Every year Summer School is fun, or at least so it seems to me. Every year a new idea emerges or a new exercise based on a new idea. And this year, out of somewhere, came the idea of the ‘pre-history of your Solution Focused practice’. Obviously charting the history, as opposed to the pre-history, is relatively simple and obvious. We could use ‘honeymoon’ type questions (Connie, 2013, p. 43):
‘When did you first come across Solution Focus?’
‘What did you first think when you ‘met’ this approach?’
‘What did you first notice that attracted you to SF?’
‘At what point did you begin to think that this might be a serious ‘relationship’?’
‘How did you know?’
‘What is it that SF brought out of you that gave you the idea that your relationship with SF might become a lasting passion rather than a fleeting obsession?’
And so on - however what might the ‘pre-history’ be?
The way that I would think about ‘pre-history’ involves us in retrospective reflection. We might for instance enquire:
‘As you look back on your life prior to meeting up with SF and falling in love with the model, what do you now see that tells you that SF always would turn out to be a good fit for you, always would turn out to feel right?’
And this is a question that I have pondered on since Summer School and some answers have begun to dawn upon me. I remember when I was first undertaking my social work training way before I got interested in Systemic Psychotherapy that I came across a book called ‘The Client Speaks: Working Class Impressions of Casework’ (Mayer & Timms, 1970). The book, as I recall it, and of course I have not looked at it for 40 years and do not have a copy, spoke to me of a tragedy. Here were a group of social workers working in the Family Welfare Association, clearly skilled and professional workers, committed to their work and who seemed from the clients’ accounts in the book to be predominantly influenced by a psychodynamic approach to their work. But what interested me was the number of clients, as I recall all these years later, who expressed bewilderment by the service that they had received at the hands of these skilled and talented and committed professionals. A number of the clients were clear that what had taken them to the FWA was hardship, poverty, housing difficulties and what they received was psychodynamic casework. They could not understand why the workers were enquiring about their early childhood experiences. There seemed to be no ‘fit’ between the clients’ hopes and what the workers delivered and I remember thinking at the time ‘why didn’t the workers just find out what the clients wanted’. Yes indeed, in my language now, I would say why did the workers not start by asking about the ‘best hopes’, and this is an impression, a puzzlement that stayed with me as the details of the book itself have faded.
And then as I reflect on pre-history I remember another experience. I was by now a qualified social worker working in an area office in West London and I was working with children and families in significant difficulties. There were times when I was quite clear that the difficulties faced by the people with whom I was working, were way beyond my rather basic skill-set at the time and so I would refer to the local Child and Family Psychiatry Department. The work involved in referring, encouraging, supporting the families in taking up the service was often considerable and finally, sometimes, I would jump all the requisite hurdles and I would be successful in ‘my family’ arriving at the hospital department opposite our office. And there they underwent, typically, a three-session assessment to judge their suitability for therapy, and as often as not they would be turned down, assessed and judged in some way wanting, not right for therapy, not suitable, the wrong sorts of people, or the right people with the wrong sorts of problems, or people with the right sort of problems who were not talking about their problems in the right sort of way, a psychological sort of way of course. And I remember feeling uneasy. I remember feeling puzzled. I remember wondering why on earth did the highly-skilled professionals in the very expensive and smart and modern hospital department not change the way that they worked in a way that would suit the needs of the people coming to them rather than insisting on delivering a service, using a model, that just did not fit so many people in desperate need. So unlike Mayer and Timm’s clients, here were people who did indeed want to make changes in their ways of living and yet they were rejected. It seemed so wrong and so unfair. Nowadays of course with my SF approach I am very clear that all the client has to do is to turn up and it is my job to make the work useful. Clients in SF cannot fail, the only person who can fail is me. It is my job to fit the client. As Steve de Shazer said ‘there are no resistant clients, merely inflexible therapists’.
So looking back I can see some of the manifestations of pre-history in my practice and in my work and thinking way before I ever came across Solution Focused Brief Therapy. Yes looking back I can see that SFBT was somehow going to suit me!
And you might like to give this a go – both the ‘honeymoon’ questions and the pre-history. It will be interesting to hear your thoughts.
Connie, Elliott (2013) The Solution Focused Marriage: 5 simple habits that will bring out the best in your relationship. Keller, Texas: The Connie Institute.
Mayer, J.E., Timms, N. (1970) The Client Speaks: Working Class Impressions of Casework. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
5th September 2021