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.

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

What did I learn from that?

In solution focused therapy, one of the questions we ask is “What did you learn from that?” 

We ask this question when our clients mention something they have achieved, managed, coped with or overcome.

When we ask “what did you learn from that?” we invite our clients to explore, to dig deeper into their minds to shine a light on all of the strengths and resources that helped them to cope, to achieve, to manage, to overcome.

Every experience we have; every interaction we have, presents us with an opportunity to learn something about ourselves and the people around us. But these lessons can go unlearnt unless we shine a light on them. 

And this question, such a simple question, is the light that we can shine. “What did you learn from that?”

We can adjust where we shine the light with more questions: “What difference did that make? What did you notice? What else?”

Our capacity to learn from what we did right is something we often overlook. We spend vast swathes of time post-match-analysing the times we were wrong or were wronged, and comparatively little time debriefing the times that things went well.

And yet, the more we focus on what we have done well, the more we can recreate it, repeat it, allow it to influence our future in a positive way. 

So, treat yourself to this question, the next time things go well – you have a good meeting, a good conversation, a good day.   “What did I learn from that?”

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.

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

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