Psychotherapy, Solution Focused Therapy

Clients: competent, capable, motivated

In Solution Focused Brief Therapy, we need to do everything we can to see our clients as competent, capable, and motivated.

To see them as anything else would make our jobs as therapists infinitely harder. Then we would start to distrust and lecture. We would lose faith in our clients, blinded by our belief in our own expertise.

Our clients are experts. They know more about their lives than we will ever know. Somewhere, in between the lines of everything they have experienced, said, felt, heard, noticed, touched; somewhere between the lines of every struggle and every success, is the beginning of a way forward that works for them.

Our job is to be experts of our questions, the process by which we can support our clients to reach deep within their own thinking to find their way.

Allowing our clients to own their journey recognises their individuality and allows them to own their success. We don’t prescribe what our clients must do, should do, ought to do. We simply create a space where they can describe what they are doing, in the future that contains their best hopes.

Mindfulness, Psychotherapy, Solution Focused Therapy

Ending and beginning

This month has been one of endings and beginnings for me. I achieved my qualification in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy with Clifton Hypnotherapy Practice Training, having gathered the most awesome group of friends I could have hoped for. Set against the backdrop of coronavirus and uncertainty, CPHT gifted me a year of learning and growing together – supporting each other to help others. From that nest of support, Choice Therapies was born, and it continues to grow into a nurturing community for practitioners from all walks as therapy, as they learn and grow and strive to do their best by their clients.

This month I also had a big push on my Masters thesis, exploring the use of Solution Focused Hypnotherapy for the management of chronic pain conditions. For a few weeks I was wholly submerged in data analysis and write-ups, and thanks to the incredible support of my supervisor, not to mention my family, I’m returning to the surface, as a finalised report takes shape.

And yesterday, I waved goodbye (over Zoom) to a lovely bunch of solution focused practitioners from across the globe who I had learned so much with and from over the last four months, on the Intensive Solution Focused Brief Therapy course with BRIEF International. Discussing the intricacies of this transformative approach with the solution focused greats, Adam Forever, Chris Iveson, Elliott Connie, and Evan George, was an absolute joy, and has shaped how I work with clients for the better.

So here I am, winding down, taking a moment, taking a breath. Looking back down the mountain to admire the view. These moments are important. We take stock, we process, we gain perspective on where we are right now, in this moment, and nudge the tiller if needs be to help us along the path ahead.

There’s so much to look forwards to; collaborations, projects, research, learning. Choice Therapies continues to grow into a wonderful community. My own practice continues to allow me the opportunity and privilege of watching my clients grow in strength and confidence, finding ways to manage their challenges that work for them. Many of the ventures I am fortunate to be a part of, are in their infancy. The future is full and exciting.

But for now, in this moment, I am pressing pause. Reconnecting, celebrating, and feeling grateful.

Psychotherapy

Accepting our inner selves: using the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy

This week I attended a training seminar led by founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, Lissa Rankin, MD, and founder of the Internal Family Systems model Richard Schwartz, PHD.

Firstly, a huge thank you to Lissa and Richard for running the seminar, which, as someone relatively new to IFS, I found really accessible and informative, and very useful for therapists like myself working with those impacted in some way by COVID-19. 

The seminar got me thinking about the value of the IFS model for use in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy. 

The analytical side of IFS can often draw clients towards childhood experiences as they follow the trailhead back from their present thoughts and behaviour, and this contrasts with the SFH focus on the future, not the past. However, there do seem to be many areas in which Solution Focus Hypnotherapy, and Internal Family Systems align. 

  1. Both IFS and SFH share the same positive assumption that we all essentially have the capacity to draw on our inner resources in identifying where we want to get to and getting there. As Richard Schwarz explains, in IFS, “Everyone has an essence or state amid the terror, the Self in each of us is always there—the “I” in the storm, the calm depth beneath the roiling waves.” (Rankin, 2020). The positive suggestions in SFH encourage both self acceptance and a focus on our strengths and successes. Similarly, IFS aims to bring the exiles – the parts of ourselves that we don’t like – into acceptance, in doing so accessing the inherent strengths. 

