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Wisdom from Strength-Based Working 1 of 9: Identity

 “I had to spend a long time listening to someone talk about what was wrong with them and didn’t know how I was going to turn it around. I listened and then each time reflected with them the skills they must have to get through that.”

Practitioners shared that the people they work with are often so used to talking about what is deemed to be ‘wrong with them’ that having a strength-based conversation was not always easy.  Due to the expectations of the system to provide negative information about needs and issues in order to access support, many people felt that this negative image had started to become part of their identity.


By providing a safe space for people to explore and reflect upon this, people were able to change the narrative to one of resilience, strength and resourcefulness. In this way, strength-based working could challenge this identity and reframe self-perception to one that is more positive.

“What struck me the most… is how deeply people’s identities are shaped by the experiences of homelessness or substance misuse or the trauma they went through. And, often people just start telling you about all those negative experiences.”


“I was working with that man… he started telling me about all these kind of negative experiences in his life. And I kind of stopped him and said, I don’t need to know that. And he was speechless and didn’t know what to say.”


Through careful and thoughtful conversation, practitioners were able to work with people to start to see themselves in a more positive light, developing self-belief which led to strength-based conversations rather than defaulting to deficits. Once people see the difference it becomes obvious and they can’t go back, people start to believe in themselves and to build on successes, to shed the identity and failures they’ve acquired from the system,  better able to cope with future tough times.

Wisdom from Strength-based Working Intro, image of smiley face among plant life

An Introduction to Wisdom from Strength-Based Working

Mayday Trust worked with the Frontline Network to capture the experiences of those who take a strength-based approach to working alongside people experiencing tough times, such as homelessness.  This Wisdoms is part of a suite of Wisdoms where the voices of people who either experience or deliver services are captured and shared.

Frontline workers were offered a variety of platforms to share their voices, including group Zoom conversations, individual conversations, WhatsApp messages, email, and social media. Conversations took place with people from across the UK during COVID-19 restrictions, so face to face meetings were not possible. It was agreed that all the contributions would be anonymised when used in this listening exercise.

We used the Mayday Trust approach of deeply listening through ‘Wisdoms’, which poses just one open question and listens to what each person wants to bring to the conversation.

A total of 66 people contributed to Wisdom from Strength-based Working, all of whom were directly delivering strength-based work, and some of whom had lived experience of homelessness or other tough times. The conversations and comments were initiated with the question – What is your experience of delivering strength-based work? The following document captures the main themes which were identified from what was heard. For context please also see our previous Wisdoms work: Wisdoms from the Pandemic, Wisdoms from Behind Closed Doors, and Wisdoms from the Street.


What Does is mean to Work in a ‘strength-based’ way?

Mayday Trust, as a result of more than 11 years of extensive research, listening to people going through tough times and practical experience, has developed the Person-led, Strength-Based, Transitional (PTS) Response. Mayday’s experience has shown that being strength-based only works when the person has choice and control, is able to accept or reject support, able to define the goals of that support on their own terms, and where PTS coaches have a high degree of autonomy to be led by the individual, hearing what’s important to them and together working out what will move them toward the life they want to achieve.


  • Strength-based – To be strength-based requires more than just focusing on the positives in someone’s life. In order to be truly strength-based, you need to be led by what is important to the person and respond on an individual basis. The work of a strength-based practitioner is to listen, be curious and reflect with the individual to contextualise their experiences and to work alongside them on the things that the person feels are the most important. The aim is not to fix things for the person, nor to manage their situation, but to identify and build upon the individuals’ skills, talents and abilities to tackle situations themselves whilst leveraging the right support at the right time.
  • Relationship Building – this is what it’s all about. Once trust is developed, conversations open up to include areas of the person’s life including their aspirations, interests and what they’d like to achieve for themselves. These are positive goals and hobbies that people can develop within their communities. By doing so, people prove to themselves that they have the strengths to achieve and this realisation can spur them on to make the changes that they want in their lives.
  • Commitment – it requires the continuous commitment of the whole organisation to also become strength-based, adapting organisational systems and structures which support strength-based working, and to seek funding that allows for the person to truly lead the relationship without tightly defined targets of success which are not meaningful to their lives.