Solution Focused Therapy

Pitoncraft: an analogy for staying alongside the client

I have spent some of this week on a training course this week with BRIEF, the world’s leading centre for solution focused practice in therapy, and I couldn’t help but rejoice in a blog about an analogy Evan George used to describe his use of questions that appear to check in with the client. I find analogies incredibly helpful in wrapping my head around abstract concepts. I often use them in my writing, in training workshops I run, and in my consultations with clients. Fortunately it so happens that Evan George often seems to opt for analogous language in his explanations too 

“Why do you ask confirmation questions like ‘So if that happened you would be pleased?’” I asked, as we debriefed one of Evan’s live consultation recordings. (I paraphrase Evan’s answer – hopefully I do it justice).

“It’s like rock climbing,” he replied. 

“We climb: we ask questions, perhaps to best hopes, perhaps to explore a preferred future. And then, every now and again, we check in, we make sure that the client is alongside us, that we are alongside the client. We hammer in a piton, so that we can move forward together, climbing alongside each other, working in unison.”

This analogy was eye opening to me. Generally speaking, I have always steered away from confirmation questions, lest the client suspect I was second guessing their previous answer, or calling them out so to speak. And yet, it makes perfect sense for an approach that is unapologetically co-constructed. 

Checking that are our clients are alongside us not only paces our work, giving our clients time and opportunity to clarify their thoughts and hear their words. Checking that our clients are alongside us ensures that we are indeed climbing the same mountain. 

Psychotherapy, Solution Focused Therapy

First-order dependency in SFBT: what is it and why is it so important?

In his recent lecture – A Review of the Salamanca Studies, Director of Research and Training at The Solution Focused Universe, Adam Froerer discussed research (Beyerbach & Escudero, 1997 in Beyerbach, 2014), which found that Solution Focused Brief Therapy is statistically characterised by first-order dependency.

This means that, in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, what the therapist says is more likely to be related to whatever the client just said, and vice versa.

For example, the therapist asks “What are your best hopes?” And the client responds “I want to sleep better. I’m so tired. It’s making my job impossible. I want to feel productive again.” Statistically, a Solution Focused Brief Therapist would be more likely to develop their next question in response to the client’s last utterance: “I want to feel productive again.”

But what does this mean? And how does it help us to better understand the solution focused approach?

As Adam Froerer points out, solution focused conversation is a co-construction, built one utterance at a time. Each and every word spoken has value in creating a conversation that can affect positive change. By responding to what the client has just said, in the moments before they chose to pause, we value not only their last spoken words, but also their decision to pause after them.

There is no judgement, so each and every utterance holds value. As Froerer says when we use the client’s last utterance for the basis of our next question, “the client feels heard, the client feels understood, the client feels valued, and that’s what creates a good therapeutic alliance.”

According to the research, the client is also more likely in Solution Focused Brief Therapy to respond to what the therapist has just said. Both parties on the same journey, both following one step with the next. Perhaps when one party takes this co-constructive approach to conversation the other follows suit, though the research is yet to confirm this.

Much as a wall is constructed, we are encouraged that each communication in Solution Focused Brief Therapy rest directly on the last, brick by brick. We may come back to strengthen the wall with additional lines of conversation, pulling together threads from resources the clients have mentioned to support the construction. But we tend towards building rather than digging, forwards rather than backwards. As Froerer says, “We listen to what the client just said we develop the question we ask based on this.”

Or, as As Global Leader in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, Elliot Connie says, “Just keep asking asking the next question.”

Beyerbach, M. (2014). Change Factors in Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: A Review of the Salamanca Studies. Journal of Systemic Therapies 33(1), pp. 62-67

Froerer, A. (February 3, 2021). Review of the Salamanca Studies – The Evidence of Greatness Episode 4. Retrieved from https://thesfu.com/a-review-of-the-salamanca-studies-the-evidence-of-greatness-episode-4/

Image by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash.