April 30, 2009

Corrections enhance credibility

"Corrections do not diminish credibility. Corrections enhance credibility. Standing up and admitting your errors makes you more believable; it gives your audience faith that you will right your future wrongs."


Careful with oversimplifications

"A number of oversimplifications and misunderstandings have crept into our beliefs about subjective well-being, and some of the myths are probably driven by our own values. We want friends to matter more than money, and we do not want to defend materialism. We also desire to simplify our findings for the public. The danger is that our oversimplifications will become accepted by researchers because they are repeated so frequently. As researchers we must be critical, and this includes a skeptical stance toward our own conclusions. We want to improve society by making our findings widely known, but we must take care not to be hasty in rushing to conclusions to meet the demand for media coverage."
~ Ed Diener, quote from The Science of Subjective Well-Being

Optimal happiness level

Shigehiro Oishi and Minkyung Koo have written the interesting chapter 'Two new questions about happiness - "Is happiness good?" and "Is happier better?" in The Science of Subjective Well-Being. In it they explore the possibility that the effect of happiness is curvilinear. They discuss several studies which suggest that the optimal level of happiness may not always be the highest level. These studies showed that on several performance criteria the highest performing indivuals were not the most happy ones but people just below that level of happiness.

The invisibility of what works

(Repost from 7/10/08)
As a solution-focused coach, one of the main things you do is to help people rediscover what is already working and was has already been going well. Many clients feel more confident and proud of themselves afterwards because they noticed that they already had solutions to improve their situation. At the same time, they are sometimes surprised by this fact, saying things like: "How could I not have thought about this myself?" It seems people easily overlook things that have worked before while they notice right away when something goes wrong. The same thing seems to be the case at a macro level, in organizations for instance. We easily notice what has gone wrong and was has yet to be accomplished but we seem partially blind to successes and to what works. Robert O'Brinkerhof, author of The Success Case Method: Find Out Quickly What's Working and What's Not, even says: "Successful practices can go unnoticed for years." Put like this, it almost seems like there is some kind of design mistake, doesn't it? Knowing what works is so valuable, how can it be that we so easily overlook it? Actually, there may be an explanation.

April 25, 2009

Positive memories are building blocks of desirable future scenarios

The solution-focused approach helps to build a bridge between success in the past and success in the future. The following two questions play a leading role in this process: 1) How do you want things to become? (success in the future), and 2) When were things already going well? (success in the past). Often, people wonder whether clients will be able to identify successes in the past. After all, some people are in very troublesome circumstances. I usually answer this question using two lines of argument. The first is that every property of any complex system always fluctuates. This suggests that any mental or behavioral state of human beings or social also fluctuates. So, even when something is very bad now, most likely there will have been times when things will have been better (also read: How good does it get? (4) - Fluctuation and progress). My second line of argument is that whenever a client turns out to be able to define a desirable future he does so by tapping from positive memories. After all, how can we desire for something we have no knowledge of? So my argument is: positive memories are building blocks of desirable future scenario's. What I only recently found out is that there is some scientific support for this claim. Here is a description of that research (source):

April 24, 2009

The power of evoking positive behavior representations

In Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Mental Processes (Frontiers of Social Psychology), Ap Dijksterhuis, Tanya Chartrand and Henk Aarts have written the chapter Effects of Priming and Perception on Social Behavior and Goal Pursuit. In it they present a model which describes different pathways through which behavior is produced. As the picture on the right shows, the model distinguishes 7 separate paths. One pathway which is particularly interesting for solution-focused practitioners is number 7.
Here is a quote from the chapter which explains path 7:

April 23, 2009

Obama is delivering

In the post Before Obama said 'yes we can! I wrote these words:
Several politicians have said they want to be uniters instead of dividers but have not been very convincing. Obama has been convincing because his life and his campaign have shown examples of how he indeed is becoming a uniter. When tested, he has shown courage, mildness to individuals and consistency. This is what makes leaders like Nelson Mandela and Barrack Obama irresistible: they invite us to bridge gaps and rise above ourselves and obstacles while we can actually observe them doing that themselves. I don't believe in Utopia and I believe the importance of leadership is often overestimated. This means that during Obama's presidency, problems will remain, challenges will be great, and mistakes will be made. But I do believe in progress, in the possibility of improving the situation we are in. I feel this is progress. It's awesome!
Now, 100 days into his presidency, I think Obama definitely delivers. He is making some excellent decisions and he is representing the US in such a way that many people around the world are starting to think favorably about it again and think it is going in the right direction. Of course there remain some great problems and there will be new problems and also some mistakes, but this is a wonderful start.

