Traveling around the world teaching professionals to use the Solution Focused Approach has taught me a few things, perhaps even more than I have taught. One such thing is there are some people that have an initial response to the stance taken in session by those who use this approach that makes learning to work in this way difficult. It is just so challenging to let go of the common therapeutic practice of investigating the problem instead engaging in a solution building conversation. In truth, I understand this struggle; I too was quite skeptical of this work when I was first introduced to it. I simply could not see how by just asking a client to describe their preferred future that any level of depth for successful therapy was being accomplished. Then, everything changed; I learned to trust.
After my first exposure to this approach I was skeptical, but curious. As I mentioned above, I could not see how this type of session could possibly lead towards long-term change. Even though I was skeptical at first, I had to admit, on the surface the ideas associated with this method of psychotherapy made sense. Think about it. Does a dentist need to know how your teeth got dirty in order to clean them, does a personal trainer need to know how you go out of shape to help you get back into shape, someone need to know how you got lost in order to give you direction to get you back on track or does a chef need to know how you got hungry in order to prepare the perfect meal for you? Of course not, it would be asinine to suggest that the answer to any of those questions would be yes, even offensive in some cases. What’s more, it would be equally asinine to suggest that any of those prior examples don’t accomplish long term out comes. Then maybe, just maybe, a psychotherapist does not necessarily need to know about the origins of a problem in order to help a client create their preferred future and experience long term and sustainable change.
As I began to study this approach I watched session videos, read books and journal articles and talked to clinicians from all around the world who used this approach about the outcomes of their work. As a result of this studying I became brave enough to begin to use this approach in my own work, just to see if my clients would experience the same levels of change being reported by these master clinicians.
What transpired changed my professional life forever. My clients, not my mentors, not these masters I was studying, taught me to trust this approach as miracle after miracle occurred in my office. I watched families become stronger, couples reignite passion and many other changes. I learned that my original thoughts about this approach not having depth were wrong, very wrong. As I engaged in Solution Focused conversations I could see how that these conversations are quite deep and quite full of emotion, it’s just this depth is accomplished differently than in other more traditional approaches. For example, I was recently working with a couple who was having tremendous trouble in their relationship and asked them, “Suppose you woke up tomorrow and realized that the greatest dreams you had for your relationship on your wedding day had somehow become a reality over night, what would you notice upon waking up that would show you this current trouble is over and those dreams had become a reality?” As the couple answered this question and the details of their preferred future poured out, with some help from my follow up questions, it was clear that they were in fact in a very deep conversation, chalk full of very real emotions.
It was lessons like this from my clients that taught me to trust this approach, believe in client’s ability to change. I learned that by simply asking people to describe their preferred future, in great detail, the client becomes empowered to use their resources to make their dreams a reality. So, yes, SFBT has depth, it just looks differently. Yes, this approach is emotional, it just looks differently. I write and teach so that people can be exposed to this approach and take their learning beyond the myths and superficial knowledge of this approach, I hope this helps.
I enjoyed the read thanks for sharing your experience in regards to focusing the conversations towards being solution focused, and I couldn’t agree more.
Thanks for your comment Darryle,
You are SO provocative and convincing. I attended a startling workshop with Jacqui in SA and have used the ideas of SFT with couples. We (the couples, the marriages and myself) are making great strides. This approach and its ideas just make SO much sense and bring about SO much hope for couples stuck in the quagmire and repeated regurgitation of the past. I find that if I myself am enthusiastic, it spills over to the couples and provides LOADS OF HOPE AND POTENTIAL. Thanks hey. Hope to see you soon on African shores ….. 🙂
Hey there Gerhard,
Thanks for the comment and kind words. Jaqui is amazing! I am actually coming to SA in March to teach, hope to see you there!
Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts, really enjoy the read.
I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about working with particularly teens who struggle to have a future picture or even know what it might be like if the issue didn’t exist?
