One of the most important skills that you can develop when you’re doing Solution Focused Brief Therapy is the ability to presuppose change. And in order to presuppose change, you have to be able to communicate that you believe in people. In order to do that, you have to truly believe in people and be able to see the best of them, even in the midst of a challenging story or experience.
And I was teaching the other day, you know, it’s so funny. I spent my pre pandemic world traveling around the world and I spend my pandemic experience traveling around the world, but never leaving my home. Like traveling around the world virtually. And the other day, today, actually I was speaking in Canada via zoom and people were talking about this presupposition process.
And somebody asked me how I learned to see strength in problem stories. And I answered the question in a way that I had never answered it before. And I wanted to share that here, because the way I think I learned to do it was I wished people as a child would view my strength in the midst of my problem story. Now I’ve often shared that my father was a very abusive, very aggressive man and growing up in my home was very, very challenging.
For example, I used to get in trouble and, and punished harshly. If my father caught me doing homework, now, it might sound like a strange thing, but my father would come home and he was already doing homework. He would say like, you should have already had that done. If you were a smart studious person, you would have already done your homework. So I learned, okay, then I need to do my homework as soon as I get home.
So when my father gets home, I can tell him I’ve already done it. But then when I told my father I had done it, he would accuse me of doing it hastily and say, you’re not a smart studious person and I would be punished harshly. So then I learned, okay, I’ll wait for him to get home and tell him I’m about to do it so I can take my time. And then he would go back to saying, you should’ve done it earlier. And I would be in trouble. And I learned, there is no right answer to the question, like, have you done your homework?
There was no right answer to your questions. There was no answer. There was no answer to that question to keep myself safe. So as a consequence of that, I would frequently go to school, having not done my homework. It was a very common experience that I’d go to school without my homework done.
Now I did develop one coping strategy that worked sometimes. What I used to do is I would set my alarm for two in the morning, so I could wake up and I would do my homework for about an hour or two, and then go back to sleep and then wake up and go to school. But you know, when you’re 12, 11,13 years old, you’re not good at waking up to an alarm clock. So some nights I would wake up and do my homework. And that was the safest time for me to do my homework because my dad was asleep.
The house was quiet and I could focus and not worry about getting in trouble. But some nights I sleep right through it and I would wake up having not done my homework. And I had a teacher, my math teacher in the seventh grade, eighth grade, when I was trying to do this, my math teacher, I would walk into the room and he’d stop me at the door. And he’d say, “Elliott, do you have your homework?” And if my answer was no, he would send me to the vice principal’s office.
And the vice principal was like, that’s the disciplinarian of the school, right? That’s where you’re going to get in trouble. And he’d send me to the vice principal’s office. And I spent that entire, most of that entire year sitting in my vice principal’s office, not participating in the math class. So it’s no surprise. And I’m 44 years old. And I don’t like math. Of all of the grades on my college transcript. Math was my lowest grade.
Like I’ve always described myself as not being good at math. And that shouldn’t surprise you because I spent an entire educational year sitting in the vice principal’s office because I couldn’t do my homework. And people would talk to me as if like Elliott’s not a good student.
Elliott is not appropriate for school. Elliott is not studious. People told me I was not college material. Like that was the experience I had growing up. And I wished someone would ask me how come you don’t do your homework? Because I would have told them because it’s not safe in my home to do my homework. I wish someone had seen my strength because I actually look back and realized it was an amazing thing that I found a strategy that worked.
It was only effective sometimes, but it worked. And that is, I can do my homework at two in the morning. Like I wish someone would say, “Wow, Elliott, you’re even more studious than everyone around you because you have to work harder and do different things to be able to do your homework in a safe way.” But they didn’t. They talked to me as if I was not college material as if it was not educable as if I was not going to be successful academically. As if I was not studious. As if I was not smart.
It was just easier to judge me on the outcome and not the process. And I think that that is significantly influenced who I am as an adult and who I am as a clinical professional, because now I have an ability that when people tell me problems stories, I’m able to listen for the hero within the problem story, which leads to me being able to presuppose positive change.
So one of the things I want you guys to do is just practice listening for the hero in the problem story. It is a tremendous gift that you can give to the person you’re talking to. And every problem story has a hero in it. So I can tell you my problem story and my dad, and the way he treated me and all the things that happened in my childhood. But there are also moments of heroicness that allowed me to rise above those circumstances and become who I am today.
And one of the things I did was I set my alarm at 2:00 AM. So I could wake up and do my homework between 2 and 3:30 in the morning. So I can go to school with my homework done. I did that as like an 11, 12 year old kid. So I wonder as your client’s coming to your office and share their problems stories, what moments of heroicness are taking place that most people don’t attend to. It’s our job to hear that hero.
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