June 30, 2008

Solution-focused approach in schools

Are you looking for ways to use the solution-focused approach in a school setting? Then this is a book you can't miss: Solution Focused Brief Therapy in Schools: A 360 Degree View of Research and Practice (Oxford Workshop Series). The authors have succeeded in writing a book which is both very practical and thorough. It contains examples, lists research findings and interviews leaders of the field. To be honest, I would have liked this book to have a different title, for instance, solution-focused working in schools, or something like that. The word therapy in the title might be a bit misleading. I think the book is not about the therapy application but about working with kids and teachers in schools. Don't let the title scare you off, it is an excellent book.

June 27, 2008

We don't see things as they are

illusion_ambiguity_lady_or_man2.gif"We don't see things as they are, we see things as WE are."

~ Quote found in David Myers' book Intuition. He attributes the quote to the Talmud. It may, however, actually be a quote by Anais Nin (as a reader suggested).

June 25, 2008

There are no little things

"Sometimes, when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things - a chance word, a tap on the shoulder, or a penny dropped on a newsstand- I am tempted to think there are no little things."
~Bruce Barton, quoted in Leading Quietly
Also read: Small beginnings

June 24, 2008

Survey SF team techniques

Update: 36 people have now done the micro survey on the use of solution-focused techniques in a team-setting. Most of them are coaches and consultants. The majority is from Europe (28). Most used techniques so far are: Scalewalking, miracle question in teams, past success question, what-is-better question. I'd to get some more responses - also from people from the other continents.... So, please click here: Solution Focused Team Techniques Micro Survey. It only takes a minute.
Of course, the results will be presented here.

June 22, 2008

Solution Focused Team Techniques Micro Survey

I'd like to invite you to take a three-question micro-survey on the use of solution-focused techniques in a team-setting.

The main question is: Which solution-focused techniques have you ever used in a team-context?

Please do me favor; take a moment and take this brief survey so I can get some information on the use of SF techniques in a team-setting.

Click here: Solution Focused Team Techniques Micro Survey

June 20, 2008

Client perceived relationship quality - its impact and development

In this post I wrote about the advantages of using the language of the client. This skill is called language matching, by the way. Paolo Terni responded kindly to this post and invited me to elaborate on how the relationship between the solution-focused practitioner and the client is important to success and how it can be developed. Here are my thoughts.

Duncan & Miller (the Heroic Client, 2000) write some interesting things about this:
"The quality of the relationship is not solely a byproduct of success. The data suggest that the alliance quality itself is an active factor. Thus the relationship produces change and is not only a reflection of beneficial results. ... a positive client perception of the relationship is critical from the onset of therapy, or else the client may withdraw prematurely. Moreover, clients and therapist differ in their perceptions of the relationship. Comparisons of cients' and therapists' ratings of the relationship have consistently indicated low agreement. Therapists, then, cannot assume that their evaluation of the quality of the therapy climate corresponds to their clients' perceptions. The superior value of clients' ratings of the relationship in predicting outcome as compared to therapists' appraisal underscores the importance of attending to clients' perceptions."
Later on in their book (which I recommend by the way; here is a review), they present guidelines for clients for choosing and evaluating their therapist. Their first tip is: "If you don't like your therapist, find another one".

Here are some additional personal reflections on this. I do believe that the quality of the relationship as perceived by the client is helpful in therapy and in coaching (and, I think, the same thing goes for organizational consultancy, commerce, etc). The next question is: how do you develop this client perceived quality? There seems to be a paradox at work here. Intuitively, we may think that saying very kind and complimentary things and flatter the client may do it. But that may be wrong. Rather, the client perceiving the relationship as good and liking you, may be the result of the client noticing your full attention, taking him or her seriously, noticing you accepting his or her perception, and accepting his or her language and goals. So the key to this important factor may be things like paying close attention, 'not-knowing', language matching etc.

