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

Borrowing perspective

As humans we care about how others perceive us. Our primitive programming prioritises human connection. To a degree, caring what others think keeps us kind. But often we can care too much. And caring becomes worrying. Worrying becomes anxiety. Anxiety can make us feel trapped. 

We worry about how our colleagues perceive our communication style; our office ‘banter’, our outfit, our handshake, our weekend plans, our email signature, our Zoom backdrop. 

We worry about how families perceive our lifestyle, our house, our job, our partner, our carbon footprint, our choices.

We worry about how our friends perceive our personal style, our level of engagement, that thing we said or didn’t say, that thing we did or didn’t do.

The parents among us worry about what our mum and dad friends think of our parenting style, our children’s diets, manners, birthday parties, screen time.

This worry shuts us down, and pushes us further and further away from our own authenticity. We try to be what we think others want and what we think others need. We try and try and try, until we find ourselves a world away from our own sense of meaning. Disconnected from our inner strength. Lacking confidence and losing self-esteem.

Ironically the friends and family members who we love and trust the most will tend to describe us with far more kindness than we describe ourselves. 

When we step, with both feet, into the perspective of a loved one, someone who knows us better than anyone else, and look back at ourselves, we can shine a light on strengths, capacities, and resources we never recognised were there. 

In solution focused therapy we encourage our clients to step into this alternative perspective and we ask;

“What would this person notice about you that lets them know of your strengths? 

“What stories would this person tell that had inspired their confidence and belief in you?”

Sometimes, when our own lens is misted over with worry and self-doubt, borrowing the lens of a loved one can help us achieve clarity on exactly how, underneath all the trying, we are already the person we hope to be.

Mindfulness, Solution Focused Therapy

Gut instinct

Connecting our minds with our bodies is a key element to finding our inner calm. In solution focused therapy, as we support our clients to explore how a positive emotion feels for them, we might ask where they feel it? Where in their body do they experience that sense of confidence? What part of their body do they look to for that sense of strength? Do they experience calm in their head? Do they notice freedom in their shoulders? Do they feel joy in their chest?

The deep connections we hold between our body and our mind are splashed across our language in infinite metaphor. The idea that emotions, thoughts, and states have an anatomical home has been immortalised in songs time and time again. Love is felt in our fingers and in our toes; we can’t get it out of our head; we see it in your eyes; we hold it in our hands, our arms; we fight tooth and nail for it.

So how did instinct find its home in our gut?

When our subconscious mind perceives danger and triggers our fight or flight response, the physical impact is tangible, and many of the physical sensations we experience are in our gut. Our stomach churns, flips, sinks, rolls, and we are often hit by a wave of nausea.

This subconscious response that connects our thoughts to our gut is an evolutionary hand-me-down from our prehistoric ancestors. As a caveman running away from a wild animal, a full stomach would have impacted our speed and agility, with stark consequences to our survival. Our primitive mind would have stepped in to help, by ejecting anything from our body that may have hindered our chances of escape.

Modern society presents us with a very different experiences that we might subconsciously perceive as threats to our sense of safety and comfort. Although we may not need to run from wild animals quite so frequently, our subconscious mind still responds to a perceived threat in the same way it did 100,000 years ago, stepping in to protect us, and bringing our body on board to help. Our protective primitive instincts remain, including our gut instinct.

Recognising this connection between our body and mind as a potential strength is the first step towards supporting our mind through our body, and supporting our body through our mind. 

Gut instinct is a gift and it’s there for us, should we choose to listen.

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.

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

Small things can lead to bigger things

In one of his Moments with Elliott Connie, psychotherapist, author, lecturer and founder of The Solution Focused University, Elliott Connie, recounts the inspiring story of US Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who was caught under enemy fire while accomplishing a mission in 2005. During one battle, in which many of his comrades were killed, Luttrell was shot over a dozen times and fell off multiple cliffs, breaking his legs, his back and multiple other bones in his body, biting his tongue in two, and knocking himself unconscious. When Luttrell woke up, his body riddled with shrapnel, he was aware that the gunfire had ceased, but realised that he could no longer walk or move. Luttrell thought he was dying, and yet, in that moment, chose to do something amazing that ultimately saved his life. He reached out as far as he could and drew a line in the mud. And then he set himself the task of hauling his broken body over that line. Luttrell thought that if he could do that, and if he was still alive, he would do it again. And again. Luttrell did this for seven miles, until he found water and was rescued.

