April 3, 2009

Question to SF enthusiasts

Here is a question to SF enthusiasts, those people who (like me) work with solution-focused techniques and principles like the scaling question, exceptions questions, miracle questions and so on. But before going to the question, please let me explain why I ask it.
Charles Darwin, the man who formulated the Theory of Evolution, which, according to Scientific American is - still - the most powerful idea in science, is often said to have been his own severest critic. He realized that science is always a work in progress and consciously made a habit of constantly challenging and attacking his own convictions and ideas. By doing so he sharpened his ideas and was able to incorporated answers and solutions to many objections that would later be ventilated into his theory.
Now that you understand why I ask, here is my question to those of you who are really enthusiastic about the solution-focused approach: What good criticism can you think of that outsiders could have on the solution-focused approach as it is usually defined?


  1. I think there are 2 categories of objections: the first coming from the company that wants to hire you as a coach; the second coming from the coachee themselves.
    The latter is easier to handle, simply by adhering to a SF protocol.
    Anyway, the criticisms I hear more often:
    - what if they can't find a solution / what if there is nothing to work on?
    (that already points to a dynamic of self-fulfilling prophecies or that they are looking for training)
    - being problem-phobic
    - working on mistakes made is effective (this has some good scientific support)
    - you can't find a solution if you can't find a cause ("engineer mentality")
    - change takes time, it is difficult, ...
    - all you do is make them happy, the "real problems" remain
    Just off the top of my head.
    Re the coachee, most of the time you have to work on a mandated client, so you need to apply the proper techniques.
    Just a few thoughts off the top of my head. Interesting question, thanks.
    BTW I linked to your video about intelligence being "developable" in my latest posting, I think it is a great summary!
    have a great day,

  2. Hi Paolo, thanks for this great list to start off with!! I hope more people will share some answers to this question.

  3. Fascinating question. If the critical issue is challenging convictions and ideas to advance knowledge, then I think that a good criticism can be that SF work from a traditional scientist/practitioner model, it has yet to be deomstrated to be effecive, not that I agree with this position. Still, it is a barrier to broad acceptance. So I believe that, in the spirit of Darwin's method, it is important to explore how SF makes a difference to respond to these onjections.

  4. My comment: SF coaching is very usefull when people are able to set a goal for themselves. They can start working on a plan to achieve what they are aiming for. But, when people aren't able to set a goal right away, for all sorts of reasons...being emotionally blocked, suffering from a severe lack of self-confidence, having trouble with failure...another approach (and techniques) is more appropriate. Even in a business set. SF change is - as is for all approaches and techniques - NOT a complete and overall approach.

    If one is conscious about that... no problem at all. SF change and in particular coaching is a very strong and positive (!) approach. I do apply it whenever I can.

  5. I am certainly not an expert in behavioral or social sciences, my expertise is more in the quantitative side of management science, but, I’d hazard a guess that a potential critique of solution focused practices is that no one approach works best in all situations and the flexible and situationally appropriate merging of a number of approaches provides a more complete, holistic solution.

    My growing interest in social construction, appreciative inquiry, and solution focused practices is in the potential to develop more complete answers via the flexible and situationally appropriate integration of many approaches and tools.

    An example is my telling both Six Sigma and Lean practitioners that if they become so enamored with being either a Lean or a Six Sigma practitioner that they can’t see the power of combining the various problem solving toolkits and becoming a continuous improvement professional, they have completely missed the point.

    A further example of this is my own desire to use tools and theories such as social construction, appreciative inquiry, and solution focused practices to help organizations identify and build upon the positive while simultaneously using problem solving tools and methods to identify and correct the negative – both approaches used in conjunction with each other offer a much more holistic and complete approach than either offers singularly.

    I believe the solution focused approach presupposes a communications baseline that might not preexist. While I like the concept of taking a solutions focused approach versus a problem solving approach, its applicability might be a matter of phasing or incrementally building a communications platform in order for a solutions focused approach to be effective. If persons or groups are completely dysfunctional and that stems initially from their being drastically out of synch with one another, other approaches might be undertaken to first get all on the same page of understanding, capability and listening. And I realize as I say that there is a substantial chicken or the egg phenomena at play – such as “well just use a solutions focused approach to solving the problem of dysfunctional receptiveness….”

  6. Interesting question Coert,
    I think that criticism from “outsiders” usually has to do with their expectations; most outsiders look at the world through problem focused eyes.
    When i introduce Solution focused therapy/ coaching to my clients, they`re often a bit surprised. Somehow people still expect the coach/ therapist to present a solution to their problems. When I ask them “what has improved?” instead of “how are you feeling today?”, some clients are downright confused. Once they`ve experienced the positive effects of SFT though, they quickly forget their initial surprise and begin finding and building their own solutions.
    I think the people who refer clients, medical professionals mostly, are much harder to convince. Their main criticism is that SFT is superficial, not addressing the underlying problems of the individual. They have been taught to look for the cause of problems and for instance expect problemfocused reports with a detailed history of the client’s complaints.
    Another criticism I’ve heard, is that some people are just too depressed or anxious to come up with their own solutions and need more support/ guidance from their therapist than SFT offers. I remember Prof. Piet Kuiper, a dutch expert on depression and neurosis who went through a severe depression himself and wrote a book about it. He had always been embarrassed to prescribe “childlike” therapies to clients, like arts and crafts, but found it was exactly what he needed when he was so very depressed himself. He just wanted to paint and make pottery and for someone else to take control.
    I think there is some truth in this last point of critique, especially depression kind of shuts down the brain. On the other hand, it can be very encouraging if you are able to find a small success and work with it. Also coping-questions can be very useful with these clients.
    Finally, what we really need is scientific, evidence-based data. That would make convincing all those crtitics so much easier…

  7. Coert,

    I know this post is old but I thought I'd answer it any way.

    Someone might criticize solution focus because it does not address the causes of problems.

    However, this is not true.

    Research done by Albert Bandura has shown that having low self efficacy is a cause for a lot of psychological problems and inability to solve one's own problems. Self efficacy is a person's belief in their ability to do what it takes to achieve an objective.

    The techniques of SF actually help to raise a client's self efficacy by helping them find past successful experiences that show them they can implement solutions to their problems. Research into self efficacy has shown that this intervention is effective.

    So an important "cause" of a client's problem their low self efficacy is solved by SF. SF just came up with a solution without actually articulating a theory.

  8. exactly and this is precisely one of the points I'm making in a soon to be published article


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