Charli Prather-Levinson: Helping Clients Discover Strengths, Resilience, and Meaning

Clinical social worker, therapist, and coach Charli Prather-Levinson specializes in helping others navigate the challenges of oncology and autoimmune disorders. A two-time cancer survivor herself, she uses her unique understanding of the experience to support patients and their families through their diagnosis, treatment, and recovery — including as they take on new challenges in their careers.

“A lot of the people that I see have either acute or chronic health issues. So all the more reason to utilize positive psychology and resiliency training with those folks.”

As a coach and therapist, Charli sees clients including a wide population of teachers, police officers, firefighters, and hospital personnel, all of whom she helps to cope with the mental and emotional challenges of cancer. As an employee assistance program (EAP) contractor, she uses positive psychology as a powerful tool to help others identify their strengths, build resilience, and feel more empowered in their lives.

Interview Highlights

Watch a snapshot of our interview with Charli below.

Coping During COVID-19

Helping clients navigate uncontrollable circumstances is always challenging, but Charli’s role became even tougher during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Like all mental health professionals and medical professionals, I was overwhelmed with the amount of people [needing support]. And I have licenses in four states. And one of those states is quite a desert state for mental health.”

Overloaded by the sheer volume of people needing help throughout this time, Charli felt like she wasn’t making a full impact after transitioning from face-to-face to video counseling.

“I felt like I needed to expand my toolbox. I needed more tools my clients could utilize between sessions to really keep themselves above water during a very difficult time.”

Despite her already strong knowledge of Cognitive-Behavioral and Dialectical Behavior Therapy tools, Charli was looking for solutions that felt less clinical. Being familiar with positive psychology, she started looking for answers in the field.

“I already knew about positive psychology. I’d already worked within that model in oncology, teaching a ‘patient active model’ to clients so that they could feel more empowered during their diagnosis and treatment and recovery.”

Specifically, Charli wanted positive psychology solutions that were:

  • Evidence-based, tested, and proven to work in real-world settings
  • Transferable across different populations and contexts
  • Easy for her clients to use between sessions

Finding Strengths, Resilience, and Meaning

Charli began using positive psychology approaches more frequently with her EAP clients, especially the vocational tools from the Positive Psychology Toolkit©.

A few resources helped her refine her search.

“One of the things that I was very impressed with was that every now and again, something would drop into my email, and it was free. And I’d go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe they’re giving me this.’ And then that would motivate me to look more and then say, ‘Ooh, I think I need that.’ And the positive feedback that I got from those tools from clients.”

With the right resources to draw on, Charli quickly realized she felt more equipped to help the growing population of patients who had left their jobs in search of more-fulfilling careers:

“Right now, that’s been such a strong population for me of people who are retraining. How do we teach them resiliency? How do we teach them how to self-assess and see what their strengths are?”

“It’s really about identifying the strengths of that client who’s also an oncology patient. And building those strengths and teaching them to be patient and active, meaning learning how to self-advocate, why they can do it, and how to help them do it through some of these tools.”

Charli even feels it has opened up a new niche for her in the vocational space, fueled by referrals from clients she has helped: “The client who referred this (new) client to me said, ‘The tools she gave me I still use.’ Hearing that felt great.”

Her new tools are also valuable to Charli as a therapist. As her focus on helping others discover their strengths, resilience, and purpose has increased, so has her positive impact on another important subset of patients: those struggling to cope with grief.

“Again, (it’s about) identifying strengths, really. And identifying things in the past that got them through some pretty tough things. Finding meaning. In the face of disease, especially if it’s chronic, there are tools. We can reframe this. There are tools within the positive psychology realm that we can utilize.”

Evidence-Based Tools, Visible Results

It was important to Charli that her tools are science-based without feeling “clinical,” which her clients have been quick to appreciate: “When you get positive feedback from clients going, ‘Oh, I noticed the branding on the bottom. Do you use that a lot?’ And then that generates more of a discussion about why this evidence-based science is so effective.”

Having evidence-based tools that matter to a very large population has given Charli a lot more confidence about applying positive psychology to build emotional wellbeing. And the results aren’t just visible to her.

“[I’ve watched] clients answer something, some sort of inquiry, or go through some sort of self-assessment, and then look at it and then pause. And there’s a lot of work being done in the silence.”

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