Prior to your sessions, do you ever wonder: “What is my therapist thinking?”  Are they focused on what techniques they are going to try with you? Or, maybe they’re looking over your previous sessions to see what notes they had. And perhaps the most important question of all: “Are sessions more or less effective depending on my therapist’s thoughts before we get started?”

Research has shown that a therapy session is more beneficial to the client when the therapist thinks about a very precise detail: your strengths.

Researcher Christopher Fluckiger has found that preparing for a session by considering a client’s strengths can help the client utilize more of their strengths throughout the session; hence, creating a more beneficial session.

It is believed, and has been for a long time, that the attitude of a therapist directly impacts the client’s responses.  Carl Rogers was one therapist who was extremely significant to the movement of unconditional positivity. This approach involves the therapist creating a completely supportive environment. An encouraging space allows the client to feel comfortable and supported enough to access their own resources for change. 

Resource priming has the ability to take this methodology to another level.  When the therapist focuses on the client’s character strengths, the client doesn’t have to question acceptance.  They know their therapist knows and cares about them. There is growth from positive regard to positive influence.  It becomes more specific rather than overgeneralized. The outcomes are better—stronger relationships are developed and that is directly correlated with better results. 

When a therapist sets an unrealistic goal for a client, the client becomes defensive and associates a negative feeling with therapy sessions.  Furthermore, stating what is already obvious to a client is detrimental to the client-therapist relationship.  

Fluckiger’s study consisted of therapists being interviewed about a specific client’s individual strengths.  They identified the client’s strengths by evaluating their intake and assessment. Prior to the start of a session, therapists spent five minutes contemplating ways to utilize resource activation in the session.  When the sessions were over, the therapists would take five more minutes reviewing the session and examining how effective they had been.

When clients know, develop, and utilize their character strengths it has been proven to produce higher scores of well-being and coping skills.  In terms of priming, this translates into the client feeling accomplished. The session itself will be improved, and the accomplishment will carry beyond the session as well.

Recently, I wrote a paper making the argument that therapists leading group psychotherapy with people with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities use priming as a way to improve therapeutic results.  We felt as if there was more success when therapists focused on components of group therapy that appear during a group and benefit a member’s condition. 

These are known as therapeutic factors.  In doing this, it helps factors such as selflessness and unity arise.  Therapists leading group therapy sessions should review the strengths of all its members prior to the session.  If these tactics work so well for individual therapy, it only makes sense that they work in a group as well. However, we won’t know for sure until research is conducted.

This process can’t be completed, in an individual setting nor group setting, until the therapist knows their own strengths.  How could you be ready to help someone find their valued character traits and strengths before you’ve determined your own? Dr. Ryan Niemiec, Education Director for the VIA Institute on Character, has written about using and identifying your strengths, as well as how to spot them in others.

The more you know about character strengths and gain knowledge of your own, the sooner you can be ready to help others do the same.