The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

Not even a whisper

I was reading a draft of my friend and colleague, Susanne Burgstaller’s forthcoming book on organisational change when I came across this short paragraph:

'When I attended the BRIEF Diploma course in London, Chris Iveson introduced us to the idea of ending conversations by “going out with a whisper”. He compared it to backing out gently from a room where a baby is sleeping. I thought this was a lovely metaphor, and it has inspired me ever since. I try to find ways of backing out gently that leave what has been achieved in the process intact.'

I suspect Susanne added the ‘sleeping baby’ and has kindly forgotten, either way it is a touching way to describe a minimalist approach to ending. And it fits nicely with Evan’s recent piece where he highlighted the shift in SFBT from prominence given to the ending of sessions to prominence to the start. (From task-giving at the end to outcome specification at the beginning)

Why this quiet departure? The evidence is pretty clear that all therapeutic approaches are more or less equally effective. This has led to the ‘wild goose chase’ after ‘common factors’. The search for the ‘common factors’ between models that purportedly carry the therapeutic element is like looking for a needle in a haystack – why would anyone keep a needle in such a place. Like most people I keep my needles in a sewing box where they are easy to find. The ‘common factors’ focus is on what therapists do which emphasises our importance rather than the importance of our clients. If we switch focus and examine what our clients all do, whatever the model, we find that the common factor is that they answer questions.

Since every therapeutic model is likely to have questions the client has never been asked before there will always be times the client says something they have never said before and quite possibly it is these answers that lead the client to see themselves or the world or both in a new light which in turn opens up a new future. SFBT is likely to be briefer because it doesn’t require the client to do a tour of their problems before the questions become more possibility oriented.

If the therapeutic element of the conversation comes from what clients hear themselves saying what is the value of us finishing a session with our own words, however much we take them from the client or however benignly we talk. My own way is to say that “I’ve run out of questions”, or “That’s probably enough for now, what do you think?” thus giving the client a chance to add or ask for more. Then the offer of another meeting if the clients want one and “Goodbye”. Though I doubt that it makes a significant difference there is something to be said for trusting the client enough to go out with a whisper.

Chris Iveson


07 May 2023


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