The Importance of Language Awareness and a Strength-Based Approach in This Work

“Words have great power. The power to help, the power to heal, and the power to hurt. Use this power carefully.” ~ Anthony Douglas Williams

One of the core values of peer support work is a strength-based approach.

From the Standards of Practice document: “It is more motivating to move towards something than away from a problem. We intentionally build on already existing strengths. We thoughtfully and purposefully move in the direction of flourishing, rather than only responding to pain and oppression.”

Everything in this training will encourage you to treat yourself – and support others – with a strength-based approach. When we support people from a deficit-based mindset, we can unintentionally keep them stuck.

There is a popular phrase that says, “words create worlds.” When you read that, what comes to mind for you?

What we Focus on Expands

Whatever we give our attention to tends to grow. If we are always focussed on problems, these problems begin to take over our minds and emotions, especially in matters of the heart. In the same way, if we focus on our strengths, they will grow. Whatever we focus most of our time and energy on will just naturally take up more space in our life. What do you want to grow in your life?

That’s not to say that we don’t look at or address big personal or societal problems. This is not about avoiding or ignoring problems. For example, if someone has a relationship with substances, we are not suggesting they should ignore the problem and just focus on their strengths. There are certainly problems we need to address for our own well-being. However, if we are only focussed on examining and solving problems, we are likely to get stuck in the status quo.

A strength-based approach, on the other hand, looks at what is working, and asks, how can we build on it? From this vantage point, we can begin to imagine and create new possibilities. Building on our strengths supports resiliency. Again, it isn’t about ignoring issues, but is instead a paradigm shift in how we approach our problems.

The words we choose give meaning to our narratives, and they have astounding power. Words create our reality. This is also why it is essential to choose language that is person-first. Person-first language is about not defining someone by a diagnosis or challenge they are experiencing. When we don’t choose person-first language we are, perhaps unintentionally, supporting stigma.

We will continue to look at the application of a strength-based approach in sections of this training to come.

For Reflection

  • Have you noticed times when you have been affected by someone’s words?
  • Have you noticed your own self-talk? How do you feel when you speak negatively to yourself? What about if you switch things up and speak to yourself with kindness? How does that feel?


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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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