The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

‘Counter Cakeism’ and Solution Focused Practice.

I was talking last week with a lovely group of people participating in a post-graduate course in Solution Focused Practice at the University of Leuven and Limburg (UCLL) in Hasellt in the North-East of Belgium. I have been friends with the course leaders and collaborating with them for 7 years now and I love working with them and yet as I was talking, out of the blue (naturally), Boris Johnson came to my mind. Perhaps you can imagine how shocked I was. If they had not been such a lovely group my whole day might have been spoiled and so, you might well ask, how on earth did BoJo turn up in a day’s workshop about SFP. Well it was the concept of ‘radical cakeism’. ‘Cakeism’1 can be defined as an assertion of the right to simultaneously enjoy two states that are by definition contradictory. ‘Cakeism’ was made famous as the basis for the Johnson government’s approach in their (doomed) negotiation with the European Union, the assertion of the possibility of having all the benefits of EU membership whilst being free of any of the requirements of membership. In everyday parlance ‘cakeism’ tends to be described as the wish’ to have one’s cake and to eat it’. So in what context you might ask did this nightmarish recollection, this ghoulish memory, this Johnsonian ghost of Christmas past (with any luck anyway), come to mind?

Well I found myself talking about ‘cakeism’ in relation to a largely unacknowledged and yet nonetheless easily recognisable characteristic of ‘therapy speak’. This particular characteristic is best observed in the context of clinical case discussions. When a piece of work has had a particularly good outcome we often observe a detailed exploration of what the therapist did that worked. The focus is largely on the therapist, the therapist’s approach, the therapist’s capacities, the therapist’s abilities – what the therapist did and how they did it. However if a piece of work does not go well and there is limited change, or indeed perhaps none at all, then we tend to notice a detailed exploration of the client’s position. The client may be framed as unmotivated, the client might be described as resistant, the client might be thought to be ‘in their comfort zone and unwilling to venture beyond it’, the client might be regarded as enjoying the secondary gains from continuing to have their problem, the client might be seen as rigid, stuck, uninsightful, a poor candidate for therapy or at the very least ‘not ready for therapy’. Just as in the case of the good outcome where the client tends to disappear from the discussion, so in the case of the poor outcome the worker tends to disappear, their failed intervention entirely disappearing from sight. This is of course a classic case of ‘radical cakeism’, wishing to take full responsibility for the good outcome and to enjoy all the benefits that flow from such an outcome whilst taking no responsibility for a poor outcome and heaping the blame on the client. This position is of course entirely illogical and perhaps the world of therapy requires its own Michel Barnier to cut through and to challenge this self-serving rhetorical device.

Oddly enough the Solution Focused world proudly flaunts, indeed celebrates, its own related position which we could call ‘radical reverse cakeism’ or ‘counter cakeism’. I would propose the latter term, ‘counter cakeism’, as the form of words more likely to see itself established in the Solution Focused therapeutic lexicon, less of a mouthful we might say than ‘radical reverse cakeism’. So in the Solution Focused world when a piece of work goes well we tend to highlight the capacities of the client. Steve de Shazer, when asked how to explain his excellent outcomes in relatively few sessions used to attribute the success to his ‘great clients’. And when a piece of work goes poorly we turn the spotlight on our own practice and ask ourselves ‘what could I have done differently?’, acknowledging that whatever we did do by definition cannot have worked. ‘Counter cakeism’ fits perfectly with the belief that we choose to embrace that every client is giving of their best at all times and thus the client cannot be blamed for a poor outcome. It is, after all, our job to find a way of working with the ‘best that the client can give’ whatever that is. ‘Counter cakeism’ is of course as illogical as the more traditional ‘radical cakeism’ and yet it suits us, it fits with the view that underpins our Solution Focused practice and tends to elicit a warm inner glow each time we assert it. As it happens even if the term has not yet appeared in any dictionaries, ‘counter cakeism’ is a long established phenomenon, underpinning the practices of many successful team managers – when things go well credit the team, when things go badly take responsibility2.

1. Cakeism - the wish to have or do two good things at the same time when this is impossible. This word comes from the phrase "to have your cake and eat it too" -

2. This discussion has led me to ponder on another related concept that we might choose to call ‘radical Christmas cakeism’. This is the idea, especially prevalent in many affluent Christian western countries, that in December we can eat as much as we choose and that such excessive eating will have no effect on our weight.

There is more information about the course in Hasellt here

With our best wishes to you all for the holiday season.

Evan George


18th December 2022


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