Mindfulness

My rainbow friend

This morning, as we blew away the cobwebs with our permitted daily trip out of the house, my youngest said to me. “Our colourful friend isn’t here today.” Curious, i asked who our colourful friend was. “The rainbow,” he said, as if it was obvious.

And so it should have been. Like the hazy warmth of the sun on our backs, rain glistening on wellies and racing down windows, the cool kiss of a snowflake, and the dancing twirls of wind; tossing, turning – strong hands ruffling the hair of a young planet.

The rainbow, it’s burst of colour a beautiful celebration of science and nature alike. Present yet fleeting. Reaching out yet unreachable. Always starting yet never ending. Symbolic yet personal.

What if it were a distant yet consistent friend?

Psychotherapy, Solution Focused Therapy

Beyond the solution

In his award winning book Atomic Habits, bestselling author James Clear describes three layers of behaviour change. 1) Outcomes, or goals, such as losing weight, winning a competition, securing a promotion. 2) Processes, or habits and systems, such as getting up earlier, eating fruit for breakfast, writing a journal. And 3) Identity, or beliefs and judgements about yourself, others and the wider world.

When we try to build up outcome-based habits, we focus on what we want to achieve. I want to be thinner. I want to quit smoking. In contrast, when we focus on identity-based habits, we focus on who we wish to become. I believe that I am a non-smoker, I believe that I can lose weight.

Focus on outcome-based habits only at your peril, warns Clear, because unless you shift how you look at yourself, your old sense of identity will sabotage the best of intentions.

There is a common misunderstanding about Solution Focused Therapy, largely borne out of the unfortunate name, Solution focused, that the focus of change is solely on the outcome, not on processes and not on identity. This is simply not true.

Whilst we may start the first session with a client by establishing a preferred outcome, asking “What are your best hopes?”, our work with clients does not end there. Understanding what our client hopes for is, rather, a starting point, because, as the Global Leaders in Solution Focused Therapy teach, if you don’t know where your client wants to get to, you can’t begin to be able to support them to get there.

In the early days of Solution Focused Brief Therapy, much more airtime was given to goals, defining them and working towards them. These days, many of the big names in SFBT shudder at the use of the term “goals”, and steer well clear of tying a client to any goal they might mention.

The goals themselves are less important. Best hopes established, the questions we then ask support our clients to focus on describing the life in which those best hopes exist. In a sense, we ask our clients to pick out the detail of the atomic habits, the systems and processes that form a part of their preferred future.

Other questions we ask support our clients to explore how progress they have already made towards their goals impacts their sense of identity. What have they learned? What did it take to get themselves to that point? How does the way in which they have coped change what they believe about themselves?

So, contrary to what the name suggests, Solution Focused Therapy reaches far beyond the solution to the bigger picture beyond. We ask questions so that our client can shade in the parts of that picture that already exist and we ask questions so that our clients can sketch out the details in which the solution resides.

Psychotherapy, Solution Focused Therapy

The most important assumption a solution focused therapist makes…

One of the fundamental differences that holds Solution Focused Brief Therapy apart from many other psychotherapeutic approaches, is a basic assumption that we, as therapists, make.

We assume that our client is there, not because they have a problem, but because they want to find a solution.

We make this assumption of all of our clients, regardless of what brings them to us. For the purposes of our work together, it doesn’t matter if the person sitting across from us is mourning the loss of a loved one, coming to terms with a terminal diagnosis, or hasn’t slept a full night in years. Global Leader in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, Elliott Connie, often refers to entire sessions he has with clients without ever knowing a whisper of the problem that ails them.

This may sound like we don’t have patience for our client’s problems. We absolutely do. We sit and listen to our clients tell us about their problems (if they wish to – not everyone does!) because we trust that they know their talking about their problems is a necessary part of their journey towards the solution.

So we are interested in the problem (to the extent our client is anyway). It’s simply that we are particularly interested in a specific dimension of the problem: how our client has managed to cope with it? What strategies has our client come up with to get through it? What resources have they noticed that have helped them along the way?

The very fact that they are sitting across from us is in itself a strength that warrants exploration. How did they recognise that they wanted to find a solution and that this might help? How did they manage to turn up for the appointment at all?

Session time is precious and short, and so we choose to spend it exploring our client’s strengths and resources. Not only does this support our clients to open up doors in their thinking in session; the priority that we give to exploring strengths and resources over problems also opens up for the client a whole new approach to thinking, in which their strengths are in the spotlight. Rediscovered, reinforced, acknowledged, celebrated.

