December 28, 2009

SF Interviewing Protocols as Evolutionary Algorithms

Here is an interesting new article: SF Interviewing Protocols as Evolutionary Algorithms. If you're interested in both evolution and the solution-focused approach, I am sure you'll like this new article by Paolo Terni.

December 26, 2009

How do interim managers use the solution-focused approach?

Are you an interim manager and do you use the solution-focused approach? I would be interested to hear from you. When did you learn about the solution-focused approach? What solution-focused techniques/principles do you use? How does SF help you in your work?

December 16, 2009

Supporting Clients’ Solution Building Process by Subtly Eliciting Positive Behaviour Descriptions and Expectations of Beneficial Change

By Coert Visser & Gwenda Schlundt Bodien
SF co-developer Steve de Shazer wrote, in his classic publications Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy (1985) and Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy (1988), that SF practitioners should help their clients create an expectation of beneficial change by getting a description of what they would do differently once the problem was solved. Also, he claimed subtle and implicit interventions by the SF practitioner would work best. At the time, de Shazer did not support these claims with empirical evidence. This article provides evidence for each of the assertions made by de Shazer. Only part of the evidence presented here was already available at the time of de Shazer’s writing. Evidence is discussed from diverse lines of research like Rosenthal’s Pygmalion studies, Dweck’s research on self-theories, Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory, research on Winograd’s prospective memory, Jeannerod’s research on the perception-action link, Wilson’s research on brief attributional interventions, research on Brehm’s reactance theory, and Bargh’s research on priming. The article closes with some reflections on what these research findings imply for SF theory and practice.
Published in Interaction, The Journal of Solution Focus in Organisations, November 2009. Full article here.
Full reference: Visser, C.F. & Schlundt Bodien, G. (2009). Supporting Clients’ Solution Building Process by Subtly Eliciting Positive Behaviour Descriptions and Expectations of Beneficial Change. InterAction I (2), 9-25

December 13, 2009

Rationality visualization

In his book What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought, Keith Stanovich explains how cognitive psychologists define rationality. They distinguish two basic forms of rationality: 1) INSTRUMENTAL RATIONALITY, behaving in such a way that you achieve what you want, and 2) EPISTEMIC RATIONALITY, taking care that your beliefs correspond with the actual structure of the world.
At the risk of simplyfying too much, instrumental rationality seems to be about doing what works and epistemic rationality is concerned with truth and refers to seeing reality for what it is. It seems to be a pitfall to overlook any of these two rationalities. Only focusing on what is true but forgetting to do what works may lead to your neglecting to do things that help you to survive and remain connected to other people (A). Only focusing on doing what works but neglecting the what is true question may lead to you moving efficiently through a web of falsity distancing you more and more from reality (B). Thinking about this I thought of visualizing this as follows:

December 10, 2009

SF Research Digest

The latest issue of the SFCT journal InterAction is now out. It features some interesting articles and reviews (among which an article which I co-wrote with Gwenda Schlundt Bodien: Supporting Clients´ Solution Building Process by Subtly Eliciting Positive Behaviour Descriptions and Expectations of Beneficial Change- I'll write a bit more about that, later). One of the other things it contains is research digest which I have written. The digest contains brief descriptions and reflections on recent research articles and books relevant to the development of SF practice and theory. You can read the SF Research Digest online.

December 7, 2009

How do organizational consultants benefit from the solution-focused approach?

The solution-focused approach was developed in psychotherapy in the 1980's at the Brief Familty Therapy Center in Milwaukee (US). In the 1990's, the solution-focused approach spread became a well known approach in therapy in many countries throughout the world. During the last decade the solution-focused approach became a familiar approach outside therapy too, first in the field of coaching, later also in education, team facilitation, management and organizational change.
I'd like to write an article about the solution-focused approach for the target groups of organizational consultants (or management consultants). For that purpose I'd love to hear some experiences from organizational consultants who use the solution-focused approach. So, if you are a consultant and you use the solution-focused approach please share some of your experiences here. I'd be particularly interested in the following things:
  • What type of consultancy do you practise?
  • When did you learn about the solution-focused approach?
  • How do you use it in your work? 
  • How does it help you? 

