The idea of the mandated client is one that has long been familiar in the Solution Focused field (de Jong, Berg 2001), but perhaps less thought has been given to the practise dilemmas of the mandated worker. Joe Lettieri, responding to a recent post, summarised the dilemma clearly ‘in social care we are often directed by the outcomes wanted by their (our client’s) social worker. Being SF would not fit right for me as this looks at a third party’s interests which may or may not fit with the client’s view of a preferred future. I guess the idea that the client is the “expert” is respectful and right but does not seem to fit in many other places where the therapist is the expert’. So how can we work in a Solution Focused way in those situations where our client arrives accompanied by an agenda, by a list of changes required by the social work organisation?
Of course as an independent organisation the dilemmas facing the mandated worker have largely not intruded on our practise at BRIEF. Our work with clients has generally being founded, solely, on the client’s answer to the ‘best hopes’ question (George et al, 1999). Naturally, the client’s ‘best hopes’ will be formed in an interactional context where the expectations of others will influence the form that they take. Should a client state that they wish to become a ‘better parent’, it may well be that this thought has emerged within a context where the client’s parenting has been much criticised, and the client has been told that they are unlikely to regain custody of their child without improvements. However, even though the BRIEF worker may well inquire ‘and what difference might it make if you were the better parent that you aspire to be?’, nonetheless the origin of that thought, the role that professionals may have played in the shaping of that desired outcome, does not need to be known. Thus at BRIEF the desired outcome for the work is articulated and formed by the client and what account the client pays to the referrer’s agenda is indeed the client’s own business and not our business. However many professionals are indeed in a position where they feel obliged, indeed would see it to be appropriate, to ‘dance to the referrer’s tune’.
1. Even if the client arrives accompanied by a social work agenda of required or desired changes to be achieved, it is likely to be useful to start the first session with a ‘best hopes’ question none-the-less. It is not unlikely that the Social Work agenda will be covered within the client’s ‘best hopes’ response and if this is indeed the case then the work can be treated as a standard piece of client-directed work. The exact same language may not be used but the desired outcome, if achieved, would satisfy the referrer’s requirements.
2. If the social work agenda does not appear to be covered within the statement of the ‘best hopes’ there may well be value in waiting, in trusting the client. It is not unusual for clients to inform us about difficulties and problems when they are telling us about changes achieved. I remember a young person telling me ‘I have stopped smoking in the morning’ at the beginning of a third session in response to my question ‘So what has been better?’. The young person had made, up until that time, no mention of his ‘smoking’, despite this being a source of concern to all involved with him. The fact that a client has not made specific mention of a problem, or included a description of resolution of the problem specifically in their best hopes response, does not mean that the client is not working to make changes in that area of their living. Workers therefore might usefully ask themselves ‘can I wait?’.
3. Some workers of course, may either feel it not possible to wait or if they do wait might continue to hear no evidence of change in relation to the issue of concern. In such a circumstance the worker can put the issue on the table, stating simply that the issue is part of the context of referral and that the worker is obliged to deal with it. Having ‘tabled’ the issue the worker can then ask ‘and if you were to make changes in relation to your drinking would this be good for you too or is this just something that your social worker is wanting for you and the children?’. If the client responds by saying that actually change in relation to their drinking would be a good thing, then again the worker can choose to treat drinking as something that the client wishes to change and can proceed in a standard Solution Focused fashion.
4. However if the client has no interest in the changes ‘required by the social care agency’ and the worker is indeed mandated, required to focus on those issues despite the client’s lack of interest, then a ‘twin-tracking’ (Ratner et al, 2012 p 90) response is still possible. We can ask the client, ‘while I am doing my job, focusing on things that I know you would prefer not to discuss but which I will have to focus on all the same, what could you get out of our talking together which has some chance of making our talking useful to you as well?’. As soon as the client can specify a desired outcome then this piece of the work can be approached in a completely Solution Focused manner, and each meeting with the client can be ‘twin-tracked’, some of the time spent on the mandated worker’s agenda and some of the session spent on the client’s desired outcome. Naturally the ‘mandated’ work is not Solution Focused, even though Solution Focused questions can be used in the process and the phrase ‘right for you’ might well feature as in ’if you were to begin to find yourself working collaboratively with the foster carers how would you know that you were doing that in a way that was just right for you as well as OK for social services?’.
So perhaps there are some possibilities for the ‘mandated worker’ to find ways of ‘Being SF’ (as Joe Lettieri puts it), whilst as ever we at BRIEF would acknowledge that independence has made the use of the approach simpler for us.
Thanks Joe for your comments which provoked me to organise my thinking in this regard.
De Jong, P., Berg, I.K. (2001) Co-Constructing Cooperation with Mandated Clients Social Work; Volume 46, Number 4; October 2001; 361 – 374
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
Ratner, H., George, E., Iveson, C. (2012) Solution Focused Brief Therapy: 100 Key Ideas and Techniques. London: Routledge
25 July 2021