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?

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.