10 questions for the solution-focused coach

Below are some questions you may ask yourself as a solution-focused coach as you collect information from your coachee. The questions can be helpful in adapting yourself to your client and to make the conversation really useful.
  1. What is important to this client?
  2. How does this client view his situation?
  3. What does he want to see changed?
  4. What is his good reason for wanting to see that change?
  5. What does he see as advantages to himself and others of this change?
  6. What strategies has he already employed which have somehow been helpful?
  7. What improvements has he already made?
  8. How far is he already in accomplishing what he wants?
  9. What resources can he draw on?
  10. What is he willing to do and what will he not do?
I made this list based on a list by Insoo Kim Berg (in this book: Family Based Services: A Solution-Based Approach (Norton Professional Books), page 54). I changed her list quite a bit though, based on the seven steps approach.


December 4, 2009

Advice from the future

Case sent in by Jo Hanssen from Curaçao

One day, I walked past the room of one of my vice principals. There she sat, opposite to a student. In that small room the both of them had managed to create a maximal distance between them and you could see steam clouds escape. In other words, there was a crisis. She gestured me to come in. It turned out the student had been rude to the caretaker and she thought he should apologize. He, however, thought the caretaker had snubbed him so he was right. The more she tried to convince him, the more he opposed. His mother had already been called to come to school to talk about this.

December 3, 2009

Is doing-what-works the most successful social strategy?

Do you know the prisoner's dilemma? In 1979, Robert Axelrod wanted to find out which strategy would be the most effective with repeated prisoner's dilemmas. He organized a computer tournament for which scientist could send in their strategies in the form of a computer program. To his invitation 14 strategies were sent in by scientists from 5 disciplines. During the tournament the programs would play repeated prisoner's dilemma's against each other and against themselves. In total, 225 confrontations took place during the tournament.

The winner was the program Tit-for-tat which was sent in by Anatol Rappoport. Tit-for-tat was the simplest program which had just the following instruction: start positive and then do what the other party did in his previous move. In the nineteen eighties, Axelrod organized another tournament. Now, 62 strategies were sent by people who, of course, knew about tit-for-tat. Some programs were very complex and shrewd but the winner was, again, the simple strategy of Tit-for-that. Axelrod's research got a lot of attention among scientists and among a broader audience. It showed how cooperation could emerge on the basis of reciprocity, even when many individuals followed egotistical strategies.

Axelrod now wondered whether Tit-for-tat was also a stable and resilient strategy that would be able to defend itself against an invasion of egotistical strategies. To find this out, he did a new tournament in which he gave the strategies which had been sent in for his earlier tournaments the capacity to reproduce themselves. The tournament would now take place in multiple rounds. Each round represented a generation of strategies. The degree of success of a strategy in the first round determined how often this strategy would be found in the next round. By doing this, Axelrod simulated the principle of natural selection. By building in this evolutionary principle the strategies were getting stronger by each round. In earlier rounds there were still many over-naive strategies and many exploiting strategies but in later rounds both disappeared more and more. Axelrod did 1000 rounds and the result was that tit-for-tat was still the most successful and fastest growing strategy of all. If you wanted to describe Tit-for-tat in human psychological terms you could say that it is a positive strategy (because it always starts off with cooperation), that is also prepared to hit back when deceived (because it defects when the other person has done so), but is also forgiving (when the other start cooperation again, it does so too) and transparent/predictable (because of its simplicity and consistency).

Axelrods work has been very important. He wrote the book The Evolution of Cooperation about it. But Tit-for-tat is not the most successful strategy after all, as turned out several years later. In 1993 a still more successful strategy was identified by Martin Nowak and Karl Sigmund. It was named Pavlov and it had the following instruction: follow the same strategy as in the previous move if it was successful, change if it was not successful. It is a pity this strategy was named Pavlov because Do-what-works would perhaps have been an even more appropriate name (if it works, go on, if not, do something else). Pavlov has one major weakness: it is powerless against the strategy: 'always deceive' (Pavlov keeps on switching when confronted with this strategy). Nowak and Sigmund found that Pavlov can only start to develop really well after Tit-for-tat has terminated the 'always deceive' strategies.

It is interesting to see how the simple and pragmatic Pavlov strategy, which comes down to do-what-works, is perhaps the most successful strategy for repeated social dilemmas.


December 1, 2009

First sign of improvement question

As Peter De Jong and Insoo Kim Berg explain their book Interviewing for solutions, when coaches or therapists ask clients how they will know their problems will be solved, they often describe a final result, a finish line as it were. They describe a situation in which lots of things will be better. When they describe such a final result they may become aware of the contrast between that good situation and their current not-so-good situation, which may demotivate them. What coaches can do in these types of situations is to ask the first-sign-of-improvement- question, which goes something like this: "What will be the first small sign that will tell you that things are starting to move in the right direction?" This type of question usually helps clients to notice small positive changes (a.k.a. micro progression) which usually is very motivating.


