Solution Focused Therapy

Balloons of hope: a metaphor for solution focus

Listening to Elliott Connie at a Q&A for the recent Solution Impossible video series with Adam Froerer, I was struck by a metaphor Elliott used for hope.

I find metaphors can be really helpful when wrapping my head around a concept and this one was no exception.

Adam and Elliott spoke about the importance of presupposing the existence of hope in our clients, even when they tell us with their words that they have none. If, said Elliott, we listen to the person, rather than their words, we’ll find it a lot easier to see this hope. After all, the client is there, in our office or on our computer screen, and that alone represents hope.

So what if the client is forced to be there? What if they are required to be there by social services or by the terms of their probation? These situations do not negate hope. Perhaps our client hopes that they can reduce a custodial sentence as a result of attending the session. Perhaps our client hopes that they will gain or maintain access to their child as a result of attending the session. Hope is still very much present, and as Elliott points out, the client can hope for whatever they like. As solution focused therapists we don’t judge. It’s our job to use their hope to help structure the rest of the conversation in a way that can bring about positive change

“Think about hope as a series of helium balloons attached to a person,” said Elliott.

“If I put enough helium in one of the balloons it pulls the entire person up. So it doesn’t matter which balloon I put the helium in.”

I love this idea.

I love the idea of imagining each client with these balloons of hope.

I love the idea that it is my role to ask questions to help the client find a balloon that they can use to pull themselves up.

I love the idea that it is my role to then ask questions to help the client to fill up this balloon with helium so that it lifts them up, up, towards wherever it is they want to go.

Thank you Elliott Connie and Adam Froerer for yet another inspiring course.

To find out more about this video series and others, visit https://www.mastersolutionfocusedbrieftherapy.com/

Psychotherapy, Solution Focused Therapy

Starting with an outcome – the solution focused approach to therapy

Listening back to old recordings from a training course I attended with Brief International, I couldn’t help but share the words of Evan George, who beautifully summarises the client-led, non-judgmental foundations of Solution Focused Brief Therapy.

“We have no view on what people should want,” says George.

“We have no view on how people should live their lives.

“We have absolutely no view as a result of that, on the content of what people should be talking about.”

George quotes another global leader in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, Harry Korman, who concludes that, “Until you know what the client wants, you have no questions to ask.”

As solution focused therapists we make no presumptions about what the client should want, how they should think and behave. We don’t view ourselves as expert of the client’s problem or the client’s life. We don’t aim to diagnose problems or prescribe expert solutions. This means we don’t need to know lots of information about the client’s problem. In fact we don’t need any information about the problem at all.

As solution focused therapists we consider ourselves experts of the solution focused conversation only. We know a bit more than most (hopefully) about how to structure a productive conversation that will support the client towards recognising and drawing on their own strengths and resources to get them towards their intended outcome. Therefore the only information we really need in order to proceed is the client’s intended outcome. What are their best hopes from our talking together?

Solution Focused Therapy

Solution focused conversation – exploring the impossible

As solution focused therapists, when we meet a client for the first time, one of the first questions we are likely to ask is…

“What are your best hopes from our talking together?”

But what happens if our client answers with something that we know to be impossible? 

What do we do then? 

Given the importance of fostering our clients’ confidence and belief in the process, giving up on the question is not an option. We can’t just say “nevermind” and move on.

But more than that, we need an answer to this question if our conversation is to be in any way meaningful.

If we have no idea where the client hopes to get to by talking to us, then we have no idea what to ask to help them find their way towards that place. 

Backing out is a no-no.

So what do we do if a client describes their best hopes as doing something we know them to be physically incapable of doing?

For example, what if a client who is paralysed from the waist down tells us they would like to stand up and go for a walk? 

We know this is impossible, but, as Cofounder of BRIEF Evan George likes to say “The client’s answer is always the right answer.” So we must accept it, and work with it. 

And we can – simply by asking the next question, we can help the client to realise the value in their answer. 

“So, suppose you stood up right now, and went for a walk; what difference would that make?” 

The client is likely to answer with something a little less impossible. We start to move towards feelings. “I would feel free.” “I would feel in control.”

We can keep going. The question remains just as valuable, and just as valid.

“And what difference would that make?”

It’s such a simple question, and yet counter-intuitive, and missing from most of our everyday conversations, where we tend to smother such fantastical hypotheticals with reassurances and dismissals. 

Encouraging our clients to lead us around the detail of their best hopes is not setting them up for disappointment. It is not promising the impossible. It is not wasting their time. It is allowing them space to explore, to clarify, to recognise, to realise what they hope to get from the next hour. 

Mindfulness, Solution Focused Therapy

Seeking hope

Many of us in the UK are buckling in for a second lockdown, as the government attempts to bring soaring COVID-19 statistics back under a semblance of control.

It feels in many ways like a step backwards. A failure of sorts. A return to something we, as a community, were pretty happy to see the back of. Overwhelmed hospitals, social isolation, business shutdowns, furloughs, separation from family and friends. Uncertainty, loneliness, struggle, grief. Topped up with the grim reality that this is probably not the last COVID-19 peak. Probably not the last wave of furloughs. Probably not the last lockdown.

Against such a hopeless back drop, adopting a solution focused approach can offer some solace. In Solution Focused Brief Therapy, when we ask our clients “What are your best hopes from our talking together?” at the beginning of our first session together, we are presupposing that they have hope. No-one is without hope.

According to Snyder’s Hope theory (2002), hope is a state. We can do things to increase hope. We can do things to diminish hope. But we are never entirely without hope. 

We are never hopeless. 

Perhaps, at this challenging time, if we view ourselves, our family, our community, our society, through solution focused spectacles, we might start to notice the pockets of hope. Glowing embers of community, togetherness,  effort, empathy, creativity and growth. 

Snyder, C. R. (2002). Hope theory: Rainbows in the mindPsychological inquiry, 13(4), 249-275.

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