Strengths Model


What is the strengths model?

The strengths model, also known as strength-based practice, is widely applied in fields like mental health recovery, substance abuse treatment, education and organisational development. It focuses on individuals’ or groups’ inherent strengths instead of their challenges and failures. The main aim is to empower people by recognising and building on their existing capabilities and positive qualities.

What are the core principles of the strengths model for addiction?

Emphasising strengths is crucial, so focusing on an individual’s talents and abilities is important rather than their problems. Encouraging self-belief and confidence helps them overcome challenges and achieve recovery.
Collaborative relationship
Building a partnership is key, as well as establishing a collaborative relationship where both the therapist and the individual work together as equals. Mutual respect for the individual’s experiences, choices, and autonomy is essential.
Setting realistic, meaningful and attainable goals is vital for promoting personal growth and recovery. Concentrating on finding solutions and achieving these goals is more effective than dwelling on past problems.
Resource utilisation
Identifying and leveraging internal resources like personal resilience, past successes, and coping skills can be very beneficial. Connecting individuals with external resources, including support networks, community services and recovery groups, further aids their progress.
Holistic approach
Addressing the individual’s physical, emotional, mental and social needs supports comprehensive recovery. Considering their environment, relationships, and cultural context are also important in the therapeutic process.
Resilience building
Highlighting past instances of overcoming adversity reinforces resilience. Promoting adaptability and flexibility helps individuals face new challenges more effectively.
Ensuring the individual’s voice is central in the therapy process allows them to guide their own recovery journey. Tailoring the therapy to meet their unique needs and goals is also crucial.
Positive relationships
Encouraging the development of healthy, supportive relationships aids in recovery. Promoting engagement with the community helps build a sense of belonging and support.
Sustained recovery
Long-term recovery involves building skills and strategies to maintain sobriety and promote ongoing personal development. Providing aftercare resources and follow-up ensures continued support beyond initial therapy sessions.

Is the strengths model effective in addiction treatment?

The strengths model has proven to be highly effective in addiction treatment. This approach empowers individuals by shifting the focus from deficits to capabilities, which encourages a sense of self-efficacy and hope. This positive framework can make a significant difference in the journey towards recovery, offering a refreshing and motivating perspective compared to traditional deficit-focused models.

Alcohol addiction

The strengths model could be effective for those with alcohol addiction, with research suggesting it can help those who are dependent on alcohol. Individuals often feel trapped in a cycle of dependency and guilt. By identifying and harnessing their existing strengths, they can build a more positive self-image and develop healthier coping mechanisms, which are crucial for long-term sobriety.

Opioid addiction

For those struggling with opioid addiction, the strengths model could provide a foundation of support and empowerment. It helps individuals recognise their resilience and capability to overcome challenges. This approach encourages them to draw on their inner strengths and external resources, aiding in the reduction of relapse rates.

Stimulant addiction

In the case of stimulant addiction, the strengths model emphasises the individual’s potential and past successes. This approach helps combat the feelings of hopelessness and low self-worth that often accompany addiction. Individuals are more likely to engage in and commit to their recovery process by focusing on their abilities and achievements.

How is the strengths model structured in addiction treatment?

The strengths model is structured in eight stages when used in addiction treatment. Each stage aims to build upon the last, with the end goal focused on maintaining progress throughout treatment. Here are the eight stages:

1. Engagement

The first stage is all about building a trusting and collaborative relationship between the individual and the recovery team. By meeting the person where they are, both physically and emotionally, the team can actively listen and understand their unique circumstances and needs.

2. Strengths assessment

The strengths assessment stage focuses on identifying and documenting the individual’s strengths, resources and aspirations. Through interviews and assessments, the team uncovers the individual’s personal strengths, skills, past successes and support systems.

3. Personal goal setting

During personal goal setting, the aim is to help the individual set meaningful and attainable recovery goals based on their strengths and aspirations. By collaborating closely, they develop specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) goals that align with the individual’s values and desires.

4. Resource acquisition

Resource acquisition involves assisting the individual in accessing the necessary resources and support to achieve their recovery goals. This stage includes identifying and connecting them with community resources, support groups, educational opportunities and other relevant services.

5. Action planning

In the action planning stage, a concrete plan is developed to achieve the individual’s goals, outlining steps and strategies. Together, they create a detailed action plan that includes timelines, milestones, potential challenges and strategies to overcome these obstacles.

6. Implementing the plan

Implementing the plan puts the action plan into practice, with ongoing support, encouragement and problem-solving assistance provided as the individual works toward their recovery goals. This stage is about turning plans into actions and helping them stay on track.

7. Monitoring and reviewing progress

Regular monitoring and reviewing of progress help celebrate successes and adjust the plan as needed. Regular check-ins assess progress, address obstacles, and make necessary adjustments to the action plan to ensure continued progress.

8. Sustaining recovery

The final stage, sustaining recovery, focuses on maintaining progress and building on strengths for long-term success. Strategies for relapse prevention, ongoing support and continuous growth are developed to ensure the individual has the tools and resources needed for sustained recovery.

Is the strengths model a replacement for 12-step programmes?

The strengths model does not replace 12-step programmes; both approaches can be effective but serve different needs and preferences. Individuals seeking an alternative to the 12-step programme might find the strengths model appealing for their addiction treatment.


The 12-step programme is well-known for emphasising connecting with a God or higher power as part of the recovery process. This spiritual component can be incredibly meaningful and supportive for many participants. However, only some feel comfortable or connected with the idea of a higher power, which is where the strengths model can be a valuable alternative.


The strengths model focuses on identifying and leveraging an individual’s personal strengths and resources. It emphasises self-efficacy, resilience and empowerment, helping clients to build on their existing capabilities to overcome addiction. This approach is particularly beneficial for those who prefer a more secular or individualised path to recovery.


By offering the strengths model as an option, rehab programmes acknowledge the diversity of everyone’s needs and beliefs. It provides a flexible and personalised approach to addiction treatment, ensuring that everyone can find a method that resonates with their personal values and experiences. Whether through the community and spiritual support of a 12-step programme or the empowerment and self-discovery of the strengths model, the goal is to support each individual’s journey to recovery in a way that feels right for them.

What’s next?

If you’re struggling with addiction, seeking help at a rehab centre can be a crucial step toward recovery. Rehab programmes offer support, therapy and a path to reclaiming your life. For those in the UK, UK-Rehab provides tailored searches for strengths-based programmes that focus on your unique needs and strengths. Reach out to UK-Rehab for more information and find the right programme to start your journey to recovery.

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(Click here to see works cited)

  • Regis A, Meyers-Ohki SE, Mennenga SE, Greco PP, Glisker R, Kolaric R, McCormack RP, Rapp RC, Bogenschutz MP. Implementation of strength-based case management for opioid-dependent patients presenting in medical emergency departments: rationale and study design of a randomized trial. Trials. 2020 Sep 3;21(1):761. doi: 10.1186/s13063-020-04684-6. PMID: 32883337; PMCID: PMC7469359.