April 22, 2009

History of SF video

I am planning to improve this video: A brief history of the solution-focused approach. Any suggestions to help improve it are welcome. By the way, it is not my intention to include more recent developments in this video.

April 19, 2009

An abundance of solution-focused interventions to choose from

In solution-focused coaching it is perfectly possible to do conversations without using 'standard' techniques like scaling questions and miracle questions. It is not strictly necessary to use these techniques. In fact, whatever situation you are in with your client(s) there will often be an abundance of choices in how precisely to proceed. There are always several things you can do at any point in a conversation. There are always many equivalent ways of phrasing responses and questions. Asking miracle questions or scaling questions may be a good idea but there are alternatives which may work just as well, perhaps even better. These alternatives may be variations on the same basic ideas. For example there are many many ways of inviting a client to start describing his desired future. Of course, it can be hard to think to learn these interventions and to use them effectively in conversations; I am not saying it is necessarily easy.
Having said this (that no standard technique is ever obligatory), I must add that scaling questions are a favorite of mine (and of many other solutionists). I use them often and enjoy how flexible they are and useful they often are which tempts me to turn my statement around and claim that at any point in any conversation a scaling question may be a good choice.
Thanks to Hans Peter Korn for triggering this thought.

No absolute knowledge

"There is no absolute knowledge and those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy. All information is imperfect. We have to treat it with humility."
The solution-focused approach advocates an attitude of not-knowing. It is an approach which uses and celebrates the power of the question and of exploration and discovery. Continue reading

April 18, 2009

Literally leading from behind

In solution-focused coaching we say we are leading the client from one step behind (Cantwell and Holmes, 1994; De Jong and Berg, 2008). By using this metaphor we want to illustrate how we let the client determine the direction, the content and the pace of the conversation. The client says something and we follow closely. We always stay just one step behind. By asking questions we help the client to keep choosing the right direction and tempo. We are very reluctant to ever overtake the client. Once we´d do that, the client would notice directly that something had changed in the conversation. Instead of working at his pace he´d suddenly have to adjust to ours. Generally that´s disturbing and does not work well. Every now and then we might give the client a ´gentle tap on the shoulder´ for instance when we ask something like: what will be different further down the road? (How will you know you’ll be higher on the scale?).

Psychological intervention based on self-affirmation

From Research Digest Post: Geoff Cohen and colleagues did an experiment in which they had twelve-year-old students at an American school choosing one or more values, such as relationships with friends or family, music, art, politics, and so on, and had them spending 10 minutes writing about why those values were important to them. Doing this has been shown in past research to reduce stress and to bolster people's ability to withstand the threat of failure. Students in the intervention group did this three to five times over the course of a year. To test whether the intervention needs boosting, half of these students subsequently repeated the intervention two to four times over a second yearly period, whilst the other half did not. For African American students, completing this intervention had a beneficial effect on their academic grades both early on in the study and at the end of the two-year period (a boost of approximately half a grade), compared with students who completed a neutral control intervention, which required them to write about their morning routine. Students completing the intervention were also less likely to be put into a remediation class for poorly performing students.African American students who were lower performers at the study start showed greater benefit from the intervention, thus supporting the researchers' contention that the intervention works by putting the brakes on a negative cycle. Moreover, the African American students who received the intervention in just the first year showed just as much benefit two years on as did those students who carried on receiving the intervention throughout the study. This shows that the effect of the intervention is long-lasting and does not need to be boosted over time. European American students, in the majority at the school, did not benefit from the intervention, regardless of their initial academic performance."The findings demonstrate how initial psychological processes, triggered by an apparently subtle intervention, can have psychological and pragmatic effects that perpetuate themselves over extended time spans," the researchers said.

