The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

Taking BRIEF to Japan

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to run a two day course in Tokyo last week. The participants were from all over Japan and from a variety of settings. Only a small number spoke English and I had to rely heavily on Akiko Kikuchi the interpreter – I couldn’t have been luckier, as she was not only a psychologist and therefore versed in counselling-type language but she had translated for Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg!

Steve and Insoo had had a huge influence on SF practice in Japan and the sense I had was that in Japan they are still practicing in the style of their approach. This meant that they found BRIEF’s approach strange, to say the least. I am used to having my way of working closely analyzed by people unfamiliar with SF, but these people knew the model. The key developments in BRIEF’s version that challenged them were:

The Best Hopes Question

The Tomorrow Question as a variation to the Miracle Question

The emphasis on developing detailed descriptions of the client’s preferred future as opposed to setting goals

When a client puts themselves at, say, 3 on the scale, being focused on what they did to get to 3, with little interest in moving up the scale

The almost complete absence of giving compliments

The absence of task-setting, as we assume that change will arise from the impact of the conversation itself

The absence of action-planning.

The Japanese are famously courteous and they based their curiosity in what I was presenting in the form of polite questions usually beginning with a tentative ‘why…?’ There was discussion as to whether BRIEF had developed a new model of SF, one that perhaps even required a new name, but I told them of my belief that while we have obviously made some changes to Steve and Insoo’s approach, in a way they would have approved of (they had no interest in devising a fixed manualized approach), everything we do is rooted in their work and thinking. They seemed pleased, even relieved by that!

I was keen to know if anything I presented seemed to them in any way inappropriate to Japanese culture. Nothing at all stood out. I think their sense of hierarchy is still more pronounced than it is for us. They felt that giving compliments was very important and struggled with my comment that by removing compliment-giving we were reducing the gap in status between client and therapist.

I can remember Steve saying that a major difference between the East and West is that in the West when we seek to punish our child we say ‘you’re grounded’. He said that in the East the idea that being forced to stay at home with the family was a punishment made no sense – a real punishment would be to be told to stay away from the family! But I have the impression that in Japan things have changed and they assured me that for Japanese youth the peer group is now as important to them as their families, just as in the West.

I was amused to be asked whether we have cases of karoshi. This is the name in Japan for when people die from overwork! I met participants who had husbands who left for work at 6 in the morning and returned at midnight.

I would like to finish by saying how grateful I am to Yuichi Takenouchi and Dr Norio Mishima for welcoming me to Tokyo. They travel the world attending SF conferences and have done so much to spread the word of SF in Japan. Yuichi was the perfect host, taking me site seeing and to amazing traditional restaurants, and ensuring that the participants of the workshop, who had travelled long distances, were perfectly looked after. This trip was one of the highlights of my career!

Harvey Ratner

23 April 2018