February 27, 2008

The Origin of the Solution-Focused Approach

The Origin of the Solution-Focused Approach
Coert F. Visser

Abstract:  The solution-focused approach to therapy and coaching has its roots in the work done by therapists in the second half of the twentieth century. This article discusses some important precursors, such as Milton Erickson and the Mental Research Institute. Further, it shows how the members of the Brief Family Therapy Center, led by Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer, developed the core of the solution-focused approach in the 1980s. Key concepts and publications are discussed and a description is given of how the team members worked together closely to find out what works in therapy.

Keywords solution-focused, BFTC, solution-focused history, de Shazer, Berg

Download full text (pdf)

February 23, 2008

Strategy means saying 'no'

Chapter 2 in Strategy and the Fat Smoker; Doing What's Obvious But Not Easy is titled Strategy means saying 'no'. In it, he quotes Dick Tyler of law firm CMS Cameron McKenna:
The hardest thing in the world for most professionals to do is to turn work away. It offends our desperate desire to be liked by everyone, and plays to insecurity that afflicts even the best of us. The moment we aren't worked off our feet, we think we'll never work again.
Maister says saying 'no' is essential for becoming successful because it will help you to focus on doing what you're good at for the client segment you want to work for which will help you build a specific and positive reputation. Maister mentions the typical response he gets to this:
Yes, it may be more noble and a good way to earn trust, but doesn't it just allow a competitor to get his nose under the tent? Once you let a competitor start serving your client, don't you run the risk of that competitor stealing your relationship? Shouldn't you work to keep your competitors out of dealing with your clients?
Maister explains this is an unrealistic view saying: The hope that you can keep everyone else out is delusional." At the end of the chapter he paraphrases Confucius:
Make sure that the right people like you, and it will be expected that others will not. That's how the world works.

February 22, 2008

The two most essential solution-focused questions

One of the briefest ways of describing the essence of the solution-focused approach was given by Steve de Shazer (who else?). He said that working solution-focused is to build a bridge between success in the past and success in the future. I think two questions play a leading role in this process:
  1. How do you want things to become? (success in the future).
  2. When were things already going well? (success in the past)
After the solution-focused coach or manager has asked questions 1 and 2 and has probed until a clear description of the past and future success situations have been created, (s)he ask the the question 'how is this useful for you in your current situation?' or 'What ideas does this give you for a next step forward?' This sounds easy and in fact that is what it is: use what has worked well before, to make progress in the direction what you want to achieve.

February 21, 2008

Where can you find solutions?

When your organization is not functioning well you hire a consultant. When the workload in your team is too high you hire a new employee. When team members don’t perform well you send them to a training program. All of that sounds logical, but is it? Read more.

February 16, 2008

The Support Group Approach - Interview with Sue Young

© 2008, Coert Visser & Sue Young

Sue Young now divides her time between behaviour support to schools and training in solution focused practice. She advocates using solution-focused thinking to encourage success at every level in schools. Her initiatives include implementing national policies across schools, helping local staff encourage positive behaviours in their students and giving support to individual children and parents. One of Sue’s particular interests is promoting an anti-bullying ethos. In the mid-ninties, she developed the support group approach for responding to incidents of bullying. Later she discovered how well her approach fitted with solution focused thinking and ever since, has been applying solution focused principles to all areas of her work. So, what is the support group approach and how does it work? Is it hard to do? How does it help? Find answers to these questions and more in this interview.

COERT: Hi Sue, could you explain, for readers who haven't heard about it yet, what the support group approach is?

SUE: Briefly, the support group approach is a solution focused strategy for resolving complaints of bullying, particularly in primary schools. I think it is a good example of a ‘solution key’ (de Shazer) because the simplicity of the intervention enables it to fit a wide range of circumstances. The child who is upset is interviewed to find out who they are finding difficult to cope with at the moment, who else is around when they find things difficult and who is (are) their friend(s). They are not asked for any information about what has been happening. The child is reassured that things will begin to get better and told that a group of children, chosen from the names they have given, will be asked to help. The child is asked to notice anything that gets better so they can tell you about it when you review after a week. A support group is made up from these names, ideally 5-8 children. The group is seen separately and simply asked to help with the aim of making the target child happy in school. No explanation is given about why the child may be unhappy. It is important that whoever leads the interviewing does not use the word ‘bullying’ at all and tries to leave behind any judgement about what has been happening. They are asked for suggestions of small things they might try and an arrangement is made to review what they have managed to do a week later.

COERT: Okay, and what happens one week later in the review meetings with the bullied child and in the meeting with the support group?

Reducing Stereotype Threat

Anyone who found this post about stereotype threat interesting is invited to take a look at this informative website by Steven Stroessner, Catherine Good and Lauren Webster.

February 15, 2008

February 12, 2008

Perceiving our ignorance

“...it is always advisable to perceive clearly our ignorance.”

~Charles Darwin, who was born 199 years ago today

Also read:

February 8, 2008

The craving to be appreciated

"The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated."
~ William James

February 6, 2008

The aim of an argument

The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.
~Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French Philosopher

(thanks to Cathy Hartt who posted this quote on a mailing list)

Also read:

February 3, 2008

Process compliments

I got some nice responses from within the SF community on the process praise research by Carol Dweck I have been writing about. I was convinced this research was a very useful addition to the SF approach. In SF, the use of compliments is usually advocated to help clients recognize resources and solutions. Two things are usually recommended: the compliments ABC (accurate, believable and constructive) and the use of indirect compliments (these are questions intended to invite the person to compliment him or herself). But knowhere in the SF literature I have ever found the differentation between trait compliments and process compliments. The responses I have received were largely positive (apart from a few sceptical responses). A few examples:
  • I found the process / trait discussion on the list very informative. I have changed how I look for compliments as a result."
  • This discussion has me reflecting and realizing that from the very beginning of my SF practice, the praising, the "wow" of Insoo, and the hand shaking ofSteve, have made me uncomfortable."
  • I've found Dweck's work to be useful in SF practices as well. It helps me keep my focus on effort, attempts, andsuccess than on static ideas such as ability ("you're smart"). Interesting how we figured out that praising someone's physical appearance("you're pretty) or ability ("you're strong") was not as effective aspraising specific attempts, totally successful or not ("you did a great jobcleaning up those dishes") when it comes to promoting healthyself-esteem...but it took us a long time to apply this to trait/processaround intelligence/effort.
  • Really informative! Thanks! I also followed your link to "learn more"and read that interview. I'll be able to use this with some of myyoung clients
  • Thanks for your info on Process vs Trait Praise. Its set off such an interesting discussion on the List and I've shared the perspective with every group I've introduced to SF ever since.

February 1, 2008

How did they do it?

I am writing an article on the history and development of the solution-focused approach and I tried to describe how Steve, Insoo and their colleagues of the brief family therapy center developed it inductively. But when I tried to do that I noticed that I actually did not fully understand how they precisely did it. In general terms, as I have always understood it, they paid close attention to what worked well and they when they found interventions that worked well they kept them in their repertoire. What I do not see precisely is how they noticed and decided that something worked. What exactly did they pay attention to and when? I haven't been able to find in the literature a detailed description of the approach or 'method' they used. I am now exchanging emails with some very knowledgable people. Hope they help shine more light on this. If I will find out some intesting things I'll report them on this site (and in the article of course).

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