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:
We believe it is important to emphasize choice even when participants are mandated to attend. In this way, we emphasize and respect the participants'most basic right to assess what is best for them from the very beginning. In the few cases where participants decided not to attend the program we have complimented their decision to go back to the judge and argue their case. This led to a better commitment and rapport when the individual returned, requesting admission into the program.
Below is an example from that same chapter. As you will see, a critical factor in what makes this conversation work is that the therapist keeps on emphasizing the fact that the client makes the choice to get into the program or not.

Therapist:        So now that you have an idea of how the group is structured and the expectations of the group, do you have any questions?
Client:No, I just don't think I should have to do this class and I wouldn't even be here if my wife wasn't a drunk. Why isn't she here ... tell me why she isn't here?
Therapist:        I don't know ... I guess the judge ordered you to come.
Client:That's right; you don't know, do you? You're just making money right?
Therapist:        I can see that you're angry about the judge's ordering you to come and I can understand that. I think it's important to know you don't have to come to this program if you don't think it will be helpful for you.
Client:Just where am I going to go? All the way to Reno, all the way to Chico, or Sacramento?
Therapist:        I don't know, perhaps you could talk to the judge or your attorney about your options.
Client:Right, it's jail or here.
Therapist:        Those are tough choices.
Client:Yeah, real tough, and you don't care one bit and my wife's out there doing exactly what she wants.
Therapist:        I am curious: have you ever had to do something you really didn't want to do and still made it work?
Client:Like, what does that mean?
Therapist:        Well, you're facing this incredible challenge and pressure. I was wondering if you've ever been able to get through something this difficult before?
Client:(Pause) I used to come home from school and all there was, was a jar of mayonnaise in the fridge. I don't want my kids' coming home to that. They deserve better than that. You know what I mean?
Therapist:        Yeah, I definitely do. You want something better for your kid. You're a man who really cares about his kid.
Client:Yeah, I am ... so, when does this group start?
Therapist:        In two weeks. Are you ready?


  1. I love how the therapist ignores the client's accusation that the therapist is just here to make some money. The therapist just focuses on solution-talk the whole way - awesome!

  2. Hi Rodney, that's an interesting and admirable part of this conversation, isn't it?

  3. Yes it definitely is. That's something I will aspire to. :)


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