Tell me….what’s right with you, anyways?

Mar 29, 2023



Trauma Coaching + Positive Diagnosis


Tell me….what’s right with you, anyways?


Mental health therapists are required to issue a diagnosis to be able to bill insurance for care as well as to guide treatment. Right or wrong, psychotherapy is rooted in the medical model that is designed to identify a condition that corresponds with an approach to care.


Essentially, therapists must ask the client “what is wrong with you?” as the basis for shaping the work. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. It’s good to have something that informs how the work is being done as well as justifying the cost to the client or insurance companies.


Trauma coaches have the luxury of orienting themselves towards client strengths as their launching point. Coaching is typically rooted in positive psychology, which seeks to enhance optimal functioning in people by identifying and capitalizing on individual gifts. The primary lens through which a coach views the challenges faced by their clients is through one of capacity.


Coaches approach supporting their clients through an assumption of capacity and goodness as an overarching guide to designing a plan of action. Therapists are obviously not excluded from this approach and in fact, most graduate programs emphasize the importance of identifying strengths as integral to the working relationship. The challenge is that the habit for many providers is to look for what is wrong due to the way in which the medical model orients us to treatment.


So yes, coaches can begin the relationship by asking “what is right with you?” as a basis for all future work.


A positive diagnosis is essentially exactly what it sounds like….an identification of positive traits that can support the goals set forth by the client. Examples might include:


  • Tenacity
  • Empathy
  • Courage
  • Persistence


It should be noted that strengths are sometimes disguised as challenging behaviors because trauma can warp some of the more robust traits of our personality. This occurs as an effort to protect against future harm. For example, tenacity can be expressed as aggression or empathy might evolve into people-pleasing or co-dependent inclinations. Trauma coaches have the capacity to look behind the protective barrier of shifted strengths. The design of the client inquiry becomes focused on finding the purpose behind the problem, which is often related to emotional defenses in response to trauma. 


Isn’t this a form of toxic positivity, you ask?


No. Identifying strengths does not mean that suffering or struggle is dismissed. Validation of any given person’s reality is not excluded from positive psychology or coaching. Essentially, we often find what we are looking for. Coaching allows us to look for the traits unique to our clients that we can capitalize on throughout their work. Toxic positivity is that which ignores the reality of someone's struggle. 


Here is a link to Wikipedia’s definition of toxic positivity in the event you are curious:


An example of how trauma coaching and positive psychology are interrelated is in the concept of post-traumatic growth, or PTG. PTG asserts that many of those who experience adversity have the capacity to demonstrate positive growth as a direct result of what happened. In fact, those who meet criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD are those most likely to demonstrate PTG after a trauma.


If you want to learn more about PTG, here is a link to an article:


Those who are working with survivors of trauma in a coaching capacity can highlight what is right with those they serve. Identifying the good stuff in our clients (and arguably people in general) is a habit that has the potential for healthy contagion.


A great example of PTG occurring on a large scale is in Rwanda’s response to the 1994 genocide. Rwanda was able to eradicate the division that the genocide was rooted in, while simultaneously becoming a model for how to build the best possible version of their country after tragedy. If you want to learn more about this inspirating recovery, here is a link to a blog post on the topic:


So, if you are feeling adventurous, perhaps explore what it feels like to be intentional about what you notice in others. You might be surprised at what you find.


newsletter subscription

Subscribe our newsletter to get news updates.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.