A few months ago, I received what I thought was a very unusual email from a person that lived in Copenhagen, Denmark. In the email, the person asked if they could study Solution Focused Brief Therapy with me by literally immersing herself in the process.
She proposed that she visit my office for one month, watching the way I run things and even observing the way I do therapy if any clients would allow her to sit in on sessions. I’m not going to lie; my immediate response was an emphatic no! I am, by nature, an big time introvert, and the thought of someone shadowing me for 30 days seemed a bit overwhelming. I tried as hard as I could to talk her out of it. I proposed she just attend an event I was teaching or maybe stay at my office for a much shorter amount of time, like a week. However, she was having none of it! She talked me into allowing her to come for the month (talking me into things is not an easy task), and then plans were arranged.
For the past few years, I have been teaching Solution Focused Brief Therapy by asking people to think of this approach as a language process. In our field, we tend to think of psychotherapy as a collection of techniques that are applied to a client. However, the Solution Focused Approach is a bit different. Instead of thinking we are doing something to our clients, we instead view this as a collaborative process that is done with our clients, similar to a language. Also, if you view learning this approach as a language then you are likely to learn this approach beyond just the common “techniques” such as the Miracle Question, exception finding, scaling questions and so on.
If all you learn is those common “techniques” then you will learn what to do in session but may miss the subtle intricacies of how to actually use these ideas in session. This may seem like a small difference, but it makes all of the difference in the world. For example, if you don’t understand how to ask about times in a client’s life when the problem was not as strong then you run the risk of causing the client to think you are not listening to them when they explain how big the problem actually is.
By focusing on learning SFBT as a language process, you pick up the subtle intricacies of how to build a conversation using these ideas. That is what I saw this Danish learner do in her time with me. She completely immersed herself in SFBT for a month. In that time, she watched over a dozen sessions, read 14 books about Solution Focused Brief Therapy, and had many of hours worth of questions for me to field between my work.
On the final day of her stay in my office, we decided to test her. Myself and a few other local people role-played clients for her and the result was shocking! We role played the toughest situations, being challenging clients, and she handled each scenario like a seasoned Solution Focused clinician even though this was the first time she had ever done such an exercise. It was truly remarkable; all that witnessed this were beyond impressed.
How did she do this? How was this person able to go from completely new to this approach to being supremely skilled in such a short amount of time? We talked about this very thing with her, as well as the participants to the role-plays, as she explained what it was like to be completely immersed for these months. She described a process of learning a language, not just therapy techniques. Just as if someone wanted to learn a foreign language, they would spend as much time ensconced in the language as possible. They would read books, watch films, even visit or move to the country where this language was spoken. That is exactly what this person from Denmark did!
I encourage everyone interested in being proficient with this approach to follow her example!