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.

Here is a description of the quadrants:
  • Quadrant 0: No solutions have yet been found, neither within the experience of the client, nor are solutions from the outside abvailable. 
  • Quadrant 1: Only external solutions have been identified.
  • Quadrant 2: Only internal solutions have been identified. 
  • Quadrant 3: Both internal and external solutions have been identified and they may overlap.
When in quadrant 0 a search might start for solutions. It would be useful to have a clear idea about where to start looking first. Which quadrant to start looking in first is at least in part dependent on the situation you're in.  When coaching a person in a solution-focused way, by default you may start to help the client trying to find internal solutions because of their agency supporting or autonomy supporting advantages. On top of that internal solutions often have the benefit of fitting exactly to the situation of the client. Quadrant 2 is not always necessarily the best place to start looking for solutions. In certain circumstances it may be wise to start focusing on external solutions. For instance in the case of training or instructing people to learn some kind narrowly-defined skill. In some case you will also find yourself in a situation in which there are solutions which are internal and external at the same time. For instance when an advice (external solution) turns out to fit very well with the clients own experience.

To be continued

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