VIG is a Strengths Based Intervention

VIG is described as a strengths based intervention. I can’t see anything that is going well in my relationship with my son! Why will focusing on strengths help me? I want you to tell me what I’m doing wrong so I know how to do better.

Somebody asked me recently why we tend to look at the negative. Like a lot of people I have my own theories: culturally we tend to look at negatives; we think of talking about our strengths as ‘showing off’; services I work in are often deficit based (when are we taken to court because we have done a good deed, or go to the doctor to celebrate our good health?); we have a cognitive bias which means that when we have a negative story about something, we cherry pick what we notice in life to fit our story. At the time I was asked, I did not have the evidence to hand which was required to give an informed and helpful response and so I remained silent. However, given my VIG skills and knowledge I can certainly provide compelling evidence as to why we should focus on strengths.

People think that VIG is a ‘positive’ intervention. It certainly would fall within the positive psychology tradition but I think it is more accurately described as strengths based. This is an important difference. It is not just a fluffy intervention that focuses on the positive and denies the negative or difficulty in people’s life. Why should it? After all if people’s lives were just positive they would not be seeking help.

But by hearing how difficult things can be, and then focusing on the client’s strengths, creating strong positive emotions while watching the film, the client can ‘broaden’ and then have a base upon which to ‘build’. When we focus on deficits, we naturally close in and become defensive. We are not open to change or new ideas. When our pain is heard, and at the same time our strengths (what we are managing, how we are managing, what we are already doing well) are witnessed and celebrated, we are able to open up and be ready to contemplate new ideas.

Take Marie*. At school she was regularly in trouble for being late (not that it was her fault; her mother was beaten by her father and so she didn’t feel safe leaving her mother alone until her father had left the house for work). She met the father of her baby when she was young and was regularly reminded how bad she was at everything. When she had her baby she was criticized by most people around her for the way she held her baby, for the way she fed the baby, for the fact her baby kept crying, for the fact she preferred to spend her time away from the baby – after all, she didn’t know how to look after him. So she missed lots of appointments. Why not? What was the point of going to meetings and being told how rubbish she was. She knew that already.

When she met her VIG practitioner, who showed her a photo of her looking at her baby tenderly, and helped her to see that this was a strength because this meant she gave her baby space to communicate and gave her space to wonder about his needs, Marie was able to ‘broaden’. She delighted in what she saw. She felt and looked taller, stronger, empowered. There was something she could do! She was then able to admit that she felt rubbish and lacking in confidence. As she opened up she was then able to say that she would like to try spending more time just being with her baby and thought that she would be able to do this. After all, she had a photo to prove this to her.

And there is Karen*, a mother who developed post natal depression. She gave up her job to care for her child, and yet she felt she never developed a relationship with her daughter. She felt her daughter never looked at her with love, and although on the surface of things they had lots of fun and played lots of games, she admitted she never ‘felt’ a connection, that she was just going through the motions. She had attended lots of parenting classes when her child was young because she found her daughter’s behaviour so hard to manage. When her daughter became a young teenager and her behaviour became risky, she was given lots of advice by the psychologist. She could see that what she was doing was wrong, and tried so desperately to do it right. But it just felt wrong and she didn’t know what she needed to do to get it right even though she thought she was doing everything she was told. So she just nodded at the right places and tried her best to do what she was advised but it just didn’t work and she felt increasingly hopeless. When she agreed to VIG she said she wanted to see that she had a relationship with her daughter. I could see that there was a lot of love, but in reality, the mother’s desire to connect with her child led her to ask too many questions and lead too much. This resulted in her daughter turning away, looking down and responding to these questions with short, clipped answers. If I were to show her these moments, it would only shame my client and reinforce her negative beliefs about her self and her relationship with her daughter. By showing her short moments of exceptions, stills where she and her daughter were looking at each other with love and tenderness or a short clip where they were laughing with each other, my client could feel the connection and bond between her and her daughter – she said it was one of the first times she could feel it. Strengthened, she was now able to see that when she gave time and space to her child she could recreate these moments, and these moments grew into a new story.

As a VIG practitioner and supervisor I am privileged to witness clients grow in stature, confidence and competence in front of my eyes. It sounds like magic but it’s not. It sounds simple yet it’s complex. But nothing can help you understand it like doing it. So, if you’re struggling with an aspect of being a parent, do you feel strong enough to give VIG a go….?

Zubeida Dasgupta, Founder, VIG Futures

*Names and situations anonymised

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