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?

School counselor:
What is your goal in coming here, Marie?
Marie:
I would like to be doing my homework. But I just cannot seem to get it done.
School counselor:
So are there times when you get some of the homework done now?
Marie:
Yes, but usually it is when I am interested in the work, or I am in a good mood.
School counselor:
How do you get yourself to be interested? I am sure there are other things you could be interested in, at that time.
Marie:
Well, I don’t know. I just get into it, and then it is okay.
School counselor:
How do you decide to get into it?
Marie:
Well I want to pass and I know I have to do something.
School counselor:
Oh, you want to pass. That is important to you, to pass?
Marie:
Yes, I do not want to repeat freshman year and I am tired of wasting time in class.
School counselor:
So, you want to do more things like getting into the work so you can pass. Are there other things you are doing to help yourself pass?
Marie:
Sometimes, when I am in a good mood. But I just wish I was as smart as my sister. Everything is easy for her.
School counselor:
Yeah, I guess that might be easier. So how do you do it given that it does not come as easy for you?
Marie:
I just tell myself “I want to pass” and then I do it.
School counselor:
But it does not sound easy at all and it sounds like you are not always in a mood where you feel like doing it. So, how do you decide to do it even though it is not always easy or you are not always interested at first?
Marie:
Well, I just tell myself, I have other things that my sister does not have-and so I just do it and sometimes it gets easier.
School counselor:
Really? How do you do it and make it get easier?
Marie:
Oh, I just stop thinking about the fact that I do not want to do it and then get into it.
School counselor:
So you shift your thinking and make it more interesting for yourself or at least get some done. That is great! I am impressed how you do that even when you are not in the mood or crazy about doing the work.
If you continued to do more of that-deciding to get into it because you want to pass-would you think you were more on track to getting more homework done and getting what you want from coming here?
Marie:
Yeah, I do feel better when I make myself do it and think I am going to pass.
School counselor:
I can see that and you have been doing some more of that lately as you decided you wanted to pass and do something with your class time. How do you think you will keep doing this?

6 comments:

  1. 'Presupposing Angency and Responsibility' suggests an essentialised autonomous selfhood that is fixed and stable. However, SF perspective of ‘the self’ is fluid, multiple with decentred identities, which means that 'self' can be created in many possible ways. So, rather than presupposing agency and responsibility, the SF practitioner is simply to encourage an exploration of the perceptions the clients have of the significant others in their lives or within the system the clients find themselves in. Hence the SF techniques i.e. miracle questions, scaling, exception seeking etc. So, it may appear that, in the conversation between SF practitioner and client, the practitioner presupposes self agency and responsibility of the client, but it is more likely that the conversation is simply or all about the non-expert collaboration of meaning that is constructed there and then with the therapist as the witness.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Eva,
    Thank you. I agree with the idea of a fluid self. A fixed theory of self can be very limiting and is not realistic although it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy as my many posts on the growth mindset on this site illustrate. I recognize your warning against implying a fixed self through our questions and feedback. Specifically, I'd be reluctant to speak about clients in terms of being smart or responsible. However, I tend to think that presupposing agency does not have to conflict with a fluid self concept as it allows for agency to develop over time and even from moment to moment.
    John Walter and Jane Peller recognized the dynamic view of SF on people very much. I even think they went further than many in this. Here is a quote by them (from the same book) which illustrates this: "We do not believe that people have resources anymore than we believe that people have deficits...We believe that everyone is capable of doing what they need to do to get what they want."
    I hope you find this response relevant. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love how the counselor's questions made positive assumption (you are calling presuppositions). For example, when she said "how do you get yourself to be interested?" after the student said that she only works when she's interested or in a good mood. The counselor continued to ask questions that assumed the student had a hand in being interested or taking effective action. The student eventually accepted greater responsibility for the times she was more productive and identified how she was able to be more productive.

    I love how this works because if the counselor had told the student that she should just do her homework it would not have lead to the same sense of self-responsibility that developed in this conversation.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Rodney, this is a good example of the the subtlety of SF which I mention so often.

    ReplyDelete

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner