I read this poem by Emily Dickinson just the other day and it reminded me, for the billionth time, how important that word ‘hope’ is to us at BRIEF.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
I do love this poem.
I remember first seeing the ‘best hopes’ question in a recording of a session of Chris Iveson’s and since then the question has become the foundation for everything that we do at BRIEF. Indeed asking the question, or something akin, in my view defines work as either Solution Focused or not. Anyway the client arrived very problem-dominated, she had lived through real difficulties, and she had had much therapy in the past. Indeed she seemed something of an expert in problem-talk, on occasions using therapy language to describe her situation. As the client launches herself into more problem detail Chris asks ‘so what are your hopes for this meeting – what’s your best hope?’. The client responds with more problem-description and then Chris asks ‘so what’s your best hope of what it might lead to?’. The ‘best hopes’ question was born (George et al., 1999). And the word ‘hopes’ is crucial. We are not asking clients what they wish for, what they desire or indeed what they want. We ask what people’s best hopes are; not any old hopes but their very best hopes. So why is the word ‘hopes’ important and it is important in my view because it signifies the presence of belief in the possibility of change. We can only hope for things that are possible, that could happen. We can desire anything but we can only hope for the possible. So when we ask people about their ‘best hopes’ we are inviting them to connect with their ‘belief’. And it is indeed this belief that underpins the hope ‘that kept so many warm’ as Emily Dickinson writes. Yes change, a better tomorrow, is possible.
George, E., Iveson, C. and Ratner, H. (1990; Revised and expanded Edition 1999) Problem to Solution: Brief Therapy with Individuals and Families. London: BT Press
05 March 2023