Less said the better if we truly believe that only the client knows the way forward.
We have a finite time with our ‘clients’ (and by clients I mean anyone we ask questions of in our professional capacity). It may be a few fleeting moments in a school or hospital corridor, ten minutes on a street corner or a fifty minute hour in a therapy room but wherever or whatever the setting, it is the client’s answers that light the way forward, so every turn we take in the conversation should be a question. Anything else costs the client an answer – possibly an answer that would have made a difference.
As we only have three questions we couldn’t ask for a more simple approach; the challenge is to keep it that way. Our questions ask the client to consider:
What might be their hopes from our conversation;
What difference the realisation of these hopes might make to their future lives;
What is already contributing to these hoped-for lives.
All the Solution Focused techniques, The Best Hopes Question, the Miracle/Tomorrow Question, Exception Questions, Scaling Questions, Coping Questions and the What’s Better Question are all variations, or entry-points to these three core questions and each can be amplified by What Else? What Difference? and Instead? Questions.
In our manual, BRIEFER (email me at email@example.com if you’d like a PDF copy) we have a couple of pages of typical Solution Focused questions and it can be tempting to think that learning these, and a few thousand more, will make us competent therapists. Better, perhaps, to feed them into a computer, there would probably be a few successes but no match to a truly competent therapist whose questions come not from a list but from the client’s previous answers. We might only have three questions but every time they are asked they need to be woven into the client’s developing narrative. We can never know our next question until we have heard the last answer because it is on this, or more likely a small part of this, that the next question will be constructed.
Therapist: What might be the next small sign of this miracle?
Client: I’d probably start going out again but that’s the problem; there’s nowhere to go except into town and then I’m bound to meet up with the old crowd and then I’d be back to square one so that’s why I don’t go out.
Therapist: So what might you notice as you were going in to town that told you this miracle had happened?
Here the therapist picks up the “going out . . . into town” part of the answer and later:
Therapist: What might be the first sign to the old crowd that this miracle has happened?
Every time we ask one of our three questions it is a uniquely different question, even if we are using often repeated words, because every answer is a different answer in a different hoped-for future or a different successful past. And it is when the client’s answer leads them to say something they have never said before that the possibility of something new is created.
It is the new possibilities contained within the client’s answers that lead to better futures. Our job is simply to listen carefully to each answer and weave it into one of our three questions and really trust that only the client’s words will open up for them a better world.
04 September 2022