  1. Both SFH and IFS work with the subconscious mind, using rewinding and reframing techniques to help us achieve positive change, although the use of rewind in SFH is usually restricted to specific phobias.  Equally, both SFH and IFS use solution focused questioning to assist this process.

  1. The multiplicity of our minds is a key focus in both SFH and IFS. In SFH we draw on neuroscientific understanding about the brain to recognise the role of its multiple parts in how we feel and behave, while in IFS the multiplicity is through the metaphysical understanding of how our personalities are comprised of multiple sub personalities, or parts.

  1. Both SFH and IFS aim to work with, rather than against, all parts of our mind. In SFH we talk about the primitive mind as an essential part of us. Our intention is to utilise the creative strength of the subconscious mind through meditative practice, while consciously thinking, acting, and interacting in a positive way to avoid operating from our primitive mind in times of stress. The anger, anxiety and depression we resort to when we operate out of our primitive mind are often unwelcome in today’s society, but 100,000 years ago would likely have saved our life. Even now, the speed at which our subconscious mind can react to danger saves lives every day. In the same way, according to the IFS model all of our personality ‘parts’ are essentially good, although how they are expressed sometimes when we are under pressure can cause us trouble. Progress comes in accepting all of our parts, and nurturing rather than rejecting the parts of us we don’t like or fear.

The value of the IFS model for SFH is in the precision it can bring to identifying our inner resources through solution focused questioning (Adams, 2018). The SFH approach provides a meditative platform through which to employ the IFS technique of focusing on one thought, belief or sensation at a time and using it to get back to the part of us it comes from (Schwartz, 2020). In turn the IFS model gives SFH a useful understanding of our personalities that lends itself to exploration through hypnosis. The visual metaphor of our multiple inner selves is something we can use in SFH to encourage a positive inner dialogue, within which we can draw on our stronger parts to nurture the parts of ourselves we wish to grow.

References

Rankin, L. (2020). The viral wake-up call. An IFS perspective. Retrieved from https://lissarankin.com/the-viral-wake-up-call-an-ifs-perspective-by-dick-schwartz/

Adams, J. The Situated Self as a Motivational Resource. Journal of Systemic Therapies 37 (3), 29-41, 2018. Retrieved from https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdf/10.1521/jsyt.2018.37.3.29

Psychotherapy

A punch is just a punch; a question is just a question

Martial Artist Bruce Lee once said;

“Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.”

In a recent presentation on Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), Co-Owner at BRIEF International Evan George deconstructed, in much the same way, the most important question in SFBT:

What are your best hopes from our talking today? 

As solution focused therapists in training, we start using this question because we are told to do so. And then we carry on using it because we experience first-hand that it works with our clients. 

But in order to utilise the best of solution focused therapy, we have to understand whyWhy is this question so important?

As self-help guru Deepak Chopra teaches, language creates reality, and in solution focused therapies, we use language to help shift our clients’ focus away from their problem and towards their preferred future. 

In his presentation, George walks us through this foundational question until we understand all of the considered mechanisms behind these eight simple words. 

What are your best hopes from our talking today?

In this one question we can communicate to our clients that we believe in them, we believe that they have hopes. We are interested in, and listening for, their hopes.  We welcome their best hopes; the hopes they turn over in their minds in the early hours of the morning; the hopes they hide from the world behind layers of bravado and self-defeatism. They might push us away by responding to this question with unattainable wishes, or mundanities they can accomplish all too easily. But we keep them on track with that one, crucial word – hopes. 

Once we understand the art of SFBT; once we understand exactly why we ask what we ask; then we can have unshakeable confidence in our approach. So we can begin with ‘What are your best hopes from our talking today?” And if we have confidence in our approach, so will our clients.

References

George, E. (2020, May 10). The Best Hopes Question: a detailed deconstruction . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMCk2d2LsCA

Psychotherapy

Small things can lead to bigger things

In one of his Moments with Elliott Connie, psychotherapist, author, lecturer and founder of The Solution Focused University, Elliott Connie, recounts the inspiring story of US Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who was caught under enemy fire while accomplishing a mission in 2005. During one battle, in which many of his comrades were killed, Luttrell was shot over a dozen times and fell off multiple cliffs, breaking his legs, his back and multiple other bones in his body, biting his tongue in two, and knocking himself unconscious. When Luttrell woke up, his body riddled with shrapnel, he was aware that the gunfire had ceased, but realised that he could no longer walk or move. Luttrell thought he was dying, and yet, in that moment, chose to do something amazing that ultimately saved his life. He reached out as far as he could and drew a line in the mud. And then he set himself the task of hauling his broken body over that line. Luttrell thought that if he could do that, and if he was still alive, he would do it again. And again. Luttrell did this for seven miles, until he found water and was rescued.

