The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

Is interactional description important in SFBT?


Imagine this scenario - The client walks in and almost before either the client or the therapist are settled the therapist asks:

So what are your best hopes from our talking together?
Well I have been thinking about this and struggling with it for a while – I just want to feel more confident about myself, I just want to like myself in a way that I haven’t for years – it all seems to have gone.
So if following our talking together you ended up feeling more confident about yourself and liking yourself more that would mean that this had been useful to you?
OK. So can I ask you some questions about this?
Well what time would you wake up on a morning when you had your confidence back and were liking yourself in the way that was just right for you?
Earlier – let’s say 7.30.
OK so when you wake up at 7.30 what is the very first thing that you will notice about yourself that will tell you that your confidence is back and that you are liking yourself again?
Oh I’ll know – first of all I will want to get out of bed.
And what difference will that wanting to get out of bed make?
That’s easy – I’ll get up rather than lying there and pulling the covers over me and going back to sleep and getting up at . . . well let’s just say later.
And what is the first thing that you will notice about yourself as you get up at 7.30 wanting to get out of bed?
I’ll have some energy, I’ll have a sense of purpose and direction, I’ll believe in myself?
So out of bed at 7.30 with that sense of purpose and direction and energy and belief what is the first thing that you will do?
I’ll make myself a proper breakfast.
So what will you make yourself for breakfast on a purpose and direction and energy and belief and confidence and liking yourself day?
. . . . . . . . (some minutes later)
And who will be there when you wake up on this confidence and liking yourself and energy and direction sort of day?
My partner.
What’s your partner’s name?
So what will Sian notice about you that she will be pleased to notice?
Oh goodness if she saw me getting up at that time she’d be amazed – it’s been so long.
And what would she be noticing about you as you got up that would be most pleasing to her?
Well if I was thinking about the day and what I was going to do, maybe talking about jobs, even thinking about going to the gym or out for a walk and talking about it all, talking about anything with enthusiasm.
And how would you know that she was pleased?
Oh I’d know – she’d tell me – she’s always trying to encourage me.
So how would you know that this wasn’t just Sian being her encouraging self like everyday but that she’s noticed something different on this particular day?
She’d look less worried – she might be talking about her day and what she’s got on.
And would you be pleased to notice that, that she’s talking about her day?
So what would she be noticing about how you responded to her talking about her day on a confidence and liking yourself and energy and direction sort of day?
She’s see that I was interested, that I was there for her, that I had energy for her . . . 
And so on . . . and on . . . and on.

This imaginary, and yet in no ways unusual conversation, demonstrates the shift in description into the world of the interactional that is, I think, highly characteristic of solution focused practice. The question that Chris raises is whether the inclusion of this interactional perspective is more effective and why that might be. The first thing to say in response is that I am not aware of any research relating specifically to the effects of interactional description in Solution Focused work, and so this means that we cannot know for sure whether it makes a difference. And since only effectiveness justifies anything that we do in SF where is the justification, what is the rationale for this practice characteristic? Is it any more than a hang-over from the early systemic origins of SFBT?

My own view of this suggests that interactional description is effective and if that is indeed the case then I think that there are a number of possible good reasons.

1. When we are inviting people to describe their ‘day which includes their best hopes happening’, we are always keen to make it clear that this is an everyday sort of day. It is in that sense ‘real’ rather than some sort of fantasy within which everything is changed. The client is living in the same place, the client is sleeping in the same bed, the goldfish is still swimming around the same bowl in the same living room, the client is still liking the same breakfast cereals and . . . the same people are still in the client’s life. So to the extent that other people are part of the landscape of clients’ lives, then as we seek to ‘mundane-ise’, to make the ‘best hopes’ day real, then including the others in the clients’ life in the description makes complete sense.

2. However we clearly go further than this. Including the others in the description could be achieved simply by asking ‘other person perspective questions’ – ‘who will be the first person to notice?’ – ‘what will they notice?’ Now we know that these questions are in themselves useful in supporting clients in developing detail in their descriptions, since so many people seem to find it easier to see themselves through the eyes of others than through their own but why do we include intricate interactional sequencing – what you notice, how you respond, how I respond to your response and how you respond to my response to your response based on your noticing and so on? My thought about this is that when we invite people to construct their worlds in this way we are inviting people into their experienced, lived worlds. This is how we live, in interaction with others, this is how we experience ourselves and how we learn who we are, even if we do not pay active attention to these sequences most of the time. So my guess is that interactional descriptions invite us into the reality of our lives.

3. However in addition, and I have to own that this thought is entirely speculative, I think that most people want to please others and to live in co-operative and mutually gratifying sequences of interaction. The child wants to please the parents and often the teacher as well. Most couples would like their partner to be happy, if only for the selfish reason that when they are happy they treat us better. At work harmonious relationships tend to be associated with productive settings and productive settings tend to be more enjoyable places to work. In this way describing these sequences may well be motivational as they invite the client into systemic awareness, linking my change to your response and your response to my response.

These brief thoughts are rather speculative and only research exploring different approaches to the construction of a preferred future description could help us to have a clearer view on effectiveness and of course the question ‘if it is effective why might that be’ can never be answered with certainty.

Evan George
June 2018

Chris Ward’s question in full: What is your opinion on whether it is accurate to say that solution focused conversations are generally more effective at bringing about change on the part of the client when they include scrutiny of the client’s interaction with other people? If it is, why do you think this might be?


Featured Video

What is SF - a 2020 version of the approach


July 9, 2020