I can tell from the questions I receive, and listen, I receive hundreds, I’m not exaggerating, hundreds of questions every single day, from people asking me things about Solution Focused Brief Therapy. And the questions usually start with, “How do I work with….”

In just the last 24 hours…

“How do I work with clients who have ODD?”

“How do I work with clients who have depression and anxiety?”

“How do I help my teenage clients accomplish stronger boundaries?”

“How do I work with people who struggle with addiction?”

That’s literally just today, and I find myself thinking… I can’t say it any more profoundly… the problem is irrelevant to what we’re doing in session. The person is what matters. Let me give you an example.

This is not an approach that’s about solving problems. This is an approach that’s about creating desired outcomes and moving our lives in that direction.

When you’re learning this approach, it is much more important that you understand the stance of Solution Focused Brief Therapy, instead of the theory.

When all you do is focus on the theory, then you fall into the trap of thinking it’s your job to solve another person’s problem. And that’s a huge issue cuz you really can’t solve somebody’s problem. No therapist in the history of the world has ever solved another person’s problem. That’s not how problem solving works. I have to take the action to solve my problem like no one else can do it.

Here’s why the stance is so important. I have to view my client through the lens of capability. I think for a long time in the Solution Focused world, when we talk about a stance, we think it’s like a stance of optimism or positivity or hope. And I think that that’s part of it. But more than anything, it’s like a rigid, stubborn belief that people can change. It’s a strong resolute belief that your clients can accomplish change. When they come into your office, we have to truly believe that, deep down in our bones.

And what happens when you adopt that stance, what happens when you have that level of belief, when your client says something like, “I struggle with depression.” You just hear that as their current state, not necessarily as their permanent state.

And then you get to ask questions like…

“How would you rather feel?”

“What would you notice when…?”

And you get to talk to people about change, and then change manifests, and then change happens. And then change happens rather quickly. But the problem is, so many of you hear the issue that the client brings up in therapy and you think of it as the state in which you need to solve.

So the client says, “I’m depressed.” We think, Ooh, we need to solve that depression. Well, that’s not true. That’s not true. You simply have to recognize it as the current state, which means there must have been a time before it when the depression was not present. And there could be a time in the future when the depression is not present.

And then I can ask my clients questions like, “When in your past do you remember something else being there that is so much more desirable instead of the depression?” And then clients get to tell you like, “When I was in the fourth grade…” or “Last year…” or “The first year we were married…” or whatever.

And even if they say, “I can’t think of a time.” Because you’re stubborn, you push, and you say things like, “If I had your whole life on film and I watched the entire film, at what point would I have had the hardest time noticing the depression you say has always been there.” And that opened up the window for the client to say, “You know what? When I was in seventh grade, it’s probably when you would’ve had a harder time noticing.” “What was happening in seventh grade?” “I was the popular kid in school, and I had the good girlfriend, and I had good grades…” or whatever. That’s the task.

The task is to use the power of words, to have your client talk about a life that is more desirable, whether or not it occurred in the past or in the future. That’s the task. That’s what we’re doing.

So many of you forget that and you think you’re there to solve problems, so you listen with a problem solving ear. And I don’t want you to do that. I want you to listen with a much different ear. I want you to listen with an ear related to the stance on how you can take what the client said and create a question that leads towards the desired outcome, either in the past or in the future.

Please don’t forget this lesson. It’s incredibly important that you adopt the stance. In fact, if you adopt the stance, it will just naturally lead towards Solution Focused questions. But if all you do is study the questions, it does not naturally lead to the stance. So focus on the stance and I promise you you’ll be taking a significant step towards mastery of this approach.