Perfection doesn’t exist. If it did nothing would ever change and it is this possibly uniquely universal truth that lies at the very heart of Solution Focused Practice. Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg and the team at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, WI, were working on a development of the problem-focused brief therapy approach developed at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California. This was a method that focused on problem patterns rather than causes. Steve de Shazer’s first book (1982), Patterns of brief family therapy documents this early foray of the Milwaukee team into brief therapy and before the book has ended (and it ends messily) the focus had begun to shift. The team discovered something that had been known since time began: nobody’s perfect. And this was the beginning of Solution Focused Practice in all its many forms because it meant that nobody can do their problem perfectly which in turn means that for every problem behaviour there will be an alternative behaviour that fills in when the problem misses a beat. What came to be referred to as “exceptions” (to the problem pattern) was the central pillar of SFBT. It meant that whatever the problem there were other ways of behaving (solutions) already embedded within it. Every problem had a range of existing solutions that just needed teasing out by questions and promoting by tasks.
Miracles came a little later and were originally not seen to have value except for providing a sort of snapshot of what the solution would look like: ‘how will we know when it’s time to stop meeting like this?’. Over time it became apparent that descriptions of ‘miracle days’ had a therapeutic value of their own and by 1995 Steve de Shazer (at a BRIEF workshop) was describing SFBT as “The Miracle Question and its Scale”; exceptions weren’t forgotten but were often replaced by “times the miracle already happens” (rather than times the problem doesn't happen).
Originally the miracle was defined as “waking up and the problem that brings you here has gone” and very often there would be no further mention of the problem, just a description of life without it and of how much of that life (measured on the scale) is already in place. Crucial to this miracle is that it resolves only the problem that brings you here – it is directly related to the client’s purpose in attending the therapy, nothing more.
In de Shazer’s (1991) Putting Difference to Work he struggles and doesn’t quite manage to do away with the problem all together in a Solution Focused conversation. We took on this task at BRIEF and at some point the answer slipped into our practice with the question “What are your best hopes from our talking?” The first recorded example refers to a single hope the ‘s’ being a later improvement.
Now the miracle becomes the realisation of the hopes (rather than the absence of the problem) and nothing more. We stay within the client’s remit. So remember
PERFECTION DOES NOT EXIST
So do not ask clients about “perfect” or “ideal” days. These would be days where the world fits exactly with the client’s wishes and because it never will the consequent descriptions lack credibility. The miracle handles life’s adversities, it doesn’t get rid of them. So, if a client says “The sun would be shining” bring in some adversity.
Bring on the rain.
de Shazer, Steve (1982). Patterns of Brief Family Therapy. New York: Guilford.
de Shazer, Steve (1991). Putting Difference to Work. New York: Norton.
21 August 2022