If there has been one thing on my mind recently about the Solution Focused Approach it is about how this approach works. In the past I would have argued that understanding how it works is not really important but now I am having very different thoughts about this subject. I am still not quite sure it matters as to how this approach works, however, there is something happening in my thinking and at least a part of that is worth exploring.
It started about a week ago while I was wasting time on the Internet watching videos on YouTube. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just killing time after a long day of seeing clients and working on a writing project. Eventually I came across a short video of noted astrophysicist Dr. Neil Degrasse-Tyson discussing the difference between thinking and knowledge.
In this video he made the point that thinking was more valuable than knowledge. As he used a clever analogy to make his point, I could not help but think of how this is relevant in learning SFBT and what I notice as a lecturer of this approach.
As I travel around the world teaching professionals to use the Solution Focused Approach there is one common question that people have asked me, and that is “where can I get a list of SFBT questions”. Without really understanding why, this question has always been a struggle for me. It’s not that I couldn’t answer it; it’s just that I didn’t want to.
I am not as interested in increasing the knowledge base of attendees that to my events as I am in teaching attendees how to think. Specifically the type of thinking that is needed in session to build the next question in a way that would lead towards meaningful change in the client’s life. This is the thinking that guide us in session and has thus impacted my thoughts currently about how I go about teaching this approach.
As I mentioned above, I once believed, and taught, that a professional did not need to know how this approach worked as long as they knew that it worked. My thinking was if you could hold on to the belief that this approach was effective then you would be able to stick to it in session, even in hard clinical situations. I now realize that level of explanation was not sufficient, more understanding is needed. A professional needs to understand their own thinking about how change occurs in session as this will influence the questions developed in the conversation. It will inform what is listened for, how that information is filtered, and what solution focused “technique” is used as the session unfolds.
For example: most Solution Focused practitioners would hold the belief that change starts with the focus on what is desired as opposed to the problem. This would lead to the professional asking a desired outcome question at the onset of the session. Most commonly, “what are your best hopes from this session?” This question is congruent to the belief that a focus on the future should take priority over the problem.
Suppose the client responds by saying, “I’m feeling very depressed”. A practitioner who holds on to the belief that the client is likely to benefit from focusing on the desired outcome would notice that though the client responded to the question, they actually did not answer it. In this case, the professional is likely to ask an instead question to shift the conversation from a focus on the depression to identifying a desired outcome. This sort of question may sound like, “how would rather be feeling”? Notice how this question is congruent to a professional who believes a focus on what is desired would benefit the client as the question would once again shift the conversation from a problem orientation to the presence of a desired outcome.
As the conversation unfolds, there are a number of linguistic choices for the professional as the client offers their words via answers to each question. When do you ask the miracle/tomorrow question? When do you ask the scaling question? What content do you use in the scaling question? Should the perspective of other’s from the client’s life be included in the preferred future description? How much time should be devoted to asking desired outcome questions, scaling questions, or asking questions that elicit a detailed description of the preferred future description?
The more I think about it, the more these questions can not be answered by just believing that the Solution Focused Approach works, you must spend some time asking about your own theory of change and your own thoughts about how you think the SFBT makes a difference in a client’s life.
That is the reason why thinking is so important and why I have always struggled when attendees to my events have asked me for a library of questions they could memorize. The fact is, it’s not about my questions, it’s about yours. Even if I could give you my questions, I could not give you when to ask them, I could give you how to ask them. That must come from you, that must come from your beliefs about how change happens and the Solution Focused Approach works.