The four foundations.
1. Less is better than more. Minimalism is founded on a belief, a belief that is a prerequisite for minimalistic practice. We have to believe that people have better things to do in their lives than talk with therapists. We do have to believe that life is for living rather than for talking about and so the less time that people spend with us and the more time that they spend out and about living their lives the better. This position is of course merely a position and many therapists take the opposite position, choosing to believe that therapy is good in itself and that more is better than less, a view that will almost inevitably be associated with longer therapeutic contacts.
2. The task of therapy is to help people to ‘get themselves moving’ again. Invariably there are times in our lives when we get ourselves stuck, when we can’t see a way forward, when what we are doing is the obvious thing to do, and yet whatever that obvious thing is just does not work and yet we find ourselves trying it over and over. We are stuck. The therapist’s view of their task in Solution Focused Practice is to work with the client in such a way that clients gets themselves ‘unstuck’, such that the client is able to begin moving forward again in life. We do not take the view that the job of the therapist is to ‘cure’ or to ‘treat’ or to ‘resolve the client’s issues’, just for clients to experience themselves moving again in such a way that they will be able to again face all those difficulties that life throws at us with hopefulness and with an expectation that they can be faced successfully. John Weakland from the MRI in Palo Alto used to refer to this shift as the change from ‘the same damn thing over and over’ to ‘one damn thing after another’.
3. Every session can make a difference. Many therapists seem to have taken the view that the first few sessions in any new piece of work are involved in assessment and building rapport, almost that nothing therapeutic really happens in those sessions. Minimalists of course would not agree with this view. We would remind ourselves that one session is the mode in any therapy; more people come just once than any other specific numbers of session, and so it behoves us to remember that this really might be the last time that we see this client. This raises the question ‘how can we do something independently useful in this session today, something that might make a difference?’. And repeatedly we see that if we start with the assumption that one session can make a difference, that very often it does.
4. Trust. The hardest of all the challenges that face us when we meet a new client is ‘trusting’. Training as therapists introduces us to the surprising ideas that clients do not want to change, that they are resistant, that they don’t tend to mean what they say and that we often know better. These ideas invite us into a conflictual rather than a collaborative relationship with our clients that is bound to make our work with them longer, more complicated and less minimal. Learning to truly ‘trust’ our clients is vital, to take them seriously, to assume that they do indeed want to make the changes that they describe and that they are trying to do their best at all times.
So these seem to be the four foundational thoughts upon which minimalism is built and we will come back at a later time to the practices that we can build upon these four key thoughts.
With my thanks to the whole team at the Helsinki Brief Therapy Centre for prompting me to think about these issues and the invitation to come to Helsinki to talk about minimalism.
21st October 2018