Mindfulness, Solution Focused Therapy

Defining ourselves in a pandemic

Living in a pandemic can become all-consuming. So much so that we can start to lose our sense of self. Our days become punctuated by news briefings, our conversations are dominated by a swirling mass of assertions, predictions, disputes and commentary, spinning around the abuse of an uncertain future. R numbers, death tolls, new cases. We study these numbers for clues as to what happens next. It’s all very…defining.

We are defined by our level of risk, our postcode, our age, our medical history, our experience of tragedy, our role in lessening the pandemic, or managing its many consequences. We are defined by what we have lost or given up. The helpers and the helped.

And yet, even as we find ourselves gathered into categories as we attempt to organise ourselves out of a growing hole, there is still choice. We can choose how to respond. We can choose to search for what we can feel grateful for, and what we can find meaning in.

Perhaps it’s a greater sense of community we feel with our colleagues and neighbours. Perhaps it’s an appreciation for what we still have. Perhaps it’s a realisation of an inner strength we never realised we had.

Within our choice lies a solution focused opportunity to define ourselves by our gratitude and purpose. Our resources and our strengths on which challenge and adversity has shine a light.

So how have you managed? How have you coped?

Mindfulness, Psychotherapy, Solution Focused Therapy

The power of choice

As the majority of the UK picks its way through yet another lockdown, shuffling past a Christmas that many would rather forget, the wise words of psychologist, best-selling author and Holocaust survivor Dr Edith Eger may offer some solace against the stubborn backdrop of uncertainty.

“The most damaging prison is in our mind, and the key is in our pocket.”

In her #1 New York Times bestselling book “The Choice”, and “The Gift” Eger recounts her journey from imprisonment at Auschwitz to liberation and then on towards her own mental freedom. In spite of the horror she and millions of others suffered, Edith nonetheless describes our minds as our biggest prisons, to which we already hold the key. It is liberation from our own negative, self-destructive incapacitating thoughts that brings us true freedom:

“When we escape our mental prisons, we not only become free from what has held us back, but free to exercise our own free will.”

We have the power of choice, and we can choose freedom, writes Eger. We can choose how we look upon what has happened to us. We can choose how we will respond. 

We can focus on the usefulness of our experiences. How have they been helpful to us? How have they nourished us? In the solution focused approach, we encourage our clients to focus on the nuggets of usefulness from their everyday experiences, with questions such as ‘What’s been better?’

And, writes Eger, if there is no such usefulness to be found when we look out, we can look within. In the solution focused approach, we encourage our clients to do so with questions such as ‘Given what you have been through, how have you manage to cope?’ ‘What strengths have you drawn on to keep going?’

As Eger points out, “It’s not what happens to us that matters most, it’s what we do with our experiences.”

When we are deep, deep down; our neurochemistry flatlined, the top – where all the mental freedom and inner peace hangs out – can seem a long way up. 

Likewise, when we are flying so high, so fast, too fast to think; too busy to check-in with ourselves – cortisol and adrenalin fuelling our way forward and blocking out everything (and everyone) else – inner peace and mental freedom might as well reside on another planet.

And yet, there is always choice. We can choose to look up, to stop, to breathe, to make a cup of tea, to practice gratitude, and to remember how strong we really are.

Eger, E. (2018). The Choice. Penguin Books

Eger, E. (2020). The Gift. Penguin Books

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. 

Solution Focused Therapy

Myth Busting…Solution Focused

When I tell people I practice solution focused therapy, they often ask me something along the lines of…

“So do you tell people how to solve their problems?”

I’m writing this blog in an attempt to bust this frustrating myth that misconstrues the fundamental core of Solution Focused Hypnotherapy.

Solution Focused Therapists offer no solutions. Not one.

We do not interrogate you until you squeeze out a goal or two.

We do not spring clean your brain with questions until we have deciphered exactly what you want to do, and how you want to do it.

We do not get you to sign on a dotted line, ‘this is my goal’ and then pester you for progress reports.

We do not have enormous brains stuffed to the brim with solutions to everyone’s problems.

When we train as solution focused therapists, we learn to communicate using solution focused language. It is this language we use in sessions to help guide you towards your own solutions.

We believe you have the capacity to reach your own solutions to the challenges you face. This belief guides us in everything we say.

We are not interested in committing you to any one goal or another, we simply aim to help you open doors in your thinking that lead towards hope. The rest of the journey is all yours.

We take responsibility if you are struggling to reach your goals – this is because we haven’t found the right questions to help guide you there.

We assume change, because life is change. We don’t expect you to report on it, we simply ask questions to help you to explore it, your role in it, and what it means to you.

Solution Focused Therapy is like turning the lights on to your lived experience, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Exploring your hopes in as much detail as the present moment and with as much flexibility as a dream. Creating reality through language.

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, 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.

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.