Psychotherapy, Solution Focused Therapy

NO to aimless positivity, YES to explorative resource talk

In a recent training video, Global Leader in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, Elliott Connie, emphasised the importance of understanding Solution Focused Brief Therapy, not as an approach centred on unbridled, unseeing positivity, but as an exploration of resources.

“This approach is not about being Polly-Anna or seeing the world through Rose-coloured glasses”, says Elliott.

“It’s not even about the client’s strengths,” says Connie, calling out a common misconception about Solution Focused Therapy by other practitioners and by SF practitioners themselves.

“This approach, really, at its core, is about resources.”

According to Elliott, resource talk is something many of us, including himself, take for granted.

And yet, in Solution Focused Therapy, resource talk is absolutely fundamental. We strive for a conversation with the client about their resources that will allow the client to consequently better access, evoke, utilise, draw on and from, their resources to achieve positive change.

“If your client can walk out of the therapy room believing themselves to be more resourceful and being more aware of their resources than their problems then you have gone a long way towards changing their lives for ever,” says Elliott.

Elliott highlights the significance of believing in the resourcefulness of our clients. Every client we work with has accomplished something, achieved something. It is our job to use language, to ask the questions that help them to explore these accomplishments and how they came to be.

“Every accomplishment takes resources to make it happen,” says Elliott.

“Resource talk is simply asking what did you draw upon to help that become a reality?”

The power of these questions, these explorations, into how our clients accomplished whatever they accomplished, can turn the smallest of steps into the largest of leaps forward.

Through these questions, the breadth of each accomplishment and the consequent implications for our clients’ capacity to make positive change happen, are allowed space to to shine out. And in the shining light of their own resources, our clients are better able to experience the strength of their own hope.

To see Elliott Connie’s video on Resource Talk – Why it’s Important click here: https://elliottconnie.com/resource-talk-why-its-important/

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

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.