The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

Relationally undemanding.

Relationally undemanding.

There is a sort of logical error that must have a name. It is when we apply the requirements or characteristics of one thing to another thing as if the two things are of the same kind – just that they are not. An example might go something like this:
(In Italy) people are meant to carry their identity cards with them. 
You are a person.
You must have to carry your identity card with you.
But (of course) we are in England!

And it is this logically flawed thinking that is frequently applied to Solution Focused Brief Therapy. People assume that the fact that SFBT is referred to as a therapy means that the characteristics, requirements, features of other therapies must apply The commonality to be found in the word ‘therapy’ appears to mask and to hide the difference that is to be found between ‘solution focused’ and ‘problem focused’ therapies.

The latest example of this occurred recently when I spent a day with a lovely and very interested and engaged group. Showing a clip of the early part of a first session I was asked ‘how many times have you seen that client?’. I apologised for not having made it clearer that this was from the first session and that we were about three minutes into the first session at this point. And then I was curious. ‘So why did you ask how many times I had already seen the client?’, I asked. ‘Well I was thinking about ‘building’ trust’. The client seems very open and relaxed. How does trust building happen in SFBT?’

There it is again. 
In (problem focused) therapy you pay attention to ‘building trust’.
What you are doing is therapy.
You must pay attention to ‘building trust’.
But this (of course) is Solution Focused Brief Therapy which is different!

So why do we not think about or pay attention to ‘building trust’ in SFBT? Well you could say that we do and you could say that we don’t. I prefer to say that we don’t. It seems to me that the difference is between the material that problem focused and solution focused therapies work with and their essential modus operandi. The material that problem focused therapies work with tends to relate to pain and failures and difficulties and frustrations and upsets. Clients are invited to expose those aspects of themselves of which they might be either embarrassed or even ashamed. And of course the modus operandi might well involve challenging the client, the worker revealing unwelcome aspects of self to the client, sharing thoughts with the client that the client might well experience as distasteful and unacceptable, with the client not infrequently finding herself in a one-down position that in itself is discomforting. In such circumstances paying attention to ‘building trust’ clearly makes sense, since why would the client wish to reveal this material to someone in whom they did not trust and why would he client accept these ‘unwelcome’ thoughts with no attention being paid to ‘building trust’. The onus is on the worker to prove herself ‘trustworthy’.

However in SFBT the client is invited to describe the future that they want, their hopes. Clients are asked questions which often draw their attention to previously unnoticed successes, to small triumphs (and big ones too sometimes). Clients are asked about how the version of themselves that they would like to see growing is going to show up in all of their significant interactions and in all the corners of their lives. They are asked about their successful strategies and to own up to their strengths and skills, their talents, their unique abilities and competencies. They are ‘blamed’ for getting so many things right in their lives. So why in such circumstances would we need to pay attention to ‘building trust’? Clients are essentially being asked to expose the very best of themselves. Solution Focused Brief Therapy is, in a phrase that I have been using increasingly recently, ‘relationally undemanding’, in a way that problem focused therapies largely are not.

So in what ways do we pay attention to ‘trust building’. The first way is in the construction of the therapeutic conversation. Typically in SFBT each question we ask builds on the answer that the client has given to the last question. Clients’ experience is therefore of being ‘taken account of’ in every question. The worker is working with the client, it is a partnership in that sense, a true co-construction. It is in this continual ‘being taking account of’ that the client can arrive at the conclusion that the Solution Focused worker is trustworthy, is staying incredibly close to the client’s own material, rather than pursuing their own agenda. Indeed the very first question that we ask ‘what are your best hopes from our talking together’ is a question that the client will experience as centralising the client, putting the client’s wishes at the very heart of the conversational process. SFBT clearly engenders trust in its processes.

In addition there is another way in which SF workers pay attention to ‘trust’. Throughout a piece of work we will monitor our own capacity to trust our client. SFBT requires the worker to place ‘radical trust’ in the client. We are required to trust the client in deciding the ‘best hopes’ for the work, to know the best way of moving forward, to know who to bring to sessions, to know whether (or not) to return and when the next session should be and we choose to trust the client to know what we need to know in order to work effectively with them. This challenge of trust for the worker is considerable and is certainly considerable for workers new to the approach.

So trust is important – just not in the way that therapists typically assume!

Evan George
London
09 September 2018