Solution Focused Brief Therapy. It’s a very simple way to do the job of psychotherapy, but it’s very, very hard. And the reason it’s hard, is cuz it’s actually hard to stay so simple in the complicated scenarios that typically come up in a psychotherapy session. But one of the reasons it’s harder is because we go about learning it in the wrong way.

I wanna make this video so that you understand why you need to shift the way you learn Solution Focused Brief Therapy, why I teach it the way that I teach it, and hopefully help it become something that’s a lot more doable for you.

So let me explain what I mean when I say we go about learning it the wrong way.

Several years ago when I was in London, I was teaching, and there was this woman, she’s gone on to become a really good friend of mine. I did a mock therapy session as a demonstration in front of this audience, a live mock therapy session. And this woman was writing feverishly as I was doing the session, I could kinda see outta the corner of my eyes, she’s writing feverishly. At the end of the mock session, she showed me what she was writing, and she wrote down every single question that I asked. And she was like, “I wanna memorize these questions.” But that’s actually not the way to go about learning Solution Focused Brief Therapy.

I’m not knocking this part, I was the same way when I learned it. I understand why we do this. We think if we can memorize these questions, and we’ve learned the technique, then we could get good at the therapy. But, what you actually have to memorize is the thinking that leads to the questions. What you actually have to master is the mindset that leads to proper questioning.

So, for example, the questions aren’t important in terms of, “I’m gonna write down all the questions so I can memorize the questions that Elliott asked.” What’s really important is to develop the skill of being able to say, “Elliott believes in his client, so he’s constantly gonna be thinking of another question to ask.”

Clients say things that are hard in session. When you ask them a question, they say, “I don’t know.” And, “I don’t know the answer to that.” The only way to navigate your way through that isn’t knowing a list of questions, or memorizing a series of questions. The only way to navigate your way through that is to believe in your client so much that you keep going through the exercise of coming up with another question.

Solution Focused Brief Therapy. It’s a “questions based process”, but I want you to hear that as “the thinking behind the questions”.

One of the most amazing sessions I ever saw was done by a guy named Chris Iveson. He was working with a mom and teenage daughter that weren’t really getting along. He got to a point in the session where he was clearly stuck. And when I say stuck, I just mean you could see in his head, he was thinking about, “What do I ask next? What do I ask next?”

A little context, at the office where they were, clients would come in, and they would go to this waiting area where there was a series of teas, and this mom and daughter chose the same tea.

So, Chris is in the session and you can see he’s thinking, “What do I say? What do I say? What do I say?” And he says, “How come you guys picked the same tea?” And the daughter in essence said, I’m paraphrasing, but the daughter said, “I do a lot of things like my mom.” And then that opened up another series of questions like, “What else do you do like your mom?” And, “What about your mom are you so pleased with that you replicate some of what she does?” And to mom, “What do you see your daughter doing that makes you pleased that she’s just like you?” And all of a sudden the session becomes this beautiful helping experience for this mom and daughter. But I wouldn’t say memorize the “How come you drink the same tea?” question. I wouldn’t say memorize that as a question, but understand what was Chris thinking as he was doing it.

What you would know is Chris wasn’t giving up. Chris would never give up on asking his clients questions. What drives him is, “I’m gonna come up with another question.” I’ve heard him say this a thousand times… “Anytime you’re stuck in a session, any question will get the session moving again.”

So I think it’s just an incredibly valuable way to start thinking about learning Solution Focused Brief Therapy, to learn it as a process, this is “the thinking behind the questions” and not necessarily “learning the questions” exactly.

Learning what the questions are is important. But don’t get caught up in thinking in order to do this approach, “Well, I’ve gotta memorize a series of questions, and then learn how to deploy the questions.”

In order to do this well, you have to match the thinking behind the questions, which we’ve always historically referred to as curiosity. And in the past few years, I’ve come to fall out of love with the word curiosity, and I’ve made a video about that in the past. Maybe I’ll make another one. But I think I’m more interested in questions with determination, questions with belief. When your client says the desired outcome is to become happy, then I have to be determined to continue to ask questions about the presence of happiness.

I have to be resolute in my belief, and my client’s ability to achieve happiness, and to describe what the difference happiness would make in their life. That is the root of Solution Focused Brief Therapy. So it’s not about mastering the questions, it’s about mastering the thinking behind the questions.