I first came across this description by Monet, the French impressionist, of his approach to painting last year, and I briefly referred to it back in December 2017. But since then I have come back to it and use it in my teaching to try to explain what I believe that we do in the Solution Focused approach. Monet writes:
‘Other painters paint a bridge, a house, a boat . . . I want to paint the air that surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat . . . the beauty of the light in which they exist’.
I remember when I first read this thinking ‘Wow Monet really ‘gets Solution Focus’, and what he gets is the thing that people often find most difficult when they switch from a problem-solving to the Solution Focused approach. We have all met people who say to us ‘yes I’m solution focused, I don’t focus on the problem, just the solution, what people can do about the problem to solve it’ and of course they are then puzzled when we explain that this is precisely what we do not do as Solution Focused practitioners.
So what do we do if we don’t focus on solutions. We do exactly what Monet says. We invite people ‘to paint the air that surrounds the bridge’. Of course in our work we are not perhaps painting bridges but we ask questions in such a way that the client describes (paints) in detail the life (air) that contains their best hopes (bridge). In so doing we step away from the problem.
We see examples of this ‘stepping away’ all the time.
‘So what are your best hopes from our talking together?’
‘I just need some strategies to deal with those times that life gets too much.’
‘And if you did have those strategies, strategies that are just right for you, what difference would that make?’
‘I guess that I wouldn’t keep falling back into depression and anxiety.’
‘OK. Imagine that you woke up tomorrow just knowing that you were not going to keep falling back into depression and anxiety what is the first thing that you would notice?’
If we were painting the bridge we would be discussing strategies, but of course we don’t, we invite the client ‘to paint the air’, the life and we trust them to find their own way to the strategies. The same is true of the client who says ‘I want to be in a relationship’. We are unlikely to invite the client to think about how to get into a relationship; rather we invite them to describe, in detail, the life that contains the possibility of relationships, or indeed we may bridge into the preferred future description with a ‘what difference would that make?’ question. Should the client respond with ‘I’d just be happier’ we then ask questions about the life that contains happiness.
We have been talking about the way that we invite our clients ‘to paint the air’, however let’s not forget the last part of Monet’s description ‘I want to paint the air that surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat . . . the beauty of the light in which they exist’. Of course as the client ‘paints the air’ both they and we can enjoy and appreciate ‘the beauty of the light’! What could be more encouraging!
The Observer Out of the fog: ‘missing’ Monet found through the power of the web 16 December 2017
06 January 2019