November 27, 2009

What's the deal with self esteem?

Many people in education have long believed that in order to improve performance of pupils at school you have to first make them feel good about themselves. The idea behind this was: it is easier to function well if you feel good about your self. Many educators, psychologists and parents have tried this. But does it work? Here is a long quote from a very interesting article by Albert Mohler:
"Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids' self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise. In 2003 the Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature. His team concluded that self-esteem was polluted with flawed science. Only 200 of those 15,000 studies met their rigorous standards. After reviewing those 200 studies, Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn't improve grades or career achievement. It didn't even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of them selves, debunking the theory that people are aggressive to make up for low self-esteem.) At the time, Baumeister was quoted as saying that his findings were "the biggest disappointment of my career". Now he's on Dweck's side of the argument, and his work is going in a similar direction: He will soon publish an article showing that for college students on the verge of failing in class, esteem-building praise causes their grades to sink further. Baumeister has come to believe the continued appeal of self-esteem is largely tied to parents' pride in their children's achievements: It's so strong that "when they praise their kids, it's not that far from praising themselves."

November 26, 2009

The what and how of reframing

Insoo Kim Berg's book Family Based Services: A Solution-Based Approach (Norton Professional Books) (1994) explains the concept of reframing nicely: "Reframing is simply an alternate, usually a positive interpretation of troublesome behavior that gives a positive meaning to the client's interaction with those in her environment. It suggests a new and different way of behaving, freeing the client to alter behavior and making it possible to bring about changes while "saving face". As a result, the client sees her situation differently, and may even find solutions in ways that she did not expect." Then, she gives some examples (slightly altered by me):

Troublesome behavior
Reframed version
Laid back, relaxed, taking it easy
Assertive, action oriented
Action-oriented, has high standards
Allows room for others
Strong, unaware of his own strength
Concerned, trying to bring out the best in someone
Deep thinker, thoughtful

November 25, 2009

Cultivating our neuronal networks

"There is really no upper limit on learning since the neurons seem to be capable of growing new connections whenever they are used repeatedly. I think all of us need to develop the capacity to motivate ourselves. One way to do that is to search for meaningful contact points and bridges between what we want to learn and what we already know. When we do so, we cultivate our neuronal networks. [...] To ensure a safe learning environment, you have to make sure to accept all answers, and build on them. We should view students as plants and flowers that need careful cultivation: grow some areas, help reduce others."
~ James Zull, in The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness: 18 Interviews with Scientists, Practical Advice, and Product Reviews, to Keep Your Brain Sharp, p 17/18

November 23, 2009

Interview with Keith Stanovich

By Coert Visser

Dr. Keith Stanovich, Professor of Human Development and Applied Psychology of the University of Toronto, is a leading expert on the psychology of reading and on rationality. His latest book, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought, shows that IQ tests are very incomplete measures of cognitive functioning. These tests fail to assess rational thinking styles and skills which are nevertheless crucial to real-world behavior. In this interview with Keith Stanovich he explains the difference between IQ and rationality and why rationality is so important. Also he shares his views on how rationality can be enhanced.

November 18, 2009

A description of you

I suspect that you, reader of this blog, will recognize yourself reasonably well in this description:
You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.
Read here why I think that.

November 17, 2009

The Thinktank That Created The Solution-Focused Approach - Interview with Eve Lipchik

By Coert Visser (2009)

Eve Lipchik was one of the original core members of the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, which created solution-focused therapy in the beginning of the l980's. She worked at the BFTC until l988, when she cofounded ICF Consultants. She is the author of the book Beyond Techniques in Solution-Focused Therapy: Working with Emotions and the Therapeutic Relationship and numerous chapters and articles. In this interview she looks back on the time the solution-focused approach was developed and she shares her memories of the process of developing the approach and of the people involved. She tells about the essential shift the team made from gathering information about the problem to focusing on constructing solutions with clients. Also, she reflects on recent developments and she explains the importance of describing the approach as encompassing both philosophy and techniques. Finally, she tells about some of her current interests and activities.

Coert: Could you tell me about some of your memories of the early times of the Brief Family Therapy Center? How did you get involved with that and how did you experience that starting period?