Luttrell’s incredible story has been the basis for both the book and movie Lone Survivor, and he has given multiple lectures on his experience and the lessons he has learned from it.

As Elliott points out, this story gives us an inspirational example of how challenges can be more achievable once we break them down in little tasks. This approach is something we can draw on in our everyday life, when we feel overwhelmed by an assignment we have to write, a tax return we have to file, a room we have to tidy, a commute we have to complete. Such challenges can loom large like mountains, but every mountain is made of rocks, and if we shift our focus to putting one foot in front of the other, we can conquer the mountain, rock by rock.

For many, COVID-19 has been that explosive attack, shattering our life as it was. Many have lost loved ones, jobs, relationships, security, meaning. And with the majority of the world still closed for business, there is little motivation to start picking ourselves up.

But if we break down the seemingly impossible challenge of getting back up into tiny tasks, we can motivate ourselves, with each small success, to carry on with the next task. And the next. And the next. Each success, however small, triggers our brain’s reward system to facilitate this process. Every positive action activates the production of hormones like serotonin and dopamine, which boost our self-esteem and our motivation to act positively again. And again. Helping us to move forward step by step, to find a new normal amid the rubble.

References

Connie, E. (2016). Small Things Can Lead to Big Things. Moments with Elliott Connie. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rd3QIelHxhk

Luttrell, M & Robinson, P. (2014). Lone Survivor: The Incredible True Story of Navy SEALs Under Siege. Sphere.

The Hero Summit. (2013, October 13). Lone Survivor: A Conversation. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5m9CMT_1bU

Psychotherapy

Strength in Simplicity

As I learn more about Solution Focused Therapy and Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, I, and those I learn alongside, find ourselves grappling with the simplicity of it. The simplicity of the solution focused process, in which we identify where we want to go, recall our strengths and imagine a positive possible future, wherein we have achieved our best hopes, is sometimes difficult to align with the bulk of our education, which teaches us that the more complex an idea, the better; the more complex an idea, the more important; the more complex the idea, the greater the impact. Or as Alain de Botton writes in The School Of Life: An Emotional Education ‘We could expect humans to display a powerful reflex for the simple over obscure explanations […but our apparent prejudice in favour of enigma…] suggests an implicit belief that the truth should not come in a form that is easily fathomable’.

As Steve Jobs famously pointed out, ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’ In fact, the simplicity of Solution Focused Therapy is arguably its greatest strength. When we are young, we are guided how to hold a pencil in a way that will be most comfortable for our hand and give us the most control over our writing. We practice and, like any other skill hard-earned, with practice we are eventually able to write with ease. The idea that our minds are beyond this simplistic process of learning has dominated psychology for many decades; our minds have long been deep dark pits full of old sores that we must dig up, bring into the light of day and interact with if we have a hope of a mentally healthy future. Indeed this approach has helped many achieve peace through gaining a greater understanding of their inner self.

For some, however, against this analytical backdrop, Solution Focused Therapy is like an outstretched arm from the future. It is unapologetically positive. It accepts our past with compassion, then focuses on where we want to go, and simply guides us into this new, positive, solution focused way of thinking. And it feels good.

Neuroscience has taught us that we can still learn; that, just as we learnt how to use a pencil when we were young, we can learn and relearn how to use our mind, however old we are. Breaking the problem focused mold set by the majority of psychotherapies, Solution Focused Therapy guides us to use our minds to access our strengths and apply them to the future we wish for ourselves. Yes, it feels simplistic to step forward from what a lot of other therapeutic approaches dedicate much of their time to understanding, but it also feels positive, achievable, exciting even, and that’s what makes it Solution Focused Therapy’s greatest strength.