The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

Matthias Freitag asks . . how do you paraphrase in Solution Focused Practice?

Matthias there is an awful lot to think about in your ‘question’ and some of it may be way 'above my pay-grade’ as they say, questions that need professors to answer coherently. But anyway let’s start with the question ‘Do you believe in the concept of co-constructed reality?’ I think that in common with most SF practitioners I, in my own probably rather simple perhaps even simplistic way, do choose to hold the view that our worlds are co-constructed and that all our worlds are different. Somebody writes that ‘nothing comes with meaning attached’ and I suppose that I think that even this is too simple since the (no)thing that comes with meaning attached is nothing until the meaning is attached and it is a different thing when different meanings are attached. Thus we construct ‘things’ and that process of construction takes place in a social context, in and through our interaction with family, friends, work colleagues all within a cultural and linguistic context that is powerfully normalised through education and with many idiosyncratic variables contributing to our very own unique outcome. And central to this process for me is the way that we come to describe, to talk about our lives.
So what is going on in SF conversations? Obviously when we try to answer this question we are merely theorising, we are trying to describe what we think that we are doing when we are ‘doing SF’. What I think that I am doing with clients is inviting them to describe their lives differently and central to this is the way that as a SF practitioner I am asking questions which invite clients to shift their patterns of attention. Indeed the questions allow for the possibility that the client will notice things that were previously unnoticed and see significance and meaning in things that perhaps previously were disregarded as insignificant. So as we ask questions the ‘better day’ that the client reports, which of course the client is likely to have previously noted but dismissed as insignificant, becomes meaningful, and other things, often instances of the preferred future happening, which might not have been noticed at all, become visible. It is not that these things were hidden, or buried, it is just that they did not catch the client's eye, they were part of the landscape but did not stand out. In this process of shifting attention the client's world is changing and it would be surprising if their behaviour and their feelings were not also to change. Fred Panza, from Switzerland, quotes someone responding to their experience of a Solution Focused conversation saying that the conversation 'helped her realize that the problem only happened on rare occasions, and that it broke what seemed like a mountain into a few small rocks'.
Matthias asks in particular whether in the BRIEF approach to SF we use 'paraphrasing' and 'reframing' as a way of shifting meaning, of achieving the same sort of outcome as I am describing above and generally I think that at BRIEF we do not. There is (almost) nothing that we might not sometimes have done but in terms of frequency 'paraphrasing' and 'reframing' would occur rarely and so we would not describe them as things that we typically do at BRIEF. It is rather the same with normalising and externalising. Of course we have done both but they are not characteristic of our approach. Why we do not reframe or paraphrase is tricky to explain but I think it has to do with where we stand in relation to the client, the position that we adopt. In order to reframe we have to position ourselves further away from the client's narrative we have to make an evaluation of what the client has just said before responding and the evaluation takes the form of 'is that a useful way for the client to think about this or to describe this and how could I change the way that the client is describing things'. At BRIEF we are evaluating differently. We work within the client's narrative, not seeking to change the way that the client is describing, just choosing which elements of the client's own words to preserve though their incorporation into the next question and which elements to let go. I think that this position is slightly different and allows us more easily to get alongside the client. When we re-frame we are challenging the client's understanding which I think, at BRIEF, we try not to do. Changing what people are saying is a 'forceful' intervention. We are taking a position 'don't think about it/describe it' this way - do it that way. This position requires more authority whereas I think that at BRIEF we are trying to cooperate with the client always accepting what they are saying, working from a ‘yes and’ rather than a ‘yes but’ position.
So Matthias – we are not talking about better or worse and we are not talking about right or wrong, we are just talking about slightly different ways of working. Of course on occasions I have paraphrased and I may even have re-framed – but these are not characteristic either of my work or BRIEF's preferred approach and they were not, in my view characteristic of Steve's or Insoo's work either. And at the core of this choice that we make is, in my view, the position that we are choosing to adopt in relation to client. 
Thanks for this great question which has really made me think about things that I have never thought about before in quite the same way.

Here is more of what Matthias originally wrote:
What about paraphrasing in your SF work? SdS and IKM in an interview with Dan Short:
IKB: ... That is why I emphasize using the client's exact words, instead of paraphrasing. Because when we rephrase what they have said we fit it to our idea of what they mean.
DS: But almost every text on counseling teaches paraphrasing.
IKB: That is absolutely wrong. Because the implication is, "The way you talk is not good enough. So I have to teach you how to talk."
SdS: It means the client has done it the wrong way.
DS: Now that you mention it, I have seen clients respond to paraphrasing by correcting themselves in order to use my words. That is terrible!
IKB: I think it is terrible.
I don´t agree! We paraphrase a lot using small variations / "interventions" like describing the problem in the past or "you feel" instead of "you are" ("I am depressed" - "Your feel depressed" - "You feel depressed at the moment...") and a lot more...

Evan George
May 2018