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Strengths Perspective: A Paradigm for Correctional Counseling

NCJ Number
Federal Probation Volume: 63 Issue: 1 Dated: June 1999 Pages: 51-58
Katherine Van Wormer Ph.D.
Date Published
8 pages
This extent to which a strengths-based approach geared toward individual resourcefulness and health is relevant for counseling batterers and rapists is examined; the analysis concludes that a treatment approach that works for victims can also help foster desirable changes in some victimizers.
The treatment relationship can serve as a powerful tool for helping the individual change cognitive misconceptions that result in self-destructive thoughts and behavior. Each person has the potential for actions other than those characteristically taken; this belief is at the core of the therapeutic relationship. However, it is as rare for contemporary correctional literature to focus on the strengths of criminal offenders as it is for the strengths literature to direct attention to the criminal justice field. Professionals who use the strengths-based approach seek the positive in terms of people's coping skills, listen to the personal narrative, suspend disbelief, and validate the pain where pain exists. They also collaborate rather than dictate, have an interactive relationship with the individual, and use every ounce of their social work imagination to reach people who at first may seem unreachable. Using a positive, client-centered orientation within a system characterized by coercion and despair and for clients who are often less than amenable to treatment goals is paradoxical. Nevertheless, social workers both inside and outside the justice system inevitably will work with persons who have violated the law. If contemporary trends continue, social workers will be called upon to provide drug abuse intervention, AIDS counseling, sex offender treatment, anger management work with batterers, and juvenile offender counseling. A strengths orientation will be useful for this kind of work. 46 references