Several years ago I was attending a conference workshop being taught by one of my mentors (and closest friends) Chris Iveson when the topic of being a purist came up as another event attendee posed a question to Chris. His answer crystallized some of my thoughts on the idea of purism and impacted how I teach and write about this subject greatly.
During this workshop the attendee asked Chris what he does if he ever feels as if his questions are not working and the client would do better with another approach. I was excited to hear that someone else had asked this question because I myself have been asked this question several times by attendees to my events and have struggled with how to respond. It was not a struggle for me because I didn’t know my own stance on this subject; my struggle was on how to make my stance clear to the person asking the question in a respectful and concise way. Now, my close friend and mentor was asked the same question that had stumped me and I was going to hear how he handled it.
He explained that he would not think the approach was not working and would not feel comfortable switching to another approach. He went on to explain this is because that since he has spent 25 years practicing and teaching Solution Focused Brief Therapy that is where is skill set is strongest. Not only that, if he were to switch to using another approach he would be doing something he has not been doing in more than 2 decades and thus, he more than likely would not do it well. So, the best and most helpful thing he can do is keep building questions in line with solution focused practice until he develops a line of questions that leads the client towards helpfulness.
As I heard this response I was awe stricken because he was making points become clearer to me about my own approach to using SFBT in my work. This approach is about building conversations based on the client’s preferred future and their strengths and resources that could assist in making that future a reality. In doing this, the clinician must be more curious about the client’s best hopes than they are tempted by the client’s problems. This is a difficult process and takes intense focus but is doable even if the clinician asks an unhelpful question or two along the way. In keeping with the Solution Building process the client is often able to answer the next question in the process the conversation often continues unscathed.
This also can be a challenge for those learning this approach, developing the ability to trust the process, and the client, more than they fear the problem. However over the years I have had a series of experiences with countless clients when I found myself profoundly thankful that I kept asking my questions and did not give up. Sometimes all that is needed is another question, not another approach.