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

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