November 16, 2009

Problem externalisation interventions

Externalizing  is a practice which was developed within narrative therapy (White, 1989). It is an intervention  that creates a perspective on reality in which the person has a relationship to the problem and in which the person is not the problem and the problem is not inside the person. In these latter cases, the problem is internalized. Internalizing problems creates a perspective in which people easily start to blame themselves and feel they have to take action against themselves.  Externalizing views problems as coming from outside the person – e.g. in relationships with others, with cultures, with institutions or with power relationships. Externalizing invites people to keep the problem outside the person 5 so that he does not have to fight himself. Here are some examples of internalizing questions and of externalizing questions:

November 13, 2009

The pragmatic effects of our interactions with clients

"Ultimately, doing our job well in the eye of the only important beholders (our clients, the only ones who can, ultimately, decide) seems to me to depend less on our adherence to "correct" models or approaches or philosophical stances, but much more to the nuts and bolts of the pragmatic effects of our interactions with them. If, after talking with us, they are influenced and persuaded through the course of the dialogue to change for the better (in their eyes), whether it be by what we thought, said, or suggested or by what they thought, said, or decided (or whether by what they or we thought that they or we said or heard, regardless of what was actually said or heard, assuming that could ever be reliably remembered or interpreted), then we have done our part of the job, whatever way we have done it."

November 11, 2009

Feeling grumpy good for you?

BBC reports this: In a bad mood? Don't worry - according to research, it's good for you.
An Australian psychology expert who has been studying emotions has found being grumpy makes us think more clearly.
In contrast to those annoying happy types, miserable people are better at decision-making and less gullible, his experiments showed.
While cheerfulness fosters creativity, gloominess breeds attentiveness and careful thinking, Professor Joe Forgas told Australian Science Magazine.

November 6, 2009

Listing what you don't want to change

"The shift from problem-focused Brief Family Therapy to SFT occurred in 1982, in a random manner. As I remember the incident, there were a number of core group members behind the mirror formulating an intervention message for a family that had come with their rebellious teenage daughter and was not reporting any progress by the end of the second or third session. This father and mother were only interested in reporting all the things their daughter continued to do wrong and diverted from any questions about exceptions. The daughter remained sullen. That day, one of us behind the mirror - and there are strong opinions about who it actually was-said, "Why don't we ask them to make a list of what they don't want to change for next time?" We all agreed, and were pleasantly surprised when the parents and the daugther came back with sizable lists of what they appreciated about each other. What was more surprising, however, were the positive changes all three family members reported. [...] this discovery shifted our attention to the interview as a locus of intervention."

November 1, 2009

Presupposing Agency and Responsibility

In their wonderful book Becoming Solution-Focused In Brief Therapy, John Walter and Jane Peller describe the usefulness of using questions to our clients which contain presuppositions which form invitations to clients to enter a different way of thinking. These questions reflect that we see them as capable, responsible people who want to and can make sensible decisions. Here is a dialogue from their book (page 160-162) which is a nice example of how that can be done. In the book the authors explain how many of questions presuppose agency and responsibility. I have removed those explanations. Can you spot how the questions presuppose agency and responsibility?

Disconfirming information

"The basic lesson of Bayesian analysis is that you can learn only from information that disconfirms some part of your current belief set.  But of course the natural tendency of the mind is to minimize cognitive dissonance by accepting confirming evidence and rejecting disconfirming evidence, and that tendency is emphasized when beliefs get to be badges of group membership."

~ Mark Kleiman

October 25, 2009

You've got to remain positive, madam!

There is a book out by Barbara Ehrenreich, called Bright-Sided: How the Relentless promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. While I do believe that a positive outlook on life is worthwhile, I sympathize with her criticism.

Once, I was talking with my grandmother, who was then 95 years old and who died a few years ago. She told me that she found getting older not always easy. For instance, she struggled with some physical discomforts and with doubts and feelings of guild with regard to religion. She had talked about her discomfort with her doctor who had said to her: "You have got to remain positive madam!" My grandmother told me how unpleasant she had found this. "Many people tell me to think positively. But it is very unpleasant when people say that. That won't make me feel any better. If anything, it makes things worse."

Like I said, I actually do believe in the value of positive thinking but trying to convince others to think positively I have not often seen to work. You run the risk of making them feel you don't take them seriously, like they are really exaggerating and should not make such a fuss of their problems. And apart from that, is not easy to think positively when instructed to. That would be like saying to an inhibited person: be spontaneous! My experience is that works better to take seriously what people tell you. When they say they have a problem, acknowledge that and try to help them find a way to cope with it and to take small steps forward if possible.

