For many years all of us at BRIEF have been using the London cabbie (taxi-driver) analogy. When you jump into a cab in London the first question that the driver is likely to ask you is ‘where to guv?’ And when you answer ‘Newbury Street’ off we go and it is the driver’s job to take us to Newbury Street by the most direct route. The analogy is a useful one and serves to highlight a number of ‘teaching points’.
First of all it is clear and evident that the cabbie is not going to ask ‘where from guv?’ If the driver were to ask ‘where from’ the journey risks not only being lengthy, not only being inordinately expensive, but arriving at the desired destination becomes a matter of chance. Since the driver never enquired where we wanted to go, getting there becomes a random possibility, we might, or of course might not, end up exactly where we intended. The therapeutic equivalent of ‘where to guv’ seems to us to be ‘so what are your best hopes from our talking together – how will you know that our talking has ended up being useful to you?’ But many therapists seem to us to begin their change process by asking the equivalent of the ‘where from’ question. They begin by enquiring about the past and enquiring about the problem which is of course exactly what the client wants to move away from. Knowing that the client wants to be anywhere that is not here, (not in depression-land perhaps), is interesting but does not provide us with a destination, a focus, a direction for our collaboration.
Secondly the taxi-driver analogy helps us to be clear about the nature of the client-therapist relationship, how it is defined. Let’s say that we get into the cab and predicting the driver’s likely first question we say ‘Newbury Street, EC1, just off Long Lane’. We then naturally expect the driver to move off in that direction. But imagine instead that the driver switches off the engine, turns to us and starts asking a whole host of seemingly irrelevant questions, and after a period of time tells us that in his, or of course her, (there are female cabbies in London now), view we ‘really’ want to go to Oxford Circus and then turns on the engine and starts driving in that direction. When we protest insult is added to injury when the driver states that s/he knows us better than we know ourselves and that Oxford Circus is the right destination for us and any protest is merely resistance and in all probability evidence of our ignorance. No London fare (our word for a passenger), is going to be much impressed by this and complaints to the Licencing board would surely follow. But many therapists do indeed assume that they know best, that they not only provide a means of conveyance but they are also experts on the ‘proper destinations’ for our therapeutic journeys. Whereas the Solution Focused practitioner would assume zero expertise in the matter of destinations – wherever people want to go (subject to minimum limitations, namely safety and ethics) is their business and we could not possibly even know what to ask until the client’s destination has been determined.
And finally the London cabbie is expected to take the most direct route. If we find ourselves at Elephant and Castle (an area of London just south of the Thames and possibly named after the Infanta of Castille), and we wished to go to Newbury Street we would expect a direct route up Blackfriars Bridge Road, over Blackfriars Bridge continuing north along Farringdon Street, under Holborn viaduct and right through Smithfield, London’s meat market, weaving our way round until we find ourselves in Newbury Street, a journey of between 7 and 15 minutes depending on the traffic. But imagine that the driver were to decide instead to drive to Putney where the fare grew up, then to go to Wimbledon where the fare went to school, a quick diversion to Richmond Park, not staying there too long since the fare had a really enjoyable time there as a child, out of London to Cambridge, off to Italy and France and Oxford and Wales and then back to London, Brixton and Streatham and St John’s Wood before arriving at Newbury Street the journey might take – well a really long time. And imagine that the driver then presented a bill for many thousands of pounds – after all it was a really long journey – the fare (or client of course) might feel justifiably outraged. The Solution Focused practitioner really does believe in the shortest journey possible, identifying the destination, aiming for each conversation to make a difference, lengthening the gaps between conversations, establishing what the client is already doing that works, inviting the client to be noticing progress, asking scale questions so that the client can most easily notice that he or she has arrived. In this way the typical number of sessions can be reduced to between 3 and 5, with no excessive bills to pay at the end.
So the analogy does serve to usefully highlight some of the characteristics of the Solution Focused approach and no doubt my colleague Chris Iveson will continue to take a toy London cab to his trainings to remind him and the participants on his courses, of the analogy.
Chris Iveson says that the first time that he heard this analogy being used was in a talk by Steve Henfrey.
BRIEF is the UK's leading Solution Focused training, practice, coaching and consulting agency. Find out more about BRIEF's work at www.brief.org.uk