From the very first day I mentioned to colleagues that I was interested in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, they began saying to me “I don’t like the Solution Focused Approach because it ignores the problem”.
Well I suppose that the name containing the words “Solution Focused” implies that the therapist using this approach is interested in only the solution and not the problem. However, this does not mean that the therapist is ignoring the problem, in fact, quite the opposite. It could be argued that the problem is the central component of a solution focused conversation; after all, it is the problem that caused the client to come see you. It would be wrong, even disrespectful, to ignore the very reason that caused a client to seek therapy. Instead, a therapist using the Solution Focused Approach is interested in what the client most desires instead what the origins of the problems are. This requires particular skills as well as attention to language to shift the conversation from being centrally interested in the orientation of a problem to being interested in overcoming the problem. Notice how the problem has not left the conversation, however, the way the problem is attended to is drastically different.
Many times when meeting with a couple for the first time it becomes immediately clear that something is wrong and one or both of the partners are struggling with something that is transpiring in the relationship. Before I make my very first utterance, I have a choice to make. First, I could ask this couple what brings them into therapy. If this line of questioning is pursued the couple would have to explain what the nature of the problem is and potentially who within the couple contributed to this problem. This would be an appropriate choice for some clinicians using another approach but for me, using the Solution Focused Approach, there is another option. Instead, I ask what their best hopes are from the therapy. By pursuing this line of questioning the conversation is much more likely to be about change and overcoming the problem. In both avenues the problem is a part of the conversation but in pursuing the Solution Focused route, the problem is discussed in “overcoming” language and not “origin” language. This is a small but incredibly important distinction and certainly not indicative of ignoring the problem.
Think about it, is the doctor ignoring your illness when he focuses his actions on providing healing, is the police officer whom you have asked directions ignoring your plight when he focuses his language on getting you towards your destination? Of course not. In this same way nor is a Solution Focused Brief Therapist ignoring a client’s problem when they focus their language on their best hopes instead of the origins of the problem.
I hope professionals would no longer promote the myth that SFBT practitioners ignore a problem, as you can see, we are doing something far different from that.
Actually when teaching students how to identify the “problem” when their agency wants this as part of the assessment, they will find out by asking: “What will be helpful to talk about today” or When your work here is successful and you can say , ‘I am glad I worked on this with Bob.’ What will be different for you/ What will be taking place that says w you are successful? The problem will be expressed in a number of ways and in detail as you proceed. Try it and see if it doesn’t produce a good picture of what the” problem” is that they want to work on.. Also, we focus on what the person wants better in his or her life, not what the worker interprets the problem to be based on some theoretical model.
Hi Dr. Blundo,
Thanks for your reply! I completely agree (obviously) that it is potentially much more helpful to focus on what the client is trying to accomplish instead of trying to understand the problem.
At first blush my original thinking is not so much the issue is being avoided but how much “breath” to the issue is being given. Im of the mindset a therapists must be willing to dig as deep as necessary to uncover the origin. Far too often the focus becomes behaviors to be dispelled as opposed to drives, motivations and origins of perspective, many of which may hail from a place that precceeded the marriage. Just an opinion.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and perspective. Very insightful however, incongruent with using the Solution Focused Approach.