The arts and crafts movement (1), working in the UK in the latter part of the 19th Century, had a clear agenda, the determination to transform the way that ‘things’, and those things might range from cutlery and jewellery to buildings, were made. They were interested in ‘re-humanising’ production, reacting against the worst aspects of mass industrialisation, and bringing the worlds of art, high status, and crafts, low status, together.
The ‘re-humanising’ aspect of their project both appeals to me and resonates with me as a Solution Focused practitioner. Steve de Shazer during the course of his many trips to London between 1990 and 2005 would repeatedly be asked questions along the lines of ‘does SF work with psychosis/bereavement/abuse/trauma/addiction?’ and Steve would invariably answer ‘no’. This response would puzzle our workshop attenders since those who were a little more familiar with his work had seen Steve working with psychosis/bereavement/abuse/trauma/addiction and had read case descriptions of just such work so why was he ‘denying’ it? And then at some point Steve would choose to put people out of their misery and he would clarify what he meant, namely that Solution Focused Brief Therapy does not work with diagnoses, it works with people, people who want things, and it is impossible from merely being aware of the diagnosis to know what the client wants. People who want things were at the heart of Steve’s thinking and both were and remain at the heart of our work. Athar Yawar beautifully writes in The Lancet ‘We rarely have the time, or encouragement, to treat patients according to their story, rather than our diagnosis; outcome measures are too coarse to consider whether the patient has been allowed to preserve and fulfill his or her humanity.’ Yes indeed in Solution Focus we work with people’s own stories rather than the diagnoses that we impose upon them, so ‘re-humanisation’ is an aspiration that echoes for a Solution Focused practitioner.
The other aspect of the ‘Arts and Crafts’ movements aspiration, the bringing together of ‘art’ and ‘craft’ resonates as well. I had long ‘privately’ thought of the doing of the Solution Focused approach as more akin to a performing art form than to a treatment. Indeed the word treatment is anathema to many of us. The word suggests a ‘done-to’ in the sense ‘the doctor treats the patient’, and the word treatment suggests and is often associated with manualisation, standardisation, science. Whereas the idea of a performing art highlights for me the creativity, the lightness of touch, the responsiveness of the practitioner in the moment to whatever the client has said. In some ways the model has more in common with an improvisation sketch from a comedy show where the only rule is that my every utterance should build on and take account of what the other has just said. Our questions cannot be ‘scripted’ in advance because we cannot know what the client is about to say. It is our job to respond, to work with the client’s developing story, and just as what I say is shaped by my client’s answers, my client’s developing story is shaped by my questions, by the way that I respond to his/her/their responses to me, responding to them, responding to me and so. It genuinely is a co-construction. As Ludwig Fleck wrote ‘He is a poor observer who does not notice that a stimulating conversation between two persons soon creates a condition in which each utters thoughts he would not have been able to produce by himself or in different company.’ Exactly! A new possibility emerges in the interaction, a possibility that could not have emerged in exactly this particular form without the client but neither would it have emerged exactly this way without the worker.
What about the ‘craft’? And as it happens the word ‘craft’ also seems to be a really useful word to me. What we know about a ‘craft’ is that it has to be practiced, over and over, hour after hour, week after week, year after year and in the practicing the craft enters us and becomes an instinctive contextual response. After years and years of practice perhaps we could say that the craft does us rather than we do the craft. Watching a true crafts-man/woman/person at work we can ask ‘why did you do it that way’ and sometimes they will say ‘I don’t know, I just did it’ – and they really do no longer know. Having ‘practiced’ Solution Focused Brief Therapy for just 33 years now I look forward to that moment with anticipation, the moment when I no longer have to struggle and think and work out ‘what do I do next’. Some of you may turn out to be quicker learners or better crafts-people. So the Solution Focused approach can be thought of as an art form and as a craft and both metaphors offer us useful perspectives that can help us to improve our practice.
(1) For any of you who might not be familiar with this very English, I always tend to think, art movement the key name to search for is William Morris.
London (still at home with just a smidgeon of easing of the lock-down)
24 May 2020