Luttrell’s incredible story has been the basis for both the book and movie Lone Survivor, and he has given multiple lectures on his experience and the lessons he has learned from it.

As Elliott points out, this story gives us an inspirational example of how challenges can be more achievable once we break them down in little tasks. This approach is something we can draw on in our everyday life, when we feel overwhelmed by an assignment we have to write, a tax return we have to file, a room we have to tidy, a commute we have to complete. Such challenges can loom large like mountains, but every mountain is made of rocks, and if we shift our focus to putting one foot in front of the other, we can conquer the mountain, rock by rock.

For many, COVID-19 has been that explosive attack, shattering our life as it was. Many have lost loved ones, jobs, relationships, security, meaning. And with the majority of the world still closed for business, there is little motivation to start picking ourselves up.

But if we break down the seemingly impossible challenge of getting back up into tiny tasks, we can motivate ourselves, with each small success, to carry on with the next task. And the next. And the next. Each success, however small, triggers our brain’s reward system to facilitate this process. Every positive action activates the production of hormones like serotonin and dopamine, which boost our self-esteem and our motivation to act positively again. And again. Helping us to move forward step by step, to find a new normal amid the rubble.

References

Connie, E. (2016). Small Things Can Lead to Big Things. Moments with Elliott Connie. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rd3QIelHxhk

Luttrell, M & Robinson, P. (2014). Lone Survivor: The Incredible True Story of Navy SEALs Under Siege. Sphere.

The Hero Summit. (2013, October 13). Lone Survivor: A Conversation. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5m9CMT_1bU

Psychotherapy

Strength in Simplicity

As I learn more about Solution Focused Therapy and Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, I, and those I learn alongside, find ourselves grappling with the simplicity of it. The simplicity of the solution focused process, in which we identify where we want to go, recall our strengths and imagine a positive possible future, wherein we have achieved our best hopes, is sometimes difficult to align with the bulk of our education, which teaches us that the more complex an idea, the better; the more complex an idea, the more important; the more complex the idea, the greater the impact. Or as Alain de Botton writes in The School Of Life: An Emotional Education ‘We could expect humans to display a powerful reflex for the simple over obscure explanations […but our apparent prejudice in favour of enigma…] suggests an implicit belief that the truth should not come in a form that is easily fathomable’.

As Steve Jobs famously pointed out, ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’ In fact, the simplicity of Solution Focused Therapy is arguably its greatest strength. When we are young, we are guided how to hold a pencil in a way that will be most comfortable for our hand and give us the most control over our writing. We practice and, like any other skill hard-earned, with practice we are eventually able to write with ease. The idea that our minds are beyond this simplistic process of learning has dominated psychology for many decades; our minds have long been deep dark pits full of old sores that we must dig up, bring into the light of day and interact with if we have a hope of a mentally healthy future. Indeed this approach has helped many achieve peace through gaining a greater understanding of their inner self.

For some, however, against this analytical backdrop, Solution Focused Therapy is like an outstretched arm from the future. It is unapologetically positive. It accepts our past with compassion, then focuses on where we want to go, and simply guides us into this new, positive, solution focused way of thinking. And it feels good.

Neuroscience has taught us that we can still learn; that, just as we learnt how to use a pencil when we were young, we can learn and relearn how to use our mind, however old we are. Breaking the problem focused mold set by the majority of psychotherapies, Solution Focused Therapy guides us to use our minds to access our strengths and apply them to the future we wish for ourselves. Yes, it feels simplistic to step forward from what a lot of other therapeutic approaches dedicate much of their time to understanding, but it also feels positive, achievable, exciting even, and that’s what makes it Solution Focused Therapy’s greatest strength.