The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

A tiny difference that makes a difference!


We are talking about something really small . . . .really, really small. We are talking about the difference between ‘a’ and ‘the’. Can the difference between ‘a’ and ‘the’ make a difference? I have begun to think that it can.

Most of you will be more than familiar with the characteristic opening sequence in a Solution Focused conversation. If we take out the lumps and bumps in the dialogue the shape of the conversation typically goes as follows:

So what are your best hopes from our talking together?
I just want to feel better in myself.
OK – so if you woke up tomorrow feeling ‘better in myself’ what is the first thing that you might notice that would tell you?
I would wake up feeling like getting up – I’d be looking forward to the day.
And if you woke up feeling like getting up and looking forward to the day what difference would that make?

This sequencing of questions – best hopes and then preferred future is by now well established in our field. Indeed many people, for example our friend Michael Durrant (2016) from Sydney, would argue that if the work does not start with a ‘best hopes’ or similar question, then the work is by definition not Solution Focused. So far so simple (hopefully).

However when we are describing this process to people learning the approach how do we describe what we are inviting them to do? For example I might say to a group ‘the SF practitioner begins by inviting the client to describe their best hopes and then, once the client has told the practitioner what s/he want from the therapy/counselling/coaching the practitioner invites the client into a description of . . . ‘ and here I want to say ‘preferred future’, and yet I hesitate because I don’t know whether I should use the definite or the indefinite article. I am not sure whether to say ‘the preferred future’ or ‘a preferred future’. You might wonder whether this seeming tiny distinction matters and yet I think that it does. And I think that for me I need to remember to use the indefinite article – ‘a’ - I am inviting the client to describe ‘a’ preferred future. If I talk about ‘the’ preferred future it implies a certainty, a sureness, a definiteness in the description that does not fit with the way that I understand the SF process. When the client is being invited to describe this future, the/a life that contains the best hopes we might say, the conversation is best left indefinite, uncertain. The client offers us a picturing and yet that picturing is provisional, always subject to change. This picturing represents a current version and the client might change their mind, might see something different, might find themselves being satisfied, and saying ‘I’m ready to end therapy’ somewhere quite other.

Yes indeed the client in Solution Focused Brief Therapy is describing ‘a Preferred Future’ and if I err and talk about ‘the Preferred Future’ I risk making an already anti-intuitive process even more confusing.

Durrant, Michael (2016) Confessions of an unashamed Solution-Focused purist: what is (and isn’t) Solution-Focused? Journal of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Vol. 2 No. 1 40 - 49

Evan George
13 January 2019.



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