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, 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.

Solution Focused Therapy

The client is always right

This was a key message I took away from a training session I attended this week with Evan George, Co-Owner of BRIEF, the world’s leading centre for solution focused practice in therapy and counselling.

Evan George repeated this sentiment several times in different contexts, so that it felt like an undercurrent to his presentation, which is appropriate as it is a fundamental concept to grasp in order to be an effective Solution Focused Therapist.

The client is always right. Consistently standing by this belief with every question, every utterance, is extremely difficult. Even for even the most experienced practitioner. It requires discipline and dedication to the idea that the client has what they need to help themselves. 

When we consider the client as right (excepting situations where safety is compromised) we allow the client to own their story. This means the client owns their successes. We value what the client brings to the table above all else. We ask questions that guide their attention to their table of resources and give them the opportunity to explore the dimensions of each resource. This means that the client plays a crucial role in finding the way forward that works for them.

We witness the positive impact of owning our decisions every day. When our children help chop the vegetables for dinner they are more likely to eat them. When our partner reaches their own decision to clear out the garage, they are more likely to do so. Leading our journey towards progress builds a much stronger foundation for lasting change. 

So we celebrate our client’s success as just that – their successes. But what about the times when therapy doesn’t work, when the positive outcomes aren’t there? The responsibility for this, says Evan George, sits squarely on our shoulders as therapists. If we feel as though we are going nowhere, it’s because we haven’t found the right question. 

As solution focused therapists we have a vast collection of carefully worded questions to our disposal,  a cabinet crammed full of keys to unlock useful conversation. Perhaps we choose a key that doesn’t work and the client sits, arms folded; unmoving, unconvinced. Perhaps we choose a key that creaks too loudly in the lock and sends the client running for the comfort and familiarity of their problem and negative thinking. 

This can be a frustrating responsibility to take on, but it’s also hopeful. Because somewhere, nestled at the back of our cabinet of questions, there could be a key. It might have been hidden by the dust of habit. We may have erroneously decided it was too misshapen to fit any lock. Maybe we hadn’t even realised it was a key. Perhaps the client was holding it all along. But as long as we believe in our client we keep looking. Keep trusting. Holding space for positive change.

For training opportunities and some great resources on Solution Focused Brief Therapy, check out the BRIEF website https://www.brief.org.uk.

This training session was hosted by the Clinical Hypnotherapy School, whose fantastic training opportunities I can personally recommend.

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