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Playing the 'Strengths Bank' game

April 25, 2013
by Lori Ashcraft, PhD
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Learn how to play a game that can bring real returns to people in recovery

This is the third article I’ve done about the Strengths Bank, and as they say, “talk is cheap.” It’s easy to carry on about a new idea, but not so easy to talk about how to do it. So in this article we are going to move on from just talking about it and focus on how you can actually do it. Yes, you too can open a bank!

Before we rush into this, let’s revisit the virtues of opening our own Strengths Bank. You can find the previous discussions on this topic in the articles, “Community interdependence: the path to sustained recovery” and “Using the ‘Strengths Bank’ to build authentic community inclusion.” Briefly, we see the Strengths Bank as an entertaining way to develop personal skill in building and exchanging strengths with others and, in so doing, to invest in others and in the community.

Because it is designed as a game, the Strengths Bank takes the fear of rejection out of giving and taking, freeing participants to share their strengths and learn new skills in a playful yet very effective way. In time, participants can expect their investments to yield a return — measured in social capital — and demonstrate evidence that each person involved has a lot to contribute.

So how do we go about setting up a Strengths Bank?  Good question. I needed some advice. I began by asking Penny Chelucci, MPA, a person with not only a strong background in banking but also with lived experience. Penny, who is Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs in Delaware, proved to have the perfect background for helping us match up the strengths building exercises with banking processes.

With Penny’s input, we translated the commercial banking process into a fun and creative way of investing in each other’s strengths. Here’s the protocol we came up with for practicing strength-building and having fun at the same time.

·        Step One: Appoint an advisor for the Strengths Bank. Look for someone who enjoys stepping into unexplored territory – someone with a spirit of adventure — and, perhaps, not your typical banker.

·        Step Two: Recruit customers who are interested in taking their recovery to the next level by developing expertise in giving and receiving. Their interest in doing these things might vary, so intriguing advertising is important. Here are the selling points that can capture the interest of potential customers:

o   The main selling point is that good customers will learn how to develop more meaningful relationships, how to contribute to healthy community living, and how to build social capital. So perhaps the appeal you use to recruit customers would go something like this: “Want to become a valued member of your community? Join us and learn fun ways to enhance relationships in your community by investing in yourself and in others.”

o   For others, including those who want to learn more about how financial systems work and become better managers of their own finances, perhaps the following appeal would work:  “What your mother didn’t tell you about banking.”

o   And then, there are the folks interested in doing something new and having some fun. To appeal to the interests of these, you might suggest, “Have fun learning new ways to discover your strengths and bring out the best in your friends.”

·        Step Three: Once you’ve collected a group of participants, you can get the game underway by asking each “customer” to assess his or her strengths and challenges. To do this, each can meet individually with the bank advisor to identify strengths (or assets, in banking terms), as well as challenges (or liabilities, best understood as areas where a person wants or needs to develop a strength but hasn’t done so yet).

Each participant then works with the advisor to build a balance sheet. A balance sheet is a document that lists assets on one side (assets must include skills or talents that could become assets if they were used differently) and liabilities on the other. Assets are things that help with recovery and things that help us connect with others and the community, while liabilities include challenges, problems, or concerns that get in the way of both social relationships and recovery. Liabilities are what drain away the assets that we’re trying to build in the Strengths Bank.

Each person’s balance sheet will be unique. Those with many assets will start out feeling that they have a little bit more “wealth” to invest in the journey toward recovery. Others will have assets that they will find that they haven’t invested very well — assets that are just “sitting there” in low-interest accounts that haven’t produced much of a return so far. Others who have few strengths and many challenges will feel the need to build up their balance sheets by working to build some new assets as part of their recovery plan. And, some participants will feel that they are bankrupt — without any assets at all — due to their illness or the way that the treatment system has related to them in the past. These people will need to make a new start — and take the first step toward recovery — by filing for “Chapter 11.”