“What are your best hopes from our meeting?” I asked my new client.
“This morning”, she began, “I walked up 37 floors in the Shard because I can’t go in a lift! It’s annoying but I don’t mind that so much, but I can’t fly and I’m having big trouble with trains now you can’t open a window – and I come to work by train!”
I’m a Solution Focused Brief Therapist and Coach which means I don’t have any useful theories about problems like this – or any other problem for that matter, so I don’t know how to explain this problem to my client, nor do I know how to solve it. So, she’ll just have to solve it herself! My job is to help her do that. If I can help her create the conditions within which she is able to travel by plane and train then my job is done.
“What difference will it make if you can travel by train and plane and even go in lifts when you don’t fancy the stairs?” I ask. The purpose of this question is to broaden the scope of our interest and to discover the creative loop that will take her forward. If solving Problem A leads to her being able to do X, Y and Z then doing X, Y and Z is likely to lead to the resolution of Problem A.
“Well, to begin with I’d be able to keep going to work, because I’m not sure I can for much longer. They’ve just upgraded my line with new air-conditioned trains. I could manage before with the windows open but now I panic. Yesterday I had to let three trains go before I could make myself get on one. And then I need to travel for my work. So far I’ve been able to drive to most places but now they want me to take on the international business. It would be a big promotion but I would have to do a lot of flying.”
“And what difference would it make if these possibilities opened up for you, the ease of travel, the promotion?” Again, a question to widen the scope, to identify more of the conditions.
“It would be such a relief! I spend so much of my time dreading going to work and then when I’m at work I’m dreading having to go home. It’s exhausting!”
“So, what difference will that sense of relief make; what might replace the exhaustion?” More opening out.
“I’d be able to have a life – well, I do have a life, I’m not a complete ‘saddo’ but it would be nice to just feel free to get on with it!”
“And what difference do you think that would make, that sense of freedom to get on with life?” It is really important not to feel shy about expanding the scope of the client’s hoped-for outcome. The wider and more general it is the more able we will be to create the conditions that will break the impasse in which she finds herself.
“I’d be so much more confident about the future, about work, which I like, and about my life. Much more confident!”
We now have the makings of, what for me is a perfect contract, one which can begin immediately and is unhooked from both the problem and its solution yet has every chance of generating what the client has come for.
“Let’s imagine you wake up tomorrow morning with exactly that sense of freedom and confidence that you are seeking: freedom to get on with life and complete confidence in the future, what might be the first thing you notice when you wake up?” This marks the beginning of a description of a possible and preferred future in which I decide to avoid any description of travel. Instead we look in detail at the morning routine up to leaving home. We then jump to arriving at work and all the minute details of behaviour and interactions that will manifest this newfound freedom and confidence, the difference it will make to her evening and then widening it out to the differences friends and family will experience. These are the ‘conditions’ (the X, Y and Z) that are likely to lead to my client being able to travel by train and plane and even go in lifts when she chooses (the resolution of Problem A).
We spend a little time at the end on a scale enumerating the degree to which this hoped-for future is already happening and arrange to meet in a month. A month later she wanted to “rehearse” getting on a plane. She had accepted promotion.