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Your Strengths Application Guide: How Practitioners Can Make the Most of Positive Psychology’s First Field-Guide!

August 2, 2017 by ·

Character Strengths Interventions bookThe VIA Institute’s education director, Ryan Niemiec, has published a number of books for practitioners on character strengths, but Character Strengths Interventions: A Field Guide for Practitioners is the first book that brings everything together on the science of character. New York Times bestselling author of the Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, said “Ryan Niemiec takes one of the most important scientific tools in modern psychology for improving our well-being and makes that research come to life in a practical way for practitioners, parents, and coaches.”

The original VIA Classification publication – Character Strengths and Virtues – was published in 2004 as a scholarly text outlining and describing what is best in people. There was no prescription and no application discussion. Still, practitioners and researchers took action, almost immediately, applying and studying character strengths. This work has ballooned to hundreds of studies and countless practitioners around the globe using it. But, there has been no companion book for the practitioner or the various professions wanting to apply this exciting work. That is, until now, 13 years later.

As Dr. Niemiec has said,

“I wanted to put together a book that gathered what I had learned in my privileged role as an educator and practitioner at the VIA Institute – what I had learned from scientists across the globe, from practitioners in Australia, educators in Scandinavia, managers in the U.S. and Asia, and coaches in South America, the UK, and Canada. There was so much good science and practice on strengths emerging but nothing that came even close to putting it all together. This was something that practitioners kept telling me they needed. So, unlike my other books, I put this book together because of them and for the positive psychology field, not for myself.”

In arranging the book, Dr. Niemiec knew that practitioners wanted several things – handouts, tips for use with clients, bite-sized chunks of research findings, case examples of using these concepts and activities with clients, and anything practical they could begin applying tomorrow. He wrote the book with all of that in mind.

While not explicitly noted, there are 4 parts to the book:

  • Part I: Chapters 1-5: These reveal all the concepts and practical application points that practitioners need to know, from the 7 core concepts of character strengths to the 6 integration strategies in applying them. There is a chapter that outlines the various traps and misconceptions practitioners commonly fall into (and remedies for each), as well as cutting edge, advanced issues in strengths application such as strength collisions, hot buttons, and overuse/underuse.
  • Part II: Chapter 6: Each of the 24 character strengths are detailed in “spotlights” as 1-page handouts for practitioners to copy and use. Practitioners (and their clients) learn snapshots on each character strength’s own evidence-based application, exploratory questions, research findings, top correlates with other strengths, where it falls on heart/mind/intrapersonal/interpersonal dimensions, and language around its overuse and underuse.
  • Part III: Chapters 7-8: This part continues the festival of handouts and offers 70, 1-page, user-friendly handouts on character strengths interventions. Each activity offers step-by-step instructions, research support, purpose, overview, and in some cases, tips, troubleshooting, and case examples. Activities range from “mental subtraction” or “implementation interventions” to “benefit-finding with strengths” and “healthy, fair fighting.” The 70, evidence-based interventions are categorized in one of the following outcomes a client might be trying to develop:
  1. Character Strengths Awareness
  2. Character Strengths Use
  3. Meaning and Engagement
  4. Specific Character Strengths (e.g., boosting gratitude, love, spirituality)
  5. Positive Relationships
  6. Resilience (problem management)
  7. Goal-Setting/Achievement
  8. Mindfulness
  • Part IV: Includes an afterword and various practical appendices. One appendix is a checklist of 14 guiding suggestions to becoming a “strengths-based practitioner,” a description of various strengths-based models/approaches, and a comparison of VIA with Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Gallup StrengthsFinder, among other appendices.

There are a myriad of practitioner tips that scattered throughout the book and sectioned off for easy spotting, useful tables and figures that help information to stand out, and hidden gems. An example of the latter includes a section called “tailored intervention packages” (pages 152-155), in which 15 groupings of interventions are outlined. For example, someone “new” to VIA and wanting to apply it with their clients might consider the following 5 interventions (which are then outlined as discussed early when describing Part III):

  • Introduce and explore character strengths
  • Take the VIA
  • Affirm/value your strengths
  • Signature strengths across domains
  • Use a signature strength in a new way

Also, among these 15 “packages,” a practitioner might want to lead a workshop for people to learn more about character strengths. For this, the suggestions are as follows:

  • Stories, strengths-spotting, and character strengths (in dyads)
  • Subtract a signature strength (for the group as a whole)
  • Mindful listening and speaking with strengths (in dyads)
  • What matters most? (in small groups)
  • Managing your strength hot buttons (in small groups)

For the scholarly minded, there is never a paucity of references or research to support the concept, study, or intervention being discussed. The references/citations in the book number in the vicinity of 700.  To support practitioners and researchers in applying and studying the 70 interventions, there is a guide to the research evidence (pages 150-152). In other words, is the intervention from a controlled study on strengths? Is it a variation of an established intervention? Is it part of a comprehensive program? Is it extrapolated from a peer-reviewed article or chapter?, and so forth.

The book is designed so that the neophyte practitioner as well as the seasoned practitioner will learn substantially about the applications of this exciting character strengths science. Dr. Niemiec emphasizes in the Preface that he views his audience of “practitioners” with a very wide lens – from psychologists/counselors to coaches and managers to educators/teachers and, essentially, anyone wanting to help another person (including themselves!).

Get your copy here: Character Strengths Interventions: A Field Guide for Practitioners

Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Character strengths interventions: A field-guide for practitioners. Boston: Hogrefe.


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