Some more great questions from our friend and colleague from Konya, Turkey, ?brahim Duvarci. He starts by citing Eve Lipchik writing about her work with couples. For those of you who wish to follow this up you will find the excerpt on pages 130 – 131 of her book ‘Beyond Technique in Solution Focused Therapy’ (2002). Here she is writing about her work with couples and she starts by stating her position that she does not work with couples where one partner is involved in an affair. This leads her, if an affair becomes apparent, to insist that either that partner should discontinue the affair or tell their partner about the affair if it has been secret. Lipchik then explores options for what you as a therapist should do if you suspect that you are being deceived, opening that sequence by writing “On the other hand, some people agree to put the affair on hold but do not follow through with it, and then there are the people who successfully deceive us. Generally, if a decision is made to work with the couple and the adultery continues there will be telltale signs such as no progress or fluctuations between progress and relapse. Therapists' intuition can also be a valuable tool.”
So Ibrahim asks three questions:
1. Is there a place for therapist intuition in Solution Focused approach? Is there a place for therapist suspicion in SF while listening to client's stories?
2. Do intuition and suspicion belong to separate categories or are they on the same spectrum? Simply saying "Intuition versus suspicion" or "Intuition is somehow a mild suspicion".
3. To what extent should we use our intuition without sliding towards being suspicious? Or should we dismiss all our intuition and rely on SF questions only?
I have found these questions really interesting -so here we go. Let’s stay with Eve’s couple work context.
1. People come to see us and clearly they want something. The something that they want might initially be framed in a straightforward and simple way ‘we want to get on better’ or less so ‘we want to work out whether there is any future to our relationship’. In the first case we invite the couple to describe in turn their lives transformed by the presence of ‘getting on better’. We are likely to move back and forth between them inviting them to connect their descriptions
‘and would you be happy to see your partner smiling more?’
’So how would your partner know that you were happy?’
‘Maybe I’d be a bit more talkative’
‘And would you be pleased if your partner were that bit more talkative?’
And so on.
2. In the second case we continue asking ‘and what difference would that make questions?’ until we arrive at a quality of living response ‘I suppose that I’d be lighter, more relaxed’ for example. ‘Imagine that you woke up tomorrow ‘lighter and more relaxed’ what would be the very first thing that you would notice?’ and so on and similarly for the other partner.
3. So all that we do is to ask questions in the session and all that I listen for in the client’s answers are opportunities, hooks I sometimes call them, elements of the client’s answer to which I can attach my next Solution Focused question. This means that I work with my client’s words, with what they say to me and I assume that when clients respond to me that they are giving of their best. The question of truth or untruth does not, I think, enter into my thinking. Whatever the client said is what they said and so it is what they said that I choose to work with.
4. Listening ‘intuitively’ would involve us, as I imagine, listening for the unsaid, or listening for what we might assume to be the meant but unsaid which is what in Solution Focus we try not to do. It would be similar perhaps to ‘reading body language’ almost as a way to give us access to the ‘meant but unsaid’ or the ‘meant but denied’, which again I think that we try not to do and why perhaps some of us particularly like working on the phone!
5. Solution Focused Practice requires practitioners to trust their clients and trusting is not easy particularly when the history of psychotherapy has, to some extent, framed therapy as a battle between client and worker with the client attempting to resist change and the worker attempting to out-wit the resistance, an interaction within which the client can never be ‘trusted’, can never be taken at face-value.
So, it seems to me, neither suspicion nor intuition have a place in my reading of Solution Focused practice. However, and Lipchik elsewhere helps us with this, when we sit with a client we are not only SF practitioners. We are perhaps therapists or counsellors, we may be coaches or social workers or pastors or teachers or nurses or occupational therapists or drugs support worker and of course those roles might, in some circumstances, involve a different sort of listening. Many of us might have a responsibility to listen for and to hear evidence of danger to a child, and of course to act on it. A drugs worker may be required to listen for continuing use. A mental health nurse is likely to listen out for evidence of possible relapse. It seems the case therefore that there may be different sorts of listening going on - the way that we listen in our professional role and the way that we listen as a ‘Solution Focused Practitioner’. Both ways of listening are appropriate and necessary. Thus if my ‘safety ear’ picks up evidence of risk and I am obliged to explore this, I do so from my broader professional role. Solution Focus itself has no way of focusing the client on things that are not part of the clients’ best hopes. So when I am sitting with a client I only hear the client’s words as a Solution Focused Practitioner but as responsible therapist, with broader responsibilities, I may also hear signs of risk and danger that may require me to act. In the examples that Lipchik gives us of her work with couples I could only see myself listening to and working with the clients’ words.
I would be really interested to hear how other people think in relation to these questions and can I thank Ibrahim again for setting us off, exploring where Solution Focus takes us.
Lipchik, Eve (2002) Beyond Technique in Solution-Focused Therapy. New York: Guildford.
23 July 2023.