April 15, 2009

Invitation for submissions for new book on SF

Thorana Nelson, co-author of Handbook of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, is working on a new book on the solution-focused approach. She is interested in all kinds of submissions related to solution-focused practices. The general format for submissions is:
  • Introduction describing the kind of problem/population for the practice with credit for ideas (focus on ideas, not lists of references)
  • Description of the intervention
  • Example of how a client system might respond (not a full case study)
  • Conclusion that includes a discussion of contraindications

Thorana is interested in descriptions of practices in therapy, coaching, consultation, wherever sf is used. She's also interested in submissions that are smaller, quick reads of interesting ideas. Email her if you have an idea that you'd like to check out: thorana.nelson@usu.edu.

April 14, 2009

Solution Focused Scaling Questions

10 attractive aspects of solution-focused work

Here is a summary of the things that attract people in solution-focused work:
  1. Because it works. It works as well as any approach that I tried so far, if not better, in terms of outcomes - and at the same time it leads to results in much shorter time
  2. Because it is scientific (i.e. It has a reasonable evidence-base)
  3. It takes the stress away for the practitioner. No pressure to come up with a solution. I do not have to have all the solutions, my clients have them for themselves. I love when others are their own experts.
  4. It is respectful
  5. I think it fosters auto-efficacy

April 12, 2009

Why are professionals attracted to solution-focused approaches?

Tara Hirst sent me an email with an interesting question. Her question was: 'Why might professionals (therapists, coaches, social workers, etc) be attracted to solution-focused approaches?' I have pointed her to this previous post but I would love to get some additional ideas on this.... So what is your answer to this question:

Why are professionals attracted to solution-focused approaches?

April 10, 2009

Quotes on music

This is my most watched Youtube video. I bet it has a lot to do with the beautiful music by Jan Kuipers on piano (he's also a solution-focused practitioner), Luc Oostra on guitar and Jan-Peter Kuipers on drums. Have a listen. Sounds good doesn't it?



April 9, 2009

Passion for the subject

"In almost any subject your passion for the subject will save you".
~ William James (source)

Can we get smarter? Yes we can!

I had to reupload my video '9 indications that intelligence can be developed' because in the first version there was a serious spelling mistake (I misspelled the name of the author of the book Talent is overrated). Thanks to Bill O'Hanlon for identifying this mistake!

April 8, 2009

A verb for intelligence

Solution-focused practitioners separate the problem from the person. Here is an example: instead of saying that someone is depressed, we may say that someone is acting depressed or showing depressed behaviors. The Milan team of Palazzoli, Cecchin, Boscolo and Prata were among the first to realize that saying that the person is the problem ('John is an insecure person') creates a static view of human functioning. There is an alternative. As Walter and Peller (1990) say: "Use of verbs like show, become, seem and act as if promote a view that behaviors are temporary and changeable."

I am glad to see that this dynamic and optimistic view of human functioning seems to be winning ground in mainstream psychology. An example is the book Intelligence and how to get it by Dick Nisbett (see my review here). A few days ago I completed an extended review of this book for Interaction, a new journal of solution-focused practice in organizations. In the review I reflect on some parallels between the book and solution-focused assumptions. My review led Kirsten Dierolf (one of the initiators of the magazine) to say it would be good to think of intelligence in terms of a verb.

Interesting... What might we start saying instead of: "John is intelligent"? Mm ... "John intelligizes?, "John intelliges?". "John is smarting?"Any ideas?


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?

April 1, 2009

If there is one thing that I’ve learned in my career ...

"If there is one thing that I’ve learned in my career, it is to do more of what’s working, and less of what’s not."

~ Jimmy Wales, wikipedia founder on his blog

Given the title of this blog and the fact that I have written a book called Doen wat werkt (which means Doing what works) you will not be surprised that I like this quote..

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