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?

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.

Solution Focused Therapy

Finding hope

In Solution Focused Therapy, we talk about the importance of never giving up. We never give up on our clients. We never give up on the process. We never give up on a question, once asked. We never give up on ourselves, on our capacity to try to help our clients with our questions. And this is because we believe.

We believe our clients have hope. We believe everyone has hope. Sometimes this hope gets buried deep beneath the debris of life. Hidden under mountains of fear, worry, regret, disappointment, anger. These mountains can seem vast; the task of shifting them can seem overwhelming. And so a heavy fog of depression can settle on top, and we can lose clarity and perspective. We don’t know where to start in our search for hope.

In Solution Focused Therapy we believe in the power of the question. We believe that the right questions open up pathways in our clients’ minds. These pathways lead our clients to a recognition of what has been good, what has gone well, how they have coped. These pathways lead our clients through the fog, through the mountains of fear, worry, regret, disappointment and anger. These pathways lead our clients to hope.   

Solution Focused Therapy

Will it always be this bad?

In the thick of a crisis, this question often presents itself. Perhaps we ask it of ourselves, our close friends, our family members, our therapist.

How we answer this question depends on where we are, in that moment, within the vast complex landscape that lies between pessimism and optimism.

The view from the depths of the murky Valley of Pessimism, fills its beholder with hopelessness.

From this perspective the events in our lives appear permanent: “It will always be this bad,” we assume.

From this perspective, the events in our lives appear pervasive: “This is going to ruin everything,” we fear. 

From this perspective, the events in our lives appear personal: “ This is all my fault,” we blame.

In stark contrast, the view from the peak of the glowing, wholesome, Mountain of Optimism fills its beholder with hope.

From this vantage point, the events in our lives appear temporary: “This moment too will pass,” we believe.

From this vantage point the events in our lives appear specific: “There is more in my life,” we acknowledge.

From this vantage point, the events in our lives appear external: “This does not define me,” we determine.

When we ask “Will it always be this bad?” we are asking which way to look. We have a choice to look towards the vibrant colours and long open vistas of optimism, or towards the dark, murky gloom of pessimism. 

And the direction we look will determine the direction we walk.

In Solution Focused Therapy we believe in the potential of every question to open up an avenue of hope. Each question carries, within its many answers, the possibility for change. The potential for a different perspective.

We can embrace this potential for hope in the questions we ask ourselves and those around us everyday. 

When we ask ‘will it always be this bad?’, we can recognise that there is a part of us that believes it won’t. Recognising this, we can then give this hopeful part ourselves space to lead the way towards positive change.