A series of misapprehensions regarding Solution Focused Brief Therapy have plagued the approach since its early days – ‘just a nice chat’, ‘it’s all about being positive isn’t it’, ‘you don’t deal with the problem do you, it is just about the future and what people want’. Perhaps we have contributed to these misunderstandings ourselves in the ways that we have talked about what we do or maybe the therapeutic world has found it tough and challenging to accept our ideas, ideas that ask fundamental questions about some of the taken-for-granted givens, the assumptions that have informed ideas about therapy for many years. However, whatever our colleagues might think, an easy option Solution Focused Brief Therapy is not.
And nowhere is this clearer, just how tough the approach is for practitioners, than in the ‘no excuses’ underpinning of the therapeutic deal. The client turns up and when we ask what their ‘best hopes’ for the work are they tell us what they want. And what they want is indeed what they want. There is no distinction in the approach between ‘want’ and ‘need’ – the practitioner really does not know better. What the client says they want is really, really what they want. Neither is there any concept of ‘ambivalence’ – if the client says that they want it, whatever ‘it’ may’ be, then they want it – there is not a part of them that wants it and another that does not. We listen to what the client says and take it seriously.
And if change does not take place in a way that is acceptable to the client we cannot argue that ‘the client is not ready for change’, nor indeed can we save our professional feelings, our ‘amour propre’, our self-regard by arguing that ‘the client lacks insight’. The client is as the client is and it is our job to work with the client as she or he arrives rather that somehow wishing that he or she were different, and blaming the client’s ‘inadequacy’ for the lack of progress in the work.
If the client does not recognise change we cannot comfort ourselves with the notion that they have the ‘wrong sort of problem’, or that they are ‘the wrong sort of person’, too young, too old, of the wrong ethnicity, or that they have too many difficulties, or that the difficulties are too long-standing or too deep-rooted. The SF practitioner just has to stand tall and accept that the work has failed.
Indeed if the work ‘fails’ we cannot even argue that the client is ‘resistant’ or ‘unmotivated’ or ‘disengaged’ or that they like having the problem and don’t want to give it up. No – all that we can do in such circumstances is to try to learn from the situation and to ask ourselves ‘so what would I do differently next time I meet someone who presents in a similar way’.
Solution focused practice is tough and demanding of the worker and that is the case even before we start examining the extraordinary focus of listening and choice that is going on at every moment of the conversation between the client and the worker. Solution Focus is not ‘just a nice chat’, is not ‘just a bit of positive thinking’, and is definitely not easy, and I was delighted to be reminded of this during the course of the last week with two great groups in Manchester. Thank-you.