Over the years a few people attending training programmes have asked me ‘don’t you find it boring, asking the same questions over and over . . . you know, best hopes, tomorrow question, scale question and so on’? It always surprises me that people frame their enquiry that way since I would have thought that it is hard to miss the fact that I find the Solution Focused approach fascinating. If we were to alter the question slightly perhaps what they may mean is ‘I think that I would find the approach boring asking the same questions over and over’.
If I am being honest hearing the question always disappoints and saddens me. It disappoints me because every time that it is asked is an indictment of my teaching and saddens me because of the view of the interaction that it betrays. Merely asking the question is an example of ‘ecology chopping’ (Bateson, 1973) where we examine something independent of its context as if it were a thing in itself. But of course the question is nothing without the answer. Indeed Steve de Shazer always liked to say that we can’t know what question we have asked until we hear the client’s answer. So the question may indeed superficially sound the same but the context within which it is asked will always be different, since after all every client is different, and the client’s answer is completely unpredictable. We cannot know what the client will say when we ask the ‘same’ best hopes question. How could that ever be ‘boring’? Indeed what Bateson’s ‘chopping ecology’ thinking makes clear is the impossibility of ever asking ‘the same’ question.
However even more significant than the disappointment is the saddening. Our questions inevitably betray our assumptions and what this question betrays is a ‘therapist-centric’ view of therapy. What we are witnessing is a participant whose focus is on what the therapist does rather than what the client does. The important person in therapy, it suggests, is the therapist. It is the therapist’s questions that are either interesting or boring. Whereas perhaps what we are inviting people to see in Solution Focused Brief Therapy is that the client is the most important (and interesting) person. Our clients are endlessly and variously fascinating and every answer is new and different.
With thanks to Barnett (Bud) Weiss for reminding me of this in our online seminar this week on the BRIEF International online training programme in Solution Focused Brief Therapy.
Bateson, Gregory (1973) Steps to an Ecology of Mind. London: Paladin