Knowing Your Strengths

I doubt that anyone would disagree that it’s important to know your strengths. However, when it comes to psychological and academic evaluations, far too often the focus is so strongly centered on what’s wrong that what’s right often gets overlooked. I’ve performed evaluations with a lot of people who have been assessed once, twice, three, or more times before, and never been told about their strengths. I think in particular about a college student who was assessed at ages 9, 13, and 17, and continued to struggle with attention issues. I had reviewed her previous testing and there was great consistently in her some of her abilities—among them was very strong verbal problem solving abilities. She and I were both surprised when I shared those results—she because no one had ever told her about this gift, and I because no one had ever told her about that gift. Her previous feedback sessions had always been focused on the deficits. No one ever told her about her strengths.

Of course, it’s not just important to know your strengths. It’s also important to know about weaknesses. Ideally, those areas for development are presented with treatment recommendations. In my experience, the best treatment recommendations are rooted in strengths. Take a kid, for example, who has a math disorder—dyscalculia. He’s likely been told by countless well-meaning people—his parents and teachers—that if he just does more math, it’ll get easier. That might be true, if he had a problem of math motivation. But if he truly has a math disorder, doing more math, trying to address his weakness by doing more of what’s hard for him, is pure torture. However, if we can find a way to use some of his strengths to make math easier, suddenly we might have a little traction, and he might find that math becomes a lot easier.

One of the promises I make at the start of every evaluation is that we'll talk about the client's strengths. I'll work to uncover what they're good, and we'll talk about how to make the most of those abilities to help them achieve the goals they have.

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