.20493
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