Shortly after Chris, Harvey, and I started to teach ourselves the Solution Focused approach, Steve de Shazer published his third book commonly referred to as Clues (1988), and as we had with his previous book, Keys (1985), we read it and re-read it avidly. And on page 91 we found this ‘The client has everything needed to solve the problem. The only difficulty is that clients do not know that they know how to solve their problems’. Indeed Steve proposed that clients come to us with solutions already in place and in those early days the solutions were to be found in the exceptions to the rule of the problem. Solution Focus was in those early days a different sort of approach but the core idea holds, it is the client’s knowing that is central rather than the therapist’s knowing. I remember just how radical the idea that clients bring solutions with them to therapy seemed in those long-distant days. The taken-for-granted assumption in pretty well every approach at that time was that clients came to us with problems and one way or another the solutions came from the therapist. The idea that the client has the solution seemed to me to turn therapy upside down, inside out, back to front, and I loved it. Just this one idea seemed transformative, fundamentally changing the very heart of how we thought about what was going on in the therapeutic interaction, validating and centralising the client’s input. Somehow it had seemed to me until then that our clients’ thinking was subtly undermined, was relegated to some sort of second class knowing. Who of us has not come across the seemingly trivial distinction between ‘presenting problem’ and ‘underlying problem’? Clients it was suggested came to therapy with a presenting problem but we on the basis of our training and experience and greater expertise were able to determine the nature of the underlying problem. And as we know, it has always appeared to be the case that depth knowing, deep understanding, is regarded as more significant, more important and of greater value then the superficial knowing that is implied in the term presenting problem. So de Shazer gave our clients a different sort of voice and invited us to listen to our clients differently, as I would see it, he invited us to take them seriously.
Now the exception based version of Solution Focused Brief Therapy that is to be found in Keys and Clues has faded and other elements of his early thinking have taken their place, have expanded and become more significant. And yet the validating of the client, the refusal to relegate clients to second class status has continued. The centralising of the client’s knowledge and preferences is found right across our practice, a consistent feature of pretty well everything that we do. Here are a few examples of what I mean.
1. In Solution Focus we do not assess our clients, we do not develop a view of our clients independent of their report.
2. In Solution Focus we have no way of knowing where to start our conversation and thus are obliged to ask the client ‘So what are your best hopes from our talking together, how will you know that are talking together has ended up being of use to you?’ It is the client who frames and determines our focus.
3. In Solution Focus it is the client who is invited to describe their life as transformed by the presence of the best hopes, whilst the therapist has no view on how the client’s life should be lived.
4. In Solution Focus it is the client who determines at what point on the scale clients find themselves, the therapist having no view on the matter.
5. In Solution Focus it is the client who decides who should attend any one session, it is not for the therapist to determine who should be seen.
6. In Solution Focus the client is invited to decide whether or not they might wish to make a follow up appointment, the therapist has no view on the matter.
7. In Solution Focus should the client decide to return the client is invited to determine when a further appointment would suit them, the worker inquiring of the clients ‘so when do you think it might be useful to have another session?’.
8. In Solution Focus it is the client who determines when they have had enough.
9. In Solution Focus only the client determines whether the therapy has been useful.
10. And in Solution Focus the clients view on the therapeutic process is not infrequently elicited, ‘is this making sense’, ‘are we talking about the right things’, ‘has anything been left out’, ‘was there anything you had in mind to say that I have not given you the opportunity to say today?’.
So here are some examples of the ways in which the client’s thinking is validated and taken seriously in the Solution Focused approach. This I remember was one of the features of de Shazer’s model that drew me to it and which has been a central factor for me in this 35 year love affair.
de Shazer, Steve (1985). Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy. New York: Norton.
de Shazer, Steve (1988). Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy. New York: Norton.
28th August 2022