The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

Route or destination: a small and very important distinction.

Chris Iveson and I, together with Elliott Connie and Adam Froerer, are currently ‘tutoring’ the latest, 2020, edition of the BRIEF International Solution Focused Certificate Course. One part of that course are the twice-weekly ‘coaching calls’, opportunities for course members to raise their questions about the course material and about their practice. Naturally the course has opened by focusing on ‘Best Hopes’ and the questions asked by course members have reminded me of a small distinction, the difference between ‘route’ and ‘outcome’, a clear appreciation of which underpins the BRIEF approach to Solution Focus in practice.
The opening sequence of a typical BRIEF Solution Focused first session involves the negotiation, between client and worker, of a ‘workable’ best hope response and we do have a set of criteria in mind that represent the characteristics of this ‘workable’ response and will keep asking questions until the best hope is translated into these terms. So let’s look at some not atypical example answers to the ‘best hopes’ (George et al, 1999) question.
‘What are your best hopes from our talking together?’
‘I want to be in a relationship’.
‘I’d have a job’.
‘I’d be able to sleep’.
‘I want to know which way to go, whether to stay or go’.
‘I just need to understand why this keeps happening’.
‘I’d have a strategy’, a not unusual response in supervision.
‘My mum and dad would be back together again’, something for which children often hope.
‘You’ll take my child into care – I just can’t manage having at home any longer’, a response that front-line social workers sometimes hear.
‘You’ll be able to give me some advice’.
‘The only thing that would make a difference to me would be having him/her/them back’, a not unusual response from both the separated and the bereaved.
‘I wouldn’t be ill’.
‘My parents/teachers/the adult world would just leave me alone’.
Now of course all of these responses are ‘right’ just because they are our clients’ responses, however they are not yet translated into a ‘workable’ form and the distinction that we would find it useful to bring to the work is the ‘route or destination’ distinction. We would choose to frame all of these responses, in their different ways, as ‘route’ responses, they can be seen as assumed pathways towards something else, and it is the something else that the client is hoping for, that has brought the client to us. People do not typically want to be in relationships or to have jobs as ends in themselves, they are hoping for the differences that they imagine that the job or the relationship will make to their quality of life. Those people who come to see us and respond to the ‘best hopes’ question by saying ‘I just need to understand why this keeps happening’, do not come to see us driven by academic curiosity, they are not viewing therapy as some sort of quasi-archaeological evening class, they are assuming that understanding will lead to difference. Sometimes the responses are painfully heart-felt and require to be honoured as such, the child who says that all they want is mum and dad back together or the bereaved client who cannot see anything beyond having their loved one back in their life, and still these are not differences that are desired for themselves, they are desired for the difference that the client assumes will result from these changes. The ‘you’ll tell me what to do’ or ‘I’d have a strategy’ responses are founded on the assumptions that either life or their work would be different if we gave advice or offered a strategy. Even parents who say ‘you’ll take my child into care’ oddly enough do not just want their child out of the house, they want the difference that they assume that this will make in the house and in their lives.
Having identified an initial client response as a ‘route’ response the translation into a ‘destination’ answer is relatively simple and very often all we need to ask is ‘and what difference would that make?’:
‘What are your best hopes from our talking together?’
‘I want to be in a relationship’.
‘And if you were in a relationship what difference are you hoping that that would make?’
‘Well I suppose that I would feel less lonely and less isolated?’
‘And if you did – what difference are you hoping that that would make?’
‘I’d be happier.’
And there we are – the client does not just want to be in a relationship for the sake of being in a relationship, the client wants to be in a relationship because the client assumes and believes that were they to be in a relationship they would be happier. The client wants happiness and when we translate ‘relationship’ into ‘happiness’ and establish happiness as the starting point for the conversation ‘being in a relationship’ becomes just one of a number of potential pathways towards happiness. We have co-constructed greater flexibility, for after all the client may find happiness even without being in a relationship.
The ‘route and destination’ distinction is a small point and yet it often makes a big difference and as we set out on our Solution Focused futures it is an important distinction to grasp.
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
Evan George
19 July 2020


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