When I’m teaching I really, really, want the material that we are exploring together to be useful to the course participants, and so one of the things that I always say is ‘if you have any questions after this course that you want to ask just email. I’ll get back to you.’ And I do really try to get back to people. And so I was delighted the other day to receive a couple of questions from Charlotte Semlyen a recent participant on one of BRIEF’s 4-day Foundation programmes in London. The second of these questions was about final sessions.
So how does finishing work in SFBT? Well the first thing to remember is the difference between ‘time-limited’ and ‘brief’ therapy. Whenever Steve de Shazer was asked about what the word ‘brief’ meant in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, he would always stress that ‘brief’ meant ‘as long as it takes and not one session more’. In so doing he was emphasising that his reading of SFBT was that it was not a ‘time-limited’ approach. Clients stopped coming when they felt ready to stop. The irony of this is that oddly, in the BRIEF team’s experience, when working ‘briefly’ rather than ‘time-limited’ clients on average attend for fewer sessions. Interesting!
So how do we finish? Well sometimes we do not know that the final session is the final session. We work with the client as usual and then ask ‘so would it be useful for you to come back’ and the client responds ‘no – I think that I’m done!’ So we say good-bye. We have finished. The client has decided. However on other occasions as the client climbs on their scale and they begin to report more and more signs of progress we begin to get the idea that they may be moving towards the end of their work with us, then it is not unusual for a range of questions to occur to the worker and to find their way into the conversation:
‘On a scale of 0 to 10 with 10 standing for you having complete confidence of being able to maintain the changes that you have made and 0 standing for the opposite, where would you put yourself now?’
This question can be followed up with ‘what tells you that things are at that point on the scale and not lower’, or ‘what do you know about yourself that puts things there and not lower’. And then of course ‘what will you be noticing that will allow you to be one point more confident?’
Alternatively we can be more direct:
‘So what will you need to notice yourself continuing to do for you to be really confident that you can stay on track?’
Equally direct (although drawn more from the work of the Mental Research Institute (MRI) rather than from SFBT and so I am whispering this idea very quietly):
‘What would you have to do to take things back to exactly how they were when we first met?’
This question of course frames ‘relapse’ as a choice that is within the client’s control. It did not just happen, the client made it happen, which shifts the potential meaning of deterioration in a way that challenges the client to take action rather than thinking that the deterioration is just happening to them!
If on the other hand you are working in a time-limited setting, and many people do, arriving at the final session is clear and obvious and indeed any of the questions that we have suggested above could be useful. However if the client is not yet feeling confident about ending, how the work is framed is going to be important. In these circumstances the work done can be represented as a ‘beginning’, a ‘start’, a ‘platform’ or ‘foundation’. So we can invite the client to reflect on:
‘So what have you learnt about yourself, your strengths and qualities and resources in the talking that we have done together that will be useful to you as you build on this . . . ?’
‘So what will tell you that you are continuing to build on the work that we have done together?’
‘So what will those around you notice you doing that will tell them that you are continuing to build on the platform that you have already established?’
‘So how will you know that you are making really good use of the start that you have made?’
‘So how will you know that all the effort, all the hard work that you have put into our talking together is not being wasted?’
‘So who is most likely to be useful to you as you firm up the changes that you have already made in your life?’
‘So if I were to bump into you in 6 months time how would I know that you had built on the foundations that you have established in our talking together?’
‘What will it be most useful for you to remember from the work that we have done together?’
‘If there were to be just one thing that it is going to be really important for you to remember to keep alive in your life over the next few months as you move forward, what do you think that it may be?’
Of course there are many more questions that we could ask that would be useful. However this represents a range of possibilities. And I would be delighted to hear from you your favourites. What do you ask as your work with your client is moving towards ending? Do let us know.
With thanks to Charlotte Semlyen for her question. Charlotte is a coach and facilitator. She works with individuals and organisations (including the Young Women's Trust) to create positive change and you can find out more about her work at charlottesemlyen.com