October 21, 2009

The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness

Perhaps you have heard of the website Sharpbrains? It is a website by Alvaro Fernandez and Elkhonon |Goldberg,dedicated to brain fitness and cognitive health.These two people have written a book called The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness: 18 Interviews with Scientists, Practical Advice, and Product Reviews, to Keep Your Brain Sharp. I am reading it now and I find it very interesing. I will probably write about it more soon but here is a brief description of the book in advance.
The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness is an invaluable guide that helps readers navigate growing brain research and identify the lifestyle factors and products that contribute to brain fitness. By gathering eighteen of the top scientists and offering insight, tools, and detailed descriptions of over twenty products, this text is an essential guide to the field of brain fitness, neuroplasticity and cognitive health. An accessible and thought-provoking read, this book also educates lifelong learners on emerging trends and forecasts of what the future will hold.

October 17, 2009

Some deliberations on the desirablility of rationality

Following up on the posts What Intelligence Tests Miss: IQ and rationality are largely independent and A Closer Look at Rationality here are some thoughts and questions about what the view presented in the posts might imply. Let me start by saying that I find the basic ideas presented in Keith Stanovich's book convincing, namely that: 1) Intelligence as measured by IQ tests and rationality are largely independent, which explains why intelligent people may behave and think irrationally, 2) IQ tests don't measure rationality and contrast between the strong focus on IQ testing and the very limited attention to measuring and teaching rational thinking is a bad thing, 3) rational thinking could be taught more and this would lead to social benefits. Here are some additional thoughts and questions on the desirability of raising rationality.

October 16, 2009

A Closer Look at Rationality

As I wrote about yesterday, Keith Stanovich explains in his new book What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought that IQ tests are incomplete measures of cognitive functioning. Although many laymen and psychologists seem to think IQ tests do measure rationality, they actually don’t. In fact, intelligence, as measure by IQ tests correlates only low to moderately with rational thinking skills. According to Stanovich, this explains why it is not strange to see intelligent people behave irrationally and hold false and unsupported beliefs. Some real world examples are: intelligent people who fall prey to Ponzi scheme swindlers like Bernie Madoff, a highly educated person who denies the evidence for evolution, a United States president who consults an astrologist, and so forth. Below, I will try to summarize how Stanovich explains rationality and lack of rationality.

October 15, 2009

How frequently are different solution-focused techniques used? (poll results)

Here are the results of a poll which asked the question "which solution-focused techniques have you already used?' In total 143 people took the poll. Hope you like the results (click to enlarge). If you are not familiar with any of the terms used you can search them on this site for an explanation (see the search window on the right).

October 14, 2009

What Intelligence Tests Miss: IQ and rationality are largely independent

I am now reading an interesting book titled What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought by Keith E. Stanovich. The book is about the fact that IQ tests are incomplete measures of cognitive functioning. There is, as studies have show, in fact only a low to medium correlation between rational thinking skills and IQ test performance. And because rational thinking skills and IQ are largely independent it is not surprising that intelligent people can easily behave irrationally and hold false and unsupported beliefs. Several things are really interesting about this book. One is the authors insight that we do not need to stretch to non-cognitive domains (to notions as emotional intelligence or social intelligence) to see the lacunae in IQ tests. Another is the very specific and research based analysis of the topic matter. The author presents an elegant and rather comprehensive model of cognitive functioning in which three types of major thinking processes and their interrelations are described: the autonomous mind, the algorithmic mind and the reflective mind.

October 12, 2009

When Brute Force Fails try a more focused approach to fight crime

In an article by Robert H. Frank in The New York Times I read about a new book about fighting crime by Mark Kleiman, professor of public policy and the University of California. The book is called When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment and its central claim is that authorities should not make punishments more severe but increase the odds that lawbreakers will be apprehended and punished quickly. The idea is not entirely new of course, but Kleinman's arguments are interesting. There is some reason to doubt about the effectiveness of increasing the severity of punishment.

October 11, 2009

Getting unstuck by reframing the problem into less dualistic terms

This post is about a simple idea which I have often seen work well. It is about how, in situations in which got stuck, can often get unstuck by reframing the situation or the problem. Often, in situations in which we find ourselves stuck we limit our options by framing our situation too narrowly, in dualistic terms.

For instance, I talked to a manager who was dissatisfied with something an employee had done. In the conversation he had about this topic with that employee he had ventilated his dissatisfaction and shown his irritation. The conversation did not go too well. The employee responded defensively and showed irritation too. He had even criticized the manager about his behavior. The manager asked what else he could have done, saying: "I am usually very appreciative but in this situation the employee performed unsatisfactorily, so there was no reason for appreciation. I needed to be firm!"