This may be compared to another paradox which Peter DeJong and Insoo Kim Berg write about too (in their wonderful book Interviewing for Solutions). They agree that nonverbal behavior is important. It has to fit with the rest of the behavior and the context. But it is important not to isolate attention to non-verbal behavior. Most people emphasize non-verbal behavior a lot. But if you focus too much on non-verbal behavior it can interfere with the attention you have to have for your client. Mostly if you focus your attention well on your client, your non-verbal behavior will automatically fit."

June 18, 2008


The solution-focused approach is often used in situations in which two partners have disagreements (conflict resolution, mediation, marital therapy, etc). One skill is particularly helpful in these kinds of situations in which people may differ in perceptions, interests and goals: mutualizing. I talked to Phil Ziegler, author of Recreating Partnership: A Solution-Oriented, Collaborative Approach to Couples Therapy and he explains the process of mutualizing in essence as reframing issues or goals in a way that all parties can agree to. Phil Ziegler gives an example of a mediation case:
"If one parent says: 'I want the child living with me full time because that's what's best for my daughter. And the other says: ''I want our daughter living with me half time and half time with you because that would be best for her.' Then I would say, 'It's pretty clear to me that both of you want to develop a plan that will be best for your daughter--you disagree at this point about what plan would be best but you share the common goal of making the best plan for her. Can we all agree about that?'"
Instead of emphasizing the different positions and goals the solution-focused practitioner mutualizes the preferred future.

June 13, 2008

The power to imagine better

"We don't need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better."
~JK Rowling

June 8, 2008

Variation on Rubin's vase

Do you know Rubin's vase? Edgar Rubin was a Danish psychologist who made a series of pictures among which was the famous ambiguous picture which could be either interpreted as a vase or as two faces, depending on how you looked at it (see the picture on the right). This picture is often used to illustrated how what we perceive often critically depends on the perspective we take.

I have now come across a beautiful and slightly more complex variation on Rubin's picture. I found it on this site. Here it is:

June 4, 2008

How useful is 'letting off steam'?

In solution-focused coaching it certainly not a taboo to talk about problems. On the contrary, expressing how something bothers you can be a fruitful first step towards the formulation of a positive goal. However, as solution-focused practitioners we don't invite people to express their feelings. A question like "How did you feel when that happened" is one you're not likely to hear in a solution-focused conversation. Of course, when a client expresses himself or herself emotionally that can be okay. The solution-focused practitioner will then probably show understanding and pose a follow up question that will contribute to the solution-building process.

Often, we get questions about this: "Isn't it very important to ask people about their emotions so that they can express them?" This is an understandable question. After all, we often tend to think that expressing your emotions after a disappointing or shocking event is a wise thing to do. We may talk about 'letting off steam', a phrase which is based on the so-called kettle metaphor of emotions. When there is a lot of pressure on the kettle letting off steam is a simple and effective solution to lower the pressure.

But is the kettle metaphor actually a valid metaphor for human emotions? Does letting off steam actually work? Is it really wise to express your emotions after something bad has happened? New research which will soon appear in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, suggests that talking about thoughts or feelings after a traumatic experience may not help and even create psychological harm (Seery et al., 2008), Read on.

Diagnosis: not always needed, not always harmless

Even in medical practise diagnose can be problematic, read diagnostic dilemma's.

June 3, 2008

Self-disclosure: not recommended in SF

Many coaches and other professional helpers apply some degree of self-disclore. They share some of their own experiences or personal views in order to gain the trust of their clients ('You see? I know what you're talking about, I've been there myself'), or to motivate them ('If I could solve this problem, you can too!'). In solution-focused practise this is not recommended though. In Interviewing for Solutions, Peter De Jong and Insoo Kim Berg write:
"We do not recommend that you tell about your own experiences. The notion behind solution building is that the first place, and usually the only necessary place, to look for solutions is within the client's frame of reference and past experiences. ... we believe [self-disclosure] is unnecessary and impairs clients' ability to build their own solutions."

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