A few years ago, while I was working at a mental health agency, I was in a staff supervision meeting for the therapists employed by this agency. During this meeting we were all required to show a videotape of our work with clients. I was nervous, all of the other therapists on staff used the Cognitive Behavioral Approach in their psychotherapy sessions. I was terrified that my using the Solution Focused Approach would spark a problem in this meeting when the staff saw the way I was working with my clients.
I will never forget the video I showed that day., I was working with a woman that was in some trouble as a result of depression that had taken over her life. It was a first session and immediately I started right in asking questions about what the women would like to get out of therapy and how she would like things to look once the depression had left her life. Her response to these questions was amazing. Her mood changed, she went from looking sad and wiping away tears to smiling and describing a world that was filled with hope and smiles. Even though it was clear that the questions were hard for her, she took time to think and dig for answers to each and every question. In doing so, she was able to provide an amazingly detailed description of what her life would like when the depression was no longer a part of it.
As I sat watching this session with the other staff members I wondered nervously what they were thinking. I was very aware that not everyone in the room viewed Solution Focused Brief Therapy as a creditable way of working client, especially clients who were struggling with something serious. After watching several minutes of this session the supervisor stopped the tape and began making suggestions on how I should work with the client in the next session, basically asking me to switch and begin to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in my work. Meetings like this were not uncommon for me at that time in my career, nor were they pleasant, but in this particular meeting something important became apparent.
When the supervisor invited the rest of the therapy team to provide feedback someone commented that I was, “Lucky to have a client so motivated”. This was an eye opening statement to me for two reasons. First, I agreed. I completely believed I was lucky to have such a motivated client. Secondly, it was the first time I realized that not everyone viewed all of their clients as highly motivated.
One of the key ideas of the Solution Focused Approach is that every client is motivated by something and the job of the clinician is to ask questions to establish a best hopes for the session that is in line with what may be motivating the client. This simple idea is key to working with clients but is often at the route of why a session becomes difficult. If we begin to see a client as challenging or resistant, then that is exactly what they will become, so remember, the very fact that they came to visit a therapist must be routed in the desire for something and tapping into this can be the very difference between successful outcomes and difficult sessions.