October 10, 2009

External demands and sanctions and non negotiable rules

Like I said in some previous posts, I am currently fascinated by the solution-focused approach to treating domestic violence offenders by practitioners John Sebold, Adriana Uken and researcher Mo Yee Lee. It is fascinating how an approach is very effective in which clients are not confronted or even expected to admit to their problems but instead only holds clients accountable for developing useful goals and building solutions to achieve those goals. And it is interesting how these clients, who are often not self-motivated to be re-educated are not pressured at all to join the program. Instead, it is emphasized to them that they are free to join or not.

Solution Focused assumptions about children

I have trained many solution-focused practitioners who specifically work with children so I thought it would be interesting to focus on that a bit. So, following up on my posts about assumptions of solution-focused practise here is a list of solution-focused assumption about children taken from the book Children's Solution Work by Insoo Kim Berg and Therese Steiner (2003). They add the following: "Making connections with even the most difficult child is possible when we allow the child time to choose a path for him- or herself. Working with children need not be a long-term, difficult task, and utilizing their innate and natural tendencies and building on these strenghts is easier, efficient and more effective thatn trying to fill the deficit. This optimistic belief (at times described as naïve and Pollyanna-ish) in every child's ability to have a better future, whe given the appropriate help in a timely manner, is what keeps us working hard and keeps us from giving up on any child." Here is the list of assumptions:

October 9, 2009

Serious about words

"People who use conversation to facilitate change should be as serious about words as musicians are about notes"
~Mo Yee Lee, John Sebold & Adriana Uken

This is a quote from the book Solution-Focused Treatment of Domestic Violence Offenders: Accountability for Change, one of the jewels of the solution-focused literature. The authors show step by step how the solution-focused approach can be used to facilitate positive change with domestic violence offenders. I hope to write more about the book soon.

October 5, 2009

Women, math, and stereotype threat

Also read: 5 Experiments that make you think

9 Solution-Focused Assumptions

Following up on yesterday's post, here is the list of assumptions as I put them down in my last book. As you see, it overlaps with the lists mentioned yesterday but like each of the other lists, this one differs in some details, too. Hope you'll like it. (Both the title and the assumptions are originally in Dutch but translated here into English).

Paths to Solutions-The Power of the Solution-Focused Approach - Coert Visser and Gwenda Schlundt Bodien (2008)
1.    Searching for causes of problems is not necessary. 
2.    The change begins with defining the desired situation. 
3.    Each case is unique. 
4.    Confronting is not necessary.
5.    The client wants to cooperate. 
6.    The client already has the solutions.
7.    There are always exceptions to the problem. 
8.    There is always already a beginning of the desired situation.
9.    Small steps forward will usually be enough. 

October 1, 2009

Review of Richard Dawkins´ The Greatest Show On Earth- The Evidence For Evolution

Richard Dawkins' book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution is currently high on bestseller lists in many countries. The book removes what was the missing link in Dawkins' oeuvre because in all his others books he started from the assumption that evolution was true. In this one he presents evidence.

Let's walk through the book in some big steps. In Chapter 1, Dawkins introduces the word THEORUM as a replacement of the word 'theory' which in everyday use often just means hypothesis. The word 'theorum' (inspired by the word 'theorem' from mathematics) would do justice to the fact that evolution is massively supported by evidence and therefore by no means just a hypothesis. Chapter 2 describes how we can sculpt gene pools through artificial selection (for instance dog breeding), a practice which has been known to men, of course long, before Darwin came to the scene.

September 30, 2009

Emphasizing choice

Not all clients who go into coaching or therapy are voluntary clients who are self-motivated to change. Both in therapy and coaching there are often clients who are involuntary clients or so-called mandated clients. In coaching, an example may be an employee who is demanded by his manager to go into coaching to help solve some problem or accomplish some goal. In therapy a client may be court-mandated, for instance in the case of domestic violence offenders. Can solution-focused practitioners work well with these kinds of clients when they are not self-motivated to be re-educated? Yes, they usually can. Take the case of domestic violence offenders. In their book Solution-Focused Treatment of Domestic Violence Offenders: Accountability for Change Mo Yee Lee, John Sebold, and Adriana Uken describe in detail how their solution-focused approach helps to create effective, positive changes in domestic violence offenders. They focus on holding offenders accountable and responsible for building solutions, rather than emphasizing their problems and deficits. By focusing on "solution-talk" instead of "problem-talk," clients are assisted in developing useful goals and solution behaviors that are then amplified, supported, and reinforced through a solution-building process. In a recent chapter in Handbook of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, the authors write the following about how they work with mandated clients:

