I saw a client today and she came into Therapy, struggling with depression, anxiety, intense levels of fear that were holding her back from making significant decisions in her life and, and taking significant actions on those decisions in her life. When I asked her about her desired outcome, and I asked her what she hoped to achieve from being an Therapy, she said, I don’t even know. And then she started rattling off all of the symptoms and difficult things she was struggling with. She started saying, I’m depressed. I’m anxious. I’m fearful, started talking about thoughts related to suicide. Like, I don’t want you to get alarmed, but I I’ve had thoughts about ending my life.
And she was saying like, I’m not at risk of ending my life. I just don’t, I just don’t care because I don’t know how to get rid of this fear. And so I asked her like, what I think is the single most powerful question you can ask in Solution Focused Therapy. In fact, the single most powerful word that you could use in Solution Focused Brief therapy is in this question, and I said, what would you like to feel instead?
Instead is the most powerful word in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, my opinion. And that question is the most powerful question, because for so many of us, we focus so much on problems that actually, it’s hard for us to answer questions related to what we’d like to achieve, unless they’re in the context of what we would like to have instead of the problem. So if I ask you, what would you like to achieve? As I asked to this person, she couldn’t even answer me without first describing the problem she had and the symptoms connected to that problem. So what would you like to achieve in therapy? She just starts rattling off all of the things bothering her, and they were really, really significant. And the Therapy actually starts, her brain actually starts working. The process of change actually starts.
When I say, how would you like to feel instead of all of those things? Like if somehow all of those things went away, what would you like to be there in its place? And the lady said, I don’t know. So what do you think? And she said, I’d like to be confident and I’d like to be strong. And I would like to be the best me I could be. Well, now she’s giving me language to ask her about the preferred future. Now she’s giving me language to say, so suppose you woke up tomorrow and you were confident and strong and the best version of you, you could be, what’s the first thing you would notice? And then we went about doing a description and there’s no way I could have done that without asking her, what would you like to feel instead?
You know, a lot of times as professionals, when people, when we ask this question and people start talking about the problems, we get the misconception that this person can’t answer the question of what they want to achieve, or we have the misconception that they need to tell us all about the problem. When actually what you need to do is ask the most powerful question in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, which is what would you like to have instead? By the end of the session, this young lady was very pleased with the conversation we’ve just had. And she said, is it normal that I already feel better?
And I said, well, I guess it’s normal for you if that’s how you feel? And I’m glad that you feel that way. A few hours after the session, she sent me a really nice email explaining to me how helping her shift her focus from what was bothering her to what she wanted to do to achieve was like a game changing moment. And she had never thought about that before and how she was already looking forward to our next conversation.
And it inspired me to want to share with you guys, don’t get sucked into the trap of thinking your client can’t answer your desired outcome question. Usually, what are your best hope for our talking? Or don’t get sucked into thinking your client doesn’t want to answer that question because what they actually want to tell you about the problem. This is a time for you to reach into your Solution Focused language and pull out a question that contains the most powerful word in the Solution Focused vocabulary. And that is the word ‘instead’, and asking your clients what they would like to be experiencing instead and watch the magic unfold.
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