The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

‘But I don't know how’.

All of you who are familiar with Solution Focused practice will already know that our future-oriented questions are almost exclusively evidential, whilst our past-focused questions can be strategic. What this means is that our future-focused questions typically take the form of ‘how will you know?’ or ‘what will you notice that will tell you?, whilst we only ever ask ‘How’ questions in relation to past achievements, things that the client has already done. In other words in practice we very rarely, if ever, ask the question ‘and how are you going to do that?’; we do not rehearse possible strategies for moving forward, we merely elicit from the client how they would know that the moving forward was indeed happening. However despite the lack of any obvious attention to the ‘how’ I finish my opening sessions with an implicit invitation to watch out for progress, thus embodying an expectation that the client will have made progress by the time that we next meet, that they do know how. Arriving at Solution Focus from the outside, perhaps from a problem-solving approach, this way of doing things must seem very puzzling indeed, and Cerri from Swansea, on a course on Thursday and Friday this week, put some of this puzzlement into words asking ‘so what do you do when clients say ‘but I don’t know how (to do it)’. Now those of us who have been using the Solution Focused approach for a while will, I believe, testify to the rarity with which Cerri’s question occurs; people just do not at the ends of sessions seem concerned that they do not know how to progress, and the interesting question is why not, why at the ends of Solution Focused sessions does the client not turn to us in irritation or perhaps sheer perplexity saying ‘how can you expect me to notice change when I don’t know how to change’. Of course one explanation may be that clients are carried along by the worker’s apparent confidence that change will happen, the client thus not stopping to query the worker’s apparent and obvious belief, the worker’s assumption that before the next session changes will have occurred. However there may be other explanations and one that I found myself pondering upon after last week’s training relates to the idea of ‘pre-experience’. When asked to talk about why we think that describing the preferred future in micro-detail and at length in a first Solution Focused session might be useful one of the things that I often say is that not infrequently the client appears to have a pre-experience of the desired difference happening. This idea of ‘pre-experience’ then builds neatly to the idea of ‘creating memories’, the idea that our human brains are not able to distinguish clearly between those things that have been pictured in detail and those things that we have, in a physically, out-in-the-world, real way, ‘actually’ done. If this notion has any validity then this might explain why people do not say ‘but I don’t know how to’ since in a slightly unusual way they already have and if they already have then why would they think that they don’t know how! Does this make any sense? Perhaps this is an opportunity for me to share with you one of de Shazer’s thoughts for which I have been searching for a written source for a while. In the posthumously published book More than Miracles de Shazer writes ‘. . . for many people, the activity of answering (the Miracle Question) appears to elicit a significant shift in their state of consciousness’ (p 42), in other words the person is a different person after they have answered the miracle question. The creation of memories may be just one element underlying this ‘shift in their state of consciousness’ and may help to explain why clients leave sessions seemingly unconcerned by our not addressing in any overt or obvious way the ‘how’ of future progress. Of course there are a number of other explanations for this observation, for the lack of ‘doubt’ on the client’s part, and we could also think together about what we do on those rare occasions that the client does ask the question. Another time perhaps.

de Shazer, Steve, Dolan, Yvonne, Korman, Harry, Trepper, Terry, MacCollum, Eric and Berg, Insoo Kim (2007) More Then Miracles: the state of the art of solution focused therapy. New York: Haworth.

With thanks to Cerri.

Evan George
17 January 2021


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