Last week we thought about ‘What’s Better? Nothing.’ This week we are taking a few moments to think about those times when people might say that things have been worse. In essence most of the responses that we outlined last week might still apply. Of course there is no formula, no script, we are merely seeking to find a way of inviting the other into ‘solution talk’ and this inevitably involves creating a context within which the client will feel happy and comfortable to accept our ‘invitation’. Again there is no formula for achieving this although it is likely, in our ‘it’s worse’ scenario, to involve indicating to the client, however we do that, that we have heard what they have said and are accepting it and taking account of what has been said. However we might still be able to ask about the first few days after the last session and ask whether the client noticed anything even a tiny bit better during those days. We might still be able to ask what the client might have been pleased to notice even though things have been worse. It is more than likely that we might ask about the client’s ‘best hopes’ (George et al., 1999) and it may well be appropriate to ask about how the client has kept going ‘given that it sounds as though things have been difficult’. So where else might we invite the client to shift their attention?
So here are 6 possibilities:
‘Even though things have been worse what is keeping your belief alive that things can be better?’ I think that if the client returns for another session the client must have some belief that change is still possible and this question allows the client to consider their ‘evidence’ for this.
‘This seems a strange question but could I ask what you might have noticed yourself doing that stopped things getting even worse than they have?’ I think that this is a question with which we have to be so careful since it potentially could sound as if we are ‘catching the client out’, or ‘being clever’ as we might say in England, a bit tricksy. The question can, in my view only be considered when the client is convinced that we have heard what they have said.
‘What might you have forgotten to keep doing?’ What an odd question this is and yet over the years I have asked it a few times when someone comes back after quite a gap, saying that things had been loads better but that now they are worse again. The question serves to ‘de-disasterise’ – this isn’t a relapse – simply a forgetting to keep doing something. Forgetting is normal. We can all forget.
‘OK – so what will be the smallest signs that you are getting back on track?’ Here we have a simple opening for a preferred future description.
‘OK - so what would be the smallest signs that would tell you that you are getting back on track and that this time the changes will last?’. So here we ask about the smallest signs but we add to the question in a way that fits with a period of better followed by a worse.
‘So is now a time to think about stopping the slide or a time to focus on moving back up the scale?’ This is a question that I have asked, not often, but on a few occasions over the years. The question allows us to ‘centre’ the client in the conversation, ensuring that the focus fits with the client’s preference.
The Solution Focused approach should not be manualised, we respond in the moment to what the client has just said in a way that fits with our approach and yet having a range of possible questions in our minds to fit any eventuality gives us confidence, helps us to know that Solution Focused conversations can be tailored, can be shaped to fit anything that the client says and does not depend on having the ‘right’ client saying the ‘right’ things. Every client is right and everything that the client says is the right thing for them to say. Our job is merely to be sufficiently flexible. As Steve de Shazer said ‘there are no resistant clients (and we might add difficult clients), merely inflexible therapists’.
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
07th November 2021