Sometimes we discover what we think when we hear it coming out of our mouths. And that was a little bit the case the other day whilst teaching. What I heard myself saying was something on the lines of ‘we invite people into certain specific ways of describing their lives and they change – spontaneously’, and the key word of course was ‘spontaneously’. When reflecting, having heard what I said, I was immediately reminded of the use that Steve de Shazer made of the word ‘spontaneous’. For example in Keys he wrote ‘once a specific goal is established in these confusing situations, the conditions are set for solutions to develop “spontaneously” in a short period of time’ (de Shazer, 1985, p 10), and leafing through the book I found two further instances of the word’s use (de Shazer, 1985, p 77) without any difficulty.
I think that the word ‘spontaneous’ points us towards something significant in the Solution Focused approach. The idea of change that we see in common usage in society is associated with hard work, people do not want to change we seem to believe, they have to be ‘got’ to change, people prefer remaining in their ‘comfort zone’ and have to be prised out of it, we are constantly having to battle the client’s resistance. Solution Focus as we know does not think in this way. Indeed we take the view that change is constant, that clients want to change, and when they say that they want change we choose to believe them. And yet ‘spontaneous’ – the word almost suggests something inexplicable, something magical, suggesting that the change is unconnected to the therapeutic process, but this is not what Steve de Shazer, I believe, intended and certainly not what I meant.
Steve said, and my friend Harvey would be able to remind me where and when, that ‘the client is a different person after the client has answered the miracle question’. Solution Focused questions in other words, if we broaden a little Steve’s comment, are not for the worker to gather information about the client in order for the worker to be able to design an intervention, they are the intervention, or at least the client hearing their own responses to the questions is the intervention. Inviting clients to re-describe their lives, or perhaps to describe their lives differently, makes a difference but because we are not explicitly trying to get the client to change, we are not prescribing tasks, giving homework or action planning it feels like we haven’t done anything and the client’s changes can seem ‘spontaneous’.
Of course to the extent that we have not attempted to specify or to predict what differences, what changes the client should make after any one session, the changes that the client makes can be seen as ‘spontaneous’, but ‘spontaneous’ and magical are not the same. We have co-constructed the “conditions” for change but left the emergent change to the client rather than attempting to manage and to control the client’s change process. In Solution Focus we work hard in the session and then set the client free, trusting the client to do what is right for them and then we work hard with whatever ‘right’ the client reports and set them free again, curious to discover what changes they have decided to make. Solution Focused Practice is no approach for the micro-manager, however benevolent the micro-management is intended to be.
de Shazer, Steve (1985) Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy. New York: Norton.
London (where else would I be these days)
30 August 2020