This question was asked by Hilde from UCLL, a student on a postgraduate Solution Focused training in Belgium. The question is one that I have been thinking about a great deal recently, however, before going any further I think that it is important to acknowledge that there are many models of therapy that work. I always try to stress on training courses that the research upon which I depend to argue that Solution Focus works also demonstrates that many other approaches work. Were I to deny that obvious fact I would be challenging research that I depend on. So, many approaches work well. And yet practitioners gravitate to one approach rather than another based on model characteristics that appeal to them and which mean that the model works in their setting with their client population. Given that practitioners vary, and practise settings vary, there clearly cannot be one best model. However I think that we can also take the view that different models have different unique selling points. So what are the key unique selling points of the Solution Focused approach?
1 I think that we have to start with brevity. Solution Focused practice will not waste the client’s time. We start work right from the beginning of the first session. Indeed if we inquire about pre-treatment change it could be thought that we start work prior to the first session. And we treat each and every session as if it could indeed be the last. Each and every session is intended to make a difference. Steve de Shazer, when asked to define the word ‘brief’ in Solution Focused brief therapy, would always answer that ‘brief’ means ‘as long as it takes and not one session more’. Solution Focused practitioners assume that their clients have better things to do than to spend their time talking to us. We space sessions out, we have gaps increasing as clients change and so it would be quite possible to meet with someone on four occasions over a period of 10 weeks. Thus Solution Focused practice is relatively brief and this is a significant advantage for many hard pressed clients, people with busy lives who cannot afford time seeing a therapist any longer than is necessary.
2 Solution Focused practice is flexible. It is used across counselling, therapy, coaching, mentoring, mediation, conflict management, team building and supervision and consultation. The model can be used in brief conversations in passing, corridor conversations, as well as formal therapeutic appointments. It can be used face to face, on the phone, online and can even be used in the form of e-mail sessions. The approach can be used with individuals, younger and older, it can be used with couples and families, with networks and teams. And above all there are no exclusion criteria. There is no requirement to assess clients for their suitability for Solution Focused work. We can indeed just get going.
3 Solution Focused practice tends to build engagement and cooperation. At BRIEF we have worked over the years with many, so-called, mandated clients, People who are required to see us, people who come, initially at least, because the consequences of not attending may be worse than the thought of coming. And Solution Focus consistently seems to have a capacity to build engagement with clients who have perhaps walked into our offices somewhat reluctantly, somewhat sceptical. This building of engagement starts right from the beginning when we inquire of the client what their best hopes from the work are. We are clear that what interests us is how the client will know that the work has been useful. The client is right at the heart of the approach and we use a model that assumes competence and which takes the client seriously. The Solution Focused practitioner never knows better and does not need to challenge the client’s knowing. It is hardly surprising that Solution Focus tends towards engagement.
4. The Solution Focused approach is non-disruptive. Many approaches assume that the client will experience distress in the change process. This is not the case in Solution Focus. Indeed to the contrary we assume that the client is likely to feel better at the end of each and every session, more hopeful, more connected to their capacity, more ‘self-appreciative’. Indeed not infrequently, even when the client has experienced trauma or abuse, sessions are characterised by a lot of smiling and sometimes laughing.
5. Solution Focus is relatively relationally undemanding. Focusing on what the client wants, picturing the preferred future, eliciting what the client is doing that fits with that future and inviting clients to notice progress does not require the building of trust. Clients typically can work right from the beginning of the first session and indeed since the worker remains marginal, with the client at the centre of the process, dependency does not seem to develop which means that ending is relatively straightforward with no need to ‘work through the ending’. We can just say goodbye!
6. If Solution Focus is good for clients it is also good for workers. Mark Beyebach and Toni Medina’s research (2014) confirms something that had long seemed to be the case – Solution Focus protects workers from burnout. While we work hard in Solution Focused sessions the work does not seem weighty, we do not feel responsible for our clients. The conversations that we have with our clients are typically appreciative. We listen for those things that tell us that our clients are going to be successful in making the changes that they want. We focus on the client’s successes. Our clients are inspiring and inspire us.
So clearly many approaches work and there cannot be any one best approach since practitioners are so diverse. However an approach that offers brevity, is flexible, tends to build engagement, is non-disruptive of clients’ lives , is relationally undemanding and protects workers from burnout will inevitably be attractive to many.
Many thanks to Hilde for this question.
Antonio Medina & Mark Beyebach (2014). The Impact of Solution-focused Training on Professionals' Beliefs, Practices and Burnout of Child Protection Workers in Tenerife Island. Child Care in Practice, 20:1, 7-36
26th March 2023