Chris Iveson and I (Evan George) are currently hosting and facilitating the latest iteration of the BRIEF Advanced Certificate in Solution Focused Practice which started in October and which lasts over the course of twenty-four Monday afternoons taking us through to next summer. We are both hugely looking forward to it. However it is also a time for reflection and what I have been thinking about in particular is something that has preoccupied me not infrequently in the past. Since the Solution Focused approach truly is conceptually simple and straightforward, after all there is nothing much to understand, what makes the approach less than easy to learn. It is clearly not the questions that we ask. Best Hopes questions, preferred future questions, scales questions. These are not difficult. Neither I think is it the flow of the conversation, the default shape of sessions. There is I think a clear and obvious shape that makes sense. Even the things that we do not do are simple, even if breaking the habits of years of problem-focused conceptualisation takes discipline. Yet all the same it is not difficult to understand that we do not focus the conversation directly on the problem, we do not hypothesise about problem causation, we let go of our own ideas about the solution, either what it is or how it might best be reached, we do not delve below the surface, we do not assign tasks, we do not impose our own language and so on. There truly is nothing difficult about any of this. So what is it that lies at the heart of successful Solution Focused Practice which perhaps is trickier to learn?
As I was thinking today, and I have perhaps changed my mind on this (something that we surely all have the right to do), it struck me that the greatest challenge lies in slowing down. Insoo Kim Berg is frequently credited with saying ‘if you want to go fast . . . go slow’, although in Brief Coaching for Lasting Solutions (Berg and Szabo, 2005, p.68) Insoo credits Lao-tzu.
You could theoretically imagine a Solution Focused conversation on the following lines:
Worker: ‘So what are your best hopes from our talking together?’.
Client: ‘I just want more confidence, and perhaps liking myself a bit more, I really don’t like the person that I have become of late’.
Worker: ‘And if you woke up tomorrow with more confidence and liking yourself more in the way that was just right for you and those around you, how would you know?’
Cl: ‘I’d have more energy, I’d go out more, I’d see my friends, I’d answer the phone, I’d be interested in the people around me . . . yeah it would make a huge difference’.
Wo: ‘So on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 standing for all of your best hopes happening and 0 standing for the opposite of that, where would you put things at the moment?’
Cl: ‘Well I’d put things at about 2 to 3’
Wo: ‘ so how come things are at a 2 to 3 and not at 0?’
Cl: ‘Well I do go out sometimes and I have been answering the phone sometimes recently’.
Wo: ‘And if things were to move just one point up how would you know?’
Cl: . . . . . . . . .
Now of course this is a Solution Focused conversation; there is nothing problem-focused here, and yet, as all of you reading this (ridiculous) excerpt will already have been aware, this conversation has an absolutely minimal chance of making a difference in the client’s life. Of course once in a while we might all get lucky but it is very, very, unlikely. It is in the slowing down and the developing of detail in the client’s descriptions that the possibility of change seems to lie and herein lies the core skill of the Solution Focused practitioner. We need to develop a hugely wide repertoire of questions that support the client in describing the preferred future, for example, in huge detail however we choose to do that. It helps to have in mind a range of structures within which the preferred future description can develop, perhaps a timeline, or centred on other person perspectives, or detailed in relation to the multiple possible contexts within which difference can be described, home, work, with friends, at school or college, in the playground, in the classroom, on the way to school, over breakfast, lying in bed before we have even got up, and so on.
So, whether they know it or not, our Advanced Certificate group are going to be spending more time than they are yet likely to realise on slowing down and developing the detail in people’s descriptions that makes a difference. Bring it on – it is going to be fun.
Berg, Insoo Kim and Szabo, Peter (2005) Brief Coaching for Lasting Solutions. New York; Norton.
01 October 2023