September 28, 2009

Motivational interviewing: the GRIP technique

Motivational interviewing is an interview approach which is becoming more popular among medical practitioners and which is inspired at least partly by solution-focused principles and techniques. The article Communication skills training for general practitioners to promote patient coping: The GRIP approach by Mjaaland and Finset tests the effects of a communication skills training program for general practitioners. The study involved a quasi-experimental design in which 266 consultations with 25 general practitioners were video recorded. 40 hours of communication skills training were given to the intervention group. The Grip acronym, used in the training program stands for:
  • Get a measure of the patient's subjective complaints and illness attributions
  • Respond to the patient's understanding of the complaints
  • Identify resources and solutions
  • Promote positive coping

September 26, 2009

59 seconds- Think a little Change a lot

Richard Wiseman, professor for The Public Understanding of Psychology University of Hertfordshire in the UK has written a self-help book which is research based, pleasant and easy to read and practical. It's called 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (Borzoi Books). Wiseman started out as a magician and later became a psychologist. Just like many famous magicians like James Randi and Derren Brown, he has a very skeptical and research based approach and a great skill at involving and entertaining the public. The purpose of this was to expose popular self-help myths and replace them by practical and brief self-help approaches that have been proven effective.

September 25, 2009

Self-determination theory and the solution-focused approach

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan of the University of Rochester are authorities on the subject of self-determination theory, a motivation theory which is concerned with supporting natural and intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways. The authors have written much about favourable effects of stimulating intrinsic motivation of and supporting autonomy in students and employees. The body of research associated with their work is particularly relevant to SF because this seems to be an excellent example of a broadly applicable autonomy supporting intervention style. The application of self-determination theory (SDT) to psychotherapy is particularly relevant because a central task of therapy is to support the client to autonomously explore, identify, initiate, and sustain a process of change. In their article A Self-Determination Theory Approach to Psychotherapy: The Motivational Basis for Effective Change, the authors discuss the experimental work, field studies, and clinical trials representing the application of SDT to the domain of psychotherapy. Evidence supports the importance of client autonomy for the attainment and maintenance of treatment outcomes. In addition, intervention studies suggest that therapist autonomy support enhances the likelihood that treatment gains will be achieved and maintained. The authors discuss some of the processes involved in enhancing autonomy, including the role of awareness, the importance of exploring and challenging introjects and external regulations, attention to need-related goal contents, and therapist attitudes required for a therapy approach that is process- rather than outcome-focused. This research seems to confirm basics tenets of the SF therapy approach but is also very relevant for coaching and team facilitation.
Also read: The autonomy supportive teaching style

September 24, 2009

Internal and external solutions

In our approach to solution-focused practice we distinguish two kinds of finding places of solutions. The first kind of finding place is within the client (or client system). We call solutions which are found within the client's experience. They are things the client has already done before and which have helped. Because internal solutions are found within the client's own experience they have several advantages. One is that the client can apply them himself without the help or training of other and without being dependent on external resources. Also, clients often feel motivated to apply internal solutions because they support their sense of independence and autonomy. The second finding place of  is outside the client (system). Solutions found here, we call external solutions. External solutions can come from places like books, from expert advice, from benchmarks, etc. External solutions often require some amount of training, guidance, support and resources in order to be implemented. They can be quite useful of course but can be less unobtrusive and motivating than internal solutions. The table below shows all places where solutions can be found.

September 23, 2009

Internal and external desires for change

Solution-focused change is a deliberate change approach which you can use when there is a desire for change. When there is no explicit desire for change because things are working satisfactorily there is no need to deliberately change and you can keep things going the way there are going. In the words of the pioneers of the approach: “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” A desire for change can be a problem or a wish. In the case of a problem there is something negative which is somehow bothering and causing dissatisfaction with the status quo. When there is a wish, things are going okay but there is an unfulfilled aspiration.

A desire for change can either be internal or external. An internal desire for change comes from within the individual. This is the case when the individual has a problem (he wants to get rid of something negative which is bothering him) or a wish (he wants to achieve something positive which is not yet there). An external desire for change comes from the outside. The individual is confronted with someone else (for instance a manager acting on behalf of an organization) demanding him to change. The table below show internal and external desires for change in relation to each other.

September 19, 2009

Bill Clinton Quote

The important thing is to keep stumbling in the right direction.
~Bill Clinton (source)

September 18, 2009

Three definitions of solution-focused practice: which one is the best?

