by Giselle Marzo Segura

When I registered for the Certificate in Positive Psychology (CiPP), I was a woman on a mission. After years of unproductive interventions for our differently wired child, I was determined to find answers to the questions I had asked at the psychologist’s office months before: “Where are the strengths? Where can I find an assessment that looks for strengths with the same scientific rigor with which diagnoses and deficits are identified?”

At the psychologist’s office, our family was not offered any leads—only the response, “We don’t look at strengths.”

My husband and I spent several years following recommendations that came from a deficit-based perspective—which meant endless hours of interventions, therapies, even special schooling, with no results. The plan of action for our child had been based solely on looking at what was wrong and what was missing—as if she were broken and needed to be fixed.

I value the importance of having a diagnosis. However, in order to make an effective plan of action, it is imperative to be just as thorough in evaluating what is currently working and what can provide access to areas where signature strengths and innate intelligences can be explored. In the words of David Cooperrider, “We must study what gives life to a system and use that to paint a picture of the future.”

Tears came to my eyes as our CiPP4 cohort began the module on strengths and learned about the VIA Survey of character strengths. We immediately began to implement many changes, including a strengths-based approach, which have helped put our daughter and our family on a definitive path to healing.

Aristotle said, “The soul never thinks without a picture.” I am a visual learner, and so is the rest of my family. After getting my ranked results from the VIA Survey, I began to fill my notebook with notes and drawings on how to best understand the beautiful and powerful language of character strengths. I asked myself: How can I best connect with and remember this language? What would it look like to use this language in our family? Could a visual model work to connect families, classrooms, and work teams?

For my CiPP final project, I used my signature strengths of creativity, love of learning, and perspective—along with my experience in graphic design and marketing—to develop the Strength Clusters™ Visual Map of character strengths. It’s an eight-by-eight-foot floor mat that represents the VIA classification of 24 character strengths as a holistic visual graphic. It is a representative model illustrating that the entire spectrum of character strengths is within our reach to explore, develop, and apply.

Howard Gardner, in his book Multiple Intelligences, explains, “Some students will learn from linguistic entry points, others from artistic or personal or logical entry points … Through multiple [learning] approaches, one activates different clusters of neural networks. To the extent that numerous neural networks are activated, and eventually connected, one obtains a solid and enduring mental representation of the topic in question.”

Inspired by the journey with our daughter, and conscious of the different entry points to learning, I wanted to develop an experience around character strengths that allowed families and groups to connect at a deeper level through a multisensory experience. The Strength Clusters mat provides opportunities for interaction, connection, and play, presenting character strengths through the use of color, representation, form, and experience, and addressing visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and experiential learning.

Giselle Marzo Segura, CiPP4, is the founder and creative visionary behind Strength Clusters™. Her professional background spans more than 20 years in marketing and graphic design, helping clients communicate their ideas through effective visuals. Her daughter’s learning differences led her to a relentless pursuit of a strengths-driven life, which marked the turning point toward healing for her family. Her mission is to help families and groups understand, connect, and see each other through a lens of strengths. She is a world champion martial artist and a graduate of the University of Miami, where she majored in Science Communication.