Years ago when I started practicing Solution Focused Brief Therapy, in fact, even before I started practicing it, when I was first interested in it, I was in graduate school and people had a misconception about this approach, and they criticized me based on that misconception. I wanna talk about it now because somebody else was criticizing my work in a similar way.
I’m just like, “Wow.” Basically the criticism is that people don’t like Solution Focused Brief Therapy because they think it ignores the problem. But that is actually not true. In order to do Solution Focused Brief Therapy, you have to honor the problem in your questions, in your work, in the way that you talk to your client.
If you ignore the problem, then the client is gonna feel like, not only are you being dismissive of the problem, but you’re being dismissive of them themselves. And that’s gonna make it impossible for them to benefit from the therapy.
So let me give you an example. If I came to therapy, and I’ll use myself as an example. If I came to therapy when I was 19 years old, I was really anxious at that time in my life. I was really depressed at that time in my life. I was even suicidal at that time in my life. If I came to therapy to see somebody, and I said, “Man, I’m, I’m really stressed. I’m anxious, I’m depressed, I’m struggling with life right now, and I’m, I’m thinking about ending it.” And the person just went, “So, suppose you woke tomorrow and you didn’t feel that way, what would you notice?” That’s completely disconnected from the circumstances, and I would feel like they didn’t just hear what I said. I would feel like they were disconnected from the circumstances I just provided to them in order to do therapy.
Well, whether you’re doing Solution Focused or anything else, you have to honor the problem. Now, Solution Focused Brief Therapy honors the problem, but then asks about something else. That’s what makes this approach different. But never let yourself think that Solution Focused Brief Therapy ignores the problem, that is fundamentally not true. It’s a misrepresentation from people that just want to criticize this way of working, and it makes no sense.
I have to talk to my client to convey to them, “I heard what you said, I got it. I caught the gravity of this moment, and I’m all in on helping you.”
For example, if I sit down with somebody who’s doing Solution Focused Brief Therapy well, and I tell them, “Hi, my name’s Elliott, and I’m anxious, and I’m sad, and I’m, I’m worried and I’m depressed, and I’m suicidal.” And that person says, “Gosh, Elliott, I’m so, so sorry that you’re feeling those things. Life must be really, really hard for you in this moment. And I’m gonna do every single thing I can to try to help transform your life into something you experience as more pleasurable and desirable. If I do a really, really good job, and let’s say you woke up on the day after you and I worked together and did a really, really good job, what’s the very first thing you would notice to let you know your life has been transformed in a way that you experience is more pleasurable?”
Do you see how I just asked a future-focused question, but I honored the problem. You shouldn’t run from the problem in Solution Focused Brief Therapy. In fact, I have to honor it. So I need to use some problem language in my question. I need to use some problem acknowledgement in my question. I need to let the client know, I heard them, and I understand the gravity of this moment. But I also think, if you think about this other thing, if you think about your future, you think about your desired outcome, you think about the transformation you want to experience, life could change.
But I have to do that through the honoring of the problem. I really think, and this might be kind of a controversial thing to say, but I really think there are people that are so vested in ‘problem solving’ therapies that they just want to criticize a Solution Focused Brief Therapy. It’s almost like because they don’t understand it, and they want their client, I know a lot of psychotherapists, they want their clients to come back to therapy, and come back to therapy, come back to therapy.
When you say you can do therapy in this way, and they can have a much faster ability to achieve an outcome, there’s almost like a recoiling. Like they just want that not to be true. And they say critical things that just make no sense. It makes absolutely no sense that any therapist using any model would ignore the client problem. Makes no sense. We honor the problem before we ask our questions that will lead to transformation.
So I’ve made videos on my page about this before, and I’ll probably make one again, but I hope I was a little bit more clear this time in explaining exactly how we honor the problem in Solution Focused Brief Therapy.