Dennis Saleebey, widely recognized as the father of the strengths perspective in social work, passed away today. It is with great sadness that I write these words.
Dennis and his wife, Ann Weick, were pioneers in the development of the strengths based approach to counseling and began writing and disseminating work on the subject in the early 1970’s.
Their work was instrumental in social work and served as a resource for the expansion of the strengths approach in other related fields including the positive psychology movement.
I had the great pleasure of knowing Dennis.
He was a transparent dreamer of all things good and most certainly left those who knew him in better places by his presence.
His wonderful sense of humor and salt-of-the-earth approach to others was endearing beyond words.
Dennis was extremely influential in the trajectory of my career and I can say with certainty that I would be a different counselor and person if not for him. For this I am forever grateful.
Dennis Saleebey’s work is a legacy that must be carried forward in the counseling and helping professions.
At a time when problems are being marketed more than ever via the new DSM-V and heavy pharmaceutical advertising, Dennis’ work invites us to focus on the innate strengths and resiliencies that we and our clients have, and that we use naturally to overcome challenges.
He championed the idea that not all life problems are biological and that a wellness approach is proven to be more beneficial and more sustainable over time than a deficit-oriented approach.
In honor of Dennis Saleebey, I ask that we use this sad news as a challenge for us to pay extra attention to the strengths and skills that our clients possess.
To take time with others in the exploration of those strengths and what our clients have done in the past that have carried them through difficult times.
We can learn from and be inspired by those with whom we work and can seek out and honor the courageous stories of strength in our conversations with them.
Over a beer, I once asked Dennis what was the most important thing a counselor could do to help others. He paused and looked at me with a moment of serious intensity. I leave you with his words.
“As social workers, the most important thing we can do is lend our clients hope and work with them until they can find their own.”
He will be missed.
J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, PhD