Today was an amazing day. I hosted an advanced Solution Focused Brief Therapy training with my guy, Adam Froerer. I think he’s the best guy in the world in terms of his Solution Focused thinking and research. Normally when we teach, new ideas begin to prosper and flourish, and innovations start to happen, and we challenge one another and things start kind of unfolding. What happened today was we were talking about the ‘desired outcome’ part of the session. One of your jobs as a clinician is to practice what we call ‘radical acceptance’.
We’ve talked about this before. This is not a new idea. But, somebody in the audience, somebody that was attending, we needed to clarify the difference between acceptance and agreement. I think a lot of times this throws off clinicians because clients will sometimes say things that are negative and not productive, and that shouldn’t be happening in their lives. And we are afraid that if we utilize that language, we’re kind of conveying, we agree with whatever thing that they would be doing. And that’s not true.
Never forget that acceptance and agreement are not the same. Acceptance is an incredibly important ingredient for change. Let me give you an example.
I saw a client once, a teenage client, and he had come to therapy with his mom and dad. And I said, “What are your best hopes from our talking?” That’s the most common way that we introduce outcome language into a session. What are your best hopes from our talking.
I’ll never forget the client who was 16, he looked at his parents and the mom said, “Tell him the truth. That’s why we’re here.” And he said, “I want more money, more weed, and more [B-word].” He used an expletive B-word. And I said, “What else?”, ’cause obviously I can’t really endorse that, but I also don’t wanna reject him.
I don’t wanna say, “Oh, that’s bad. You can’t do that.” I don’t wanna lecture him about his language or his ideas. I just said, “What else?” And he said, “I want my parents off my back.” “Well, instead of on your back, what would you rather have your parents doing?” “I want them to trust me.”
Now this 16-year-old teenager, he hadn’t been doing a whole lot that would cause his parents to trust him. But yet he says, “I want my parents to trust me.” I said, “What difference would it make for you if your parents could trust you?” And he said, “They would trust me with the family business, because I really want to take over the family business when I get old enough.”
I don’t remember what the family business was. The mom and dad, I don’t know. They sold something, whatever it was, they had a shop in the area where I was. And I said, “How come? “What difference would it make you to take over the family business?” And the 16-year-old said, “My dad has worked really, really hard to build this business.”
Apparently the business was like his father’s. And then he took it over and he’s like, “I’ve watched my mom and dad work in this business for all these years, carrying my grandfather’s legacy.”, and all the things. And he said, “I want my dad to be able to retire knowing that I’ll keep the business going.” And I look over at the mom and dad and they’re in tears.
The 16-year-old notices this and then he becomes in tears. And that became the center of the therapy. “If you woke up tomorrow and you were behaving in such a way that your parents would trust you, and trust you enough to one day give you the business, what would you notice?” And the child started talking about changes.
I only saw that family three times. Over those three weeks, the child made massive and significant changes. A few years later, I was driving in the area where my office was, and I saw the young man working at the shop, working at the business, and it was a really touching moment, ’cause I remember when he once didn’t think he’d ever be there. And now he’s there in a very kind of professional, official role.
Now I say that to say, if I had rejected his original response, like, “No. You shouldn’t want more money, and more weed, and you shouldn’t talk like that.”, then I’m rejecting him, and I don’t earn his respect and connection.
Therapy, in order to be effective, needs to have that connection. In order to have that connection, you have to practice acceptance, not agreement. I don’t agree that he should be smoking weed, and referring to women in the way he did. And I don’t agree with that. But I just have to accept his language and then use his language to create more questions.
The beautiful thing is when you do that with people, they change faster ’cause they feel heard, and they feel valued, and they feel important. And when people feel that way, they change.
Just remember there’s a difference between acceptance and agreement. You can practice radical acceptance, even when your client is saying and doing things you disagree with.