Yesterday and today I trained a group of experienced coaches, which were rather new to the solution-focused approach though. At the beginning of the second day I asked them to describe in one sentence what they saw as the essence of the solution-focused approach. Within a few minutes, this resulted in the following three definitions:
  1. Helping people to find solutions themselves in a positive way.
  2. The core of solution-focused practice is to, while working with the perspective of the coachee, work toward a desired situation by letting the coachee describe positive behavior.
  3. Future-oriented method which, on a short term, lets the customer formulate a positive behavior description which stimulates him to achieve the desired situation through self-found internal solutions.
Which of these definitions do you like best?

September 16, 2009

Popular because it does not work

Intuitively, you would think that if something works its use would spread fast and if it doesn't work its use would not spread fast wouldn't you? The argument is often used: "If X does not work, like you say, how do you explain that so many people use it?" The argument is so appealing because it seems to fit with basic evolutionary principles. After all, evolution says that variants that are more adapted will become more common, while variants which are not well adapted will become rarer. And doesn't the fact that something works mean that it is well adapted? Well, then, an approach that works should become more common, an approach that doesn't work should become more rare. Right? Well, not exactly. Reality sometimes has some counterintuitive features.

September 15, 2009

Neil deGrasse Tyson on the argument from ignorance

The always wonderful Neil deGrasse Tyson (at least I think so) has a terrific and entertaining answer to the question "Do you believe in UFO's or extraterrestiral visitors?". Watch it and enjoy:

September 13, 2009

Voluntary or involuntary?

In solution-focused coaching and therapy there is the distinction between voluntary and involuntary clients. Aristotle (384BC-322BC) was the first philosopher who write about that distinction and he showed it is not always easy to distinghuish one from the other.

September 10, 2009

Changing your mind can be an act of considerable courage

Have you ever changed your mind about something in a way that really surprised you? To do such a thing can be an act of considerable courage. This quote by Leo Tolstoy is about how hard fundamentally changing your view can be: "I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusion which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to other and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives."

On top of this there is the severe social sanctions that people can be confronted with for instance when changing some of the views they were broad up with. Doing this can make you even feel like you are being disloyal to your friends and family, or even yourself. That is why it is often easy for people to disregard evidence which goes against their views and to hold on to their views in spite of missing evidence. But there are many examples of people who have shown the kind of courage which is required to drastically change their minds. One example which I find inspiring is that of Roy Baumeister (which you can read about here).

Question: Have you ever seen anyone (maybe yourself?) making such a courageous change of mind? 

September 8, 2009

What can you be really negative about?

As you know this site is dedicated to the solution-focused approach, an approach which focuses on positively formulated goals, analyzing earlier successes, being constructive etcetera. In the spirit of this theme, most of the items you will find here are constructively phrased, and the tone of discussion is kept respectful. Yet, we cannot be positive all the time and there are good reasons to believe that this would not even be healthy. For instance, John Gottman researched positive/negative ratios in communication and found that 5:1 was most likely to lead to productivity and continuation of relationships. This implies that sometimes there is room for negativity. This is also what Barbara Fredrickson and Marcial Losada found in their research on the positivity tipping point. They found that flourishing begins when positive experiences happen thrice as much as negative ones but ends when they outnumber them by eleven times or more. So, negativity is not all bad. So, with slight hesitation, as an experiment and by exception, my question of today has a negative focus:
What can you be really negative about? (and why?)

Differential effects of failure and success on neuron development

The assertion that we can learn something from every failure is often heard. A study by Earl Miller and his colleagues Mark Histed and Anitha Pasupathy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory tests that notion by looking at the learning process at the level of neurons. The study shows how brains learn more effectively form success than from failure. The researchers created a unique snapshot of the learning process that shows how single cells change their responses in real time as a result of information about what is the right action and what is the wrong one. Brain cells keep track of whether recent behaviors were successful or not. When certain behavior was successful, cells became more finely tuned to what the animal was learning. After a failure, there was little or no change in the brain -- nor was there any improvement in behavior. This research seems to support SF’s assumption that analysing why something went wrong is unlikely to lead to ideas about how to create a better situation. 

Hat tip to Paolo Terni

September 6, 2009

Positive expressions in conversations

Christine Tomori and Janet Beavin Bavelas have micro-analyzed conversations of four distinguished therapists, client-centered therapists Carl Rogers, and Nathanial Raskin and solution-focused therapists Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg (read their article). Micro-analysis is interesting because it does not focus on the theories or assumptions behind models but it shows you what practitioners actually do in conversations with their clients. One of the things Tomori and Bavelas compared is the occurance of negative and positive expressions by the four therapists. They found the solution-focused therapists use much more positive and much less negative expressions (see figure below and click on table above left for details).

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