Hello and welcome to episode two of Don’t Forget with Anna Francis. I’m Anna Francis, the CEO of the SFU, and a registered counselor in New Zealand.

As I mentioned in episode one, which if you haven’t yet seen, go back and check that out. This video series is all about sharing my thoughts, ideas, and reminders about things we so often and easily forget when we are learning Solution Focused Brief Therapy. In each segment, I’ll be focusing on one key thing that I hope helps you on your learning journey, or keeping your SFBT skills sharp.

For this month’s episode, I’m gonna be talking to you about whose best hopes we need to be working with as Solution Focused Brief Therapists.

Now, this time might sound ridiculously simple because we all know it’s the client’s best hopes that we are working with, but sometimes we trip ourselves up and don’t even know it. There are two different ways we can get caught out on this, which often leads to getting stuck in session.

Solution Focused Brief Therapy is an outcomes oriented approach, which is why so much value is placed on ensuring we establish a really good best hopes at the beginning of every first session.

Without a solid best hopes we can work with, we end up choosing one for them. And now we are conducting a session based on the best hopes we have for our client rather than a session based on the client’s stated best hopes. This can be a hard distinction to make because we are still basing that best hopes on the answers we got from our client, but what we may have done is either heard what the client doesn’t want and use what we think is the opposite, or hear a goal and assume the outcome we think fits. While it still might be a perfectly useful session for the client, it runs risks that we want to avoid in session that can lead to the clients being frustrated for the wrong reasons, feeling misunderstood and unheard, and causing us to get stuck, resulting in doubting the merit of this approach or our ability to use it.

I’ll be the first to put my hand up having made these slip-ups in session, and I’ve got really stuck at times when I was learning, which was not a nice feeling at all, and full disclosure, every now and again I still catch myself out. This is really hard work, but the more you understand and trust this process, trust your clients, and trust yourself, these slip-ups fade away, and when you do catch yourself out, you can quickly and confidently correct them.

This can really take discipline. I think it’s easy to let our best hopes for our clients sneak in because we do it in our personal lives all the time. When we are lending support to others, we often let our best hopes for our friends and loved ones get in the way. Best hopes by proxy, if you will.

I found it especially identifiable with friends and families who are confiding in me with a personal situation like struggling in a less than ideal relationship. I remember one time in particular when one of my children was experiencing their first romantic breakup and it was devastating for them. I’m sure some of your other parents out there with older and grown up kids have gone through the similar stage and it’s the pits, isn’t it?

As they were working through things, I remember feeling really uncomfortable and stuck because I couldn’t fix or take away their pain, and often frustrated when things weren’t going in the direction that I thought was best for them. In those moments, I’m sure I’d made it known what I felt they should do over supporting what they felt they should do. I remember this leading to frustration for both of us, and I don’t think I did the best job in those moments.

Can you think of a time when you let what you think is best for someone get in the way of your ability to be supportive? Now, obviously our role as clinicians isn’t the same as parenting or being a friend, but it does lend to recognizing the difference between who’s best hopes we’re supporting. In the example I just gave, I was supporting my own [best hopes], not my child’s, and we need to be really mindful to be clear with this distinction in session.

The second way we can trip ourselves up is when there’s a power dynamic. Students and teachers, children and parents, elderly parents and adult children, for example, and it may be that a parent, a teacher, or a family member request the session and then they let you know the reasons for them wanting the session to take place. It’s easy to then take those wants as the best hopes for the session rather than finding out the actual clients’ [best hopes]. So in those instances, we really have to ask ourselves, whose best hopes are we working with?

For example, when I was completing my practice hours at our local high school, at times the teachers would come in and talk to me about what they wanted as an outcome for the students that I would be seeing. I was a brand new counselor at this time, so naturally felt a little intimidated by the authority of the teachers. So I would feel conflicted about who I needed to prioritize what the teacher wanted, or what the student wanted, especially when what the teacher wanted was clearly the best thing for everybody.

This one time a student was sent to me as a punishment, actually, which I don’t think was personal. Anyway, the teacher came and first asked me to talk to the student about their behavior and what impact it was having on their education and the rest of the class. Now, I could have had a conversation about the wants of the teacher. I would’ve had to ask them questions about the behaviors that led to them being punished, and I’m sure it would’ve been very likely that the student would not have engaged with me at all, and the experience would not have only led me to being stuck, uncomfortable in doubting my ability as a counselor, but I imagine it would’ve been like a double punishment for the client.

Instead, after the client reluctantly came in because they really did not wanna be there, I asked, “What are your best hopes from being here today?” And after several, “I don’t know.”s, and several variations of asking the best hopes question, they finally answered with that “I never have to come back here again.”, which I thought was super appropriate answer given that I was bestowed upon them as their punishment.

Anyway, we went on and had a conversation about what they wanted instead, the difference that it would make, and how they’d managed to avoid this punishment up to this point, and I never saw them again. So it’s really important to know whose best hopes you are working with. By being very clear in whose that is helps you stay on track, not fall into any unnecessary pitfalls, because it ultimately leads to you questioning your ability to do a great job.

So don’t forget to ask yourself, “Whose best hopes are you actually working with?” Your clients, yours or someone else’s?

Thank you so much for joining me for this Solution Focused snippet, and I really hope this reminder helps you as you continue to grow your skills and confidence.

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So until next time, keep being you.