We are often asked “How does Solution Focus work?” and it is never an easy question to answer.
For a start we don’t have a theory about problems; in fact, we don’t even need to know what problems a client comes with, just where they want to get to as a result of seeing us. Once we know what outcome the client is hoping for we have only two questions, though each has an infinite number of variations:
What might be different in your life if your hopes from the therapy are realised?
To what extent are aspects of this hoped-for future already happening in your life?
So how does describing the future you want and describing how much of it is happening lead to lasting change very often in one or two sessions? One way to find out is to ask the clients themselves; and what we then hear are a lot of different accounts.
Gerry, a 13 year old boy intent on not going to school and badly behaved at home said that after the first session he sat down and thought: all the things that got him into trouble were silly and all the behaviours associated with a better future were simple so it was obvious what to do.
Carrie, a mother of six children struggling to keep her family together while living with post-traumatic stress from childhood sexual abuse, said towards the end of a session when trying to describe her post-miracle life “I wish I could put it into words – I can feel it in here!” Later she said “I’m beginning to think that it could actually happen!” And later still “I’m there!” All in one session.
Patrice, a CEO of a financial services business, had a crisis of confidence a week before a meeting with several million pounds at stake. He reported that “he had done what I said” and the meeting had been a success. I reminded him that I had given him no advice and we hadn’t even spoken about the meeting. His response was “You know what I mean!”
Debbie and her 13 year old daughter, Charlotte, had been in conflict “ever since she was born” and Charlotte had attended a prestigious child therapy service from the age of 3. She was excluded from school and engaging in very risky behaviour. After the first session they complained to the referrer that it had been a waste of time. They returned for a second session because there had been enormous improvements in family life which they couldn’t explain. Charlotte went on to follow a successful education and career.
For the Gerry and Patrice it seemed to be a cognitive process. After some thought Gerry decided to take the easy route and improve his behaviour; Patrice decided to put into action what he thought I had suggested. Both made very clear decisions. Carrie, however, throughout the session had difficulty expressing herself in words but quite clearly ‘felt’ changes happening as the conversation progressed. And neither Debbie nor Charlotte could account for the changes they made – they just happened.
As Carrie was leaving our one and only meeting she turned to me and said: “It’s the questions, isn’t it?” I responded: “Maybe it’s the answers!” “I know it’s the answers” she said “but it was the questions that put them into my head!”
So far I think Carrie’s answer is the most elegant but it still leaves the question what is the connection between the client’s answers and a lasting and transformative change in behaviour?
And coming up . . . . more from Chris 'A Philosopher’s Answer'
Email brief.org.uk for an edited transcript of the session with Carrie.