I recently attended a four-day course on Solution Focused Brief Therapy with Chris Iveson of BRIEF. I heard at the beginning the bold assertion that SFBT can be life-changing and raised a sceptical eye-brow. As the course went on I began to think that BRIEF could be of help in my personal life.
My 11-year old son James became physically very unwell about 4 months ago, and although he recovered physically, he then became mentally very unwell. He started saying he wanted to kill himself, and these intrusive thoughts of suicide became more and more pervasive. He had threatened to run in front of a car or to stab himself. He asked me to hide the knives at home as he was worried about not being able to control the thoughts he was having. He became afraid to have a bath as he thought he would try to drown himself. I kept him off school when they were doing cycling proficiency as he said he would cycle in front of a car.
I spent many hours just holding James, reassuring him that we would get through this. I sat with him into the night as his sleep pattern became completely disturbed.
James managed to get to school, although this was traumatic for him and there was some evidence of self-harming.
Eventually, James decided that the only safe place was in his bed. He was struggling to even leave his bed to eat meals and I was starting to worry about his long term physical health alongside his mental health.
Obviously we had sought immediate help from the NHS and the school. However, in spite of an urgent referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services we were not able to get support. Our immediate referral was considered not to be urgent, and although we had an assessment which recommended significant support this did not actually materialise. The cheery lady I spoke to said she hoped there would be something available within six months.
When I told James that we might have to wait six months for treatment to start his response was: “I’ll be dead”.
My other observation of trying to source support was the way the majority of people looked for a cause for James’s depression: how was my marriage and what about money worries were the main questions we got asked. It felt like they were looking to blame us for causing the problem. There was always an uncomfortable silence when I said that all these things were fine.
The therapy service did offer to phone me weekly which seemed to be a source of torture for all concerned. I was petrified that if I had admitted anything positive we would have been discharged altogether. Yet nothing I said was enough to convince them that James was in urgent need of help.
So, at the end of two days of training, I plucked up the courage to ask Chris for an appointment. After giving the briefest of explanations we arranged an appointment for ten days later. That was so reassuring. I felt that finally I had been heard and there would be some help for us. Together, James and I were able to start to hope in a future that had seemed out of our reach. Even before the appointment there were subtle but valuable changes. There was less talk of suicide and more of getting to university.
In the appointment I was very conscious of the picture we presented. I sat rigidly on the chair with my hands clasped together as if in prayer. James sat with his coat on, hood up, curled forward. Mostly he found his shoes really interesting. At times he spoke while literally covering his eyes. Most of his answers were “dunno”.
Yet somehow, about halfway through the session, I finally relaxed. It was not a conscious thing but something I observed. I don’t understand what happened and I had not known that I, too, needed to change, but I had changed. This was more than hope or faith that things would change, it was a recognition that things had changed.
So, what happened next? Well, the following day was absolutely nothing like the future we had imagined. But, without being asked, James got up, stayed downstairs and got dressed. For us that was enough of a miracle.
It’s still early days for us but there have been loads of positives, and we are finally facing the future with confidence.
And for James, although it was tough, his evaluation of how it had been was a massive high five: “Smashed it!”