The only type in this field that I enjoy almost as much as working with couples is working with teens. That is a very good question and one that I get frequently as I teach. As a Solution Focused practitioner we must always maintain the belief that the client, in this case teen, has the capacity to describe their preferred future, even if it is difficult at first. If the clinician loses this belief then their ability to ask meaningful questions will be significantly diminished. So, what do we do, we continue to ask questions, gingerly and respectfully until we ask a questions that unlocks the client’s ability to begin to describe a future that is desirous to them.
I used to work with teens and a question they loved answering was ‘what kind of adult do you want to be?’ Many of them had never thought about the fact that there were lots of different ways to be an adult (not just those that the adults in their life were suggesting or modelling).
It seems to me that there really is not much controversy when it comes to solution-focused therapy vs. depth. What is deeper than being in a setting where one’s best hopes and dreams are being articulated clearly? And heard by someone who wants to help the client move in that direction? A therapy session where the client is encouraged to slow down, be in the present moment, and really think in detail about what holds value for them seems both deep and solution-focused.
While there are certainly traumatic experiences that may yield healing from examination and understanding, much of what comes into a therapist’s office can be helped quickly by solution-focused treatment. Training the brain to look for the positive rather than focusing on the negative things (that one doesn’t want) is useful, and transferrable to other life situations.
Thanks for your blog and teaching, Elliott!
Thanks for your comment and I couldn’t agree more.Yet, some how there a sect of our profession that maintain the belief that this approach is not deep. Let’s keep speeding the word that it is!
Dion,Thats a great question. I would find it difficult using SFT with anyone who wasn’t sure what they wanted their future to look like. I have had success with clients in this situation using Career Interest Inventories, Aptitude Tests, and Interest Inventories. After receiving the results, I help them formulate a plan involving community services like college advisors. Once they can narrow down their strenghts and interests, they can develop a more future-focused plan where I would employ some SFT techniques. Hope this helped, even though it wasn’t from Elliott. 🙂
Thanks for the comment. I would not work for me. In our use of SFBT we do not use assessment, inventories or tests. The questions alone seem to be enough.
The read reinforced yesterday’s learnings in Asheville. I am re-ignited to master the approach, after some depth learning on my own several years ago. I want to pursue training, love the offer of sending videos, and hope I can attend at Kellar. Best wishes in Knoxville and for the rest of your trip
That is awesome John! Glad you liked my training! Hope to see you in Keller!
A friend of mine once mentioned that he felt uneasy at times when he saw couples for counseling because he had been divorced once, I told him that even dentists sometimes have had dental problems in the past but they can still help their patients with their dental work. I also reminded him that even the best mechanics in town still have to change the oil and maintain their own vehicles to keep them running well. Anyway, I enjoyed your words Mr. Connie.
Thanks for your thoughts Jonathan.
Hello……..I am very intrigued by the idea of using this approach. I admit that coming from a psychodynamic perspective, I have viewed brief solution focused therapy as ‘not going deep enough’. However, after four years in practice, I find that clients want hope for change and to see change quickly. How do you implement this technique with those who do not know what they want their future to look like?
That really is a great and frequently asked question. We have to work as SFBT clinicians to always believe that our clients do in fact know what they would like their futures to look like and hold the competency to answer questions that elicit a description of that future. Admittedly, sometimes this requires more work than others but clients can always do it. It is up to clinician to ask questions that produce answers, no matter how challenging it may be.
Hey Elliott! What a great post. I love the examples you give to show how we don’t need to spend time working out the problem before creating a better future. You inspire me!
Thanks so much Rayya!
Hi Connie, thanks for the perspective in this post. This approach usually takes the clients by surprise, they did not have time(opportunity) to blame each other. The solution is thus reach much earlier than expected.
I recently did a conflict mediation between 2 colleagues and was taken by surprise by the emotions that was brought by the miracle question. This also taken the clients by surprise.
PS I would love to be at your training when come to South Africa.
Thanks for the comment Gertruida! I hope I get to meet you while I am in South Africa! I love that place so much!