One of the things that lit my fire for teaching the Solution Focused Approach are the many myths that exist about this approach amongst people in the helping professions.
From the very beginning of my journey towards doing Solution Focused work, many of my peers in school and colleagues in the office would tell me things like, “Solution Focused Brief Therapy is not supported by research”, “it doesn’t work with ‘real’ problems” or “it only works with intelligent clients”. Even the people that said supportive things did not seem to understand the true nature of this approach. They would often say things like, “I like SFBT because it gets right in there and solves the problem” or “I like SFBT because it is all about moving forward”.
As I have spent time traveling the world, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many key people in the Solution Focused community and talking to some of the people that were on the original founding team of this approach in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during those days in the mid 1970’s. From these conversations, 2 key things stand out to me that are not covered in the texts books but are critical to learning how to use this approach effectively.
The first is the way in which SFBT was developed. Many of the textbooks we are required to read in graduate schools do a fairly good job of introducing the student to the common “techniques” (called interventions by the team in Milwaukee) but don’t explain the thinking that led to these techniques and how that thinking remains a part of the Solution Focused Approach. The way this model evolved was from a team of clinicians watching hours and hours of therapy conversations and interviewing many, many clients to identify what works . The intent of the team was to build a conversation based on only the things that worked best and abandon the rest.
This is important because in order to learn this approach and master the language, one must make sure observation is apart of their process. Many clinicians treat this approach like finite learning, like learning to tie your shoes. Sort of a “once I got it, I got it” mentality. In order to master this approach you must hone it and stay sharp, and you must spend time analyzing what you are doing in session and what questions seem to lead to better outcomes.
The other component to this approach that stands out to me after so many years of studying and practice is that this is an approach about resources as well as the future. Even professionals with the most basic knowledge of this way of working are familiar with the future focus of SFBT, but less known is that client resources have been equally important from the very beginning of SFBT. Think of it this way: not only does the clinician need to talk to the client to help them to identify what they’d like their preferred futures to look like, but it is equally important to help the client to explore their personal resources that could potentially make their hoped for future a reality.
So many people are unaware that an SFBT conversation is not only about the client’s future but also their resources.
So as you go forward in your Solution Focused learning, remember the lessons from the original team in Milwaukee. Observe yourself, and others proficient with this approach, so that you can be aware of the things you do in session that lead towards desired change and the things you can abort. Also remember that it is important to have conversations about your client’s personal resources, as those are the things they will need to tap into in order to bring their desires into reality.