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:

September 28, 2009

Motivational interviewing: the GRIP technique

Motivational interviewing is an interview approach which is becoming more popular among medical practitioners and which is inspired at least partly by solution-focused principles and techniques. The article Communication skills training for general practitioners to promote patient coping: The GRIP approach by Mjaaland and Finset tests the effects of a communication skills training program for general practitioners. The study involved a quasi-experimental design in which 266 consultations with 25 general practitioners were video recorded. 40 hours of communication skills training were given to the intervention group. The Grip acronym, used in the training program stands for:
  • Get a measure of the patient's subjective complaints and illness attributions
  • Respond to the patient's understanding of the complaints
  • Identify resources and solutions
  • Promote positive coping

September 26, 2009

59 seconds- Think a little Change a lot


Richard Wiseman, professor for The Public Understanding of Psychology University of Hertfordshire in the UK has written a self-help book which is research based, pleasant and easy to read and practical. It's called 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (Borzoi Books). Wiseman started out as a magician and later became a psychologist. Just like many famous magicians like James Randi and Derren Brown, he has a very skeptical and research based approach and a great skill at involving and entertaining the public. The purpose of this was to expose popular self-help myths and replace them by practical and brief self-help approaches that have been proven effective.

September 25, 2009

Self-determination theory and the solution-focused approach

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan of the University of Rochester are authorities on the subject of self-determination theory, a motivation theory which is concerned with supporting natural and intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways. The authors have written much about favourable effects of stimulating intrinsic motivation of and supporting autonomy in students and employees. The body of research associated with their work is particularly relevant to SF because this seems to be an excellent example of a broadly applicable autonomy supporting intervention style. The application of self-determination theory (SDT) to psychotherapy is particularly relevant because a central task of therapy is to support the client to autonomously explore, identify, initiate, and sustain a process of change. In their article A Self-Determination Theory Approach to Psychotherapy: The Motivational Basis for Effective Change, the authors discuss the experimental work, field studies, and clinical trials representing the application of SDT to the domain of psychotherapy. Evidence supports the importance of client autonomy for the attainment and maintenance of treatment outcomes. In addition, intervention studies suggest that therapist autonomy support enhances the likelihood that treatment gains will be achieved and maintained. The authors discuss some of the processes involved in enhancing autonomy, including the role of awareness, the importance of exploring and challenging introjects and external regulations, attention to need-related goal contents, and therapist attitudes required for a therapy approach that is process- rather than outcome-focused. This research seems to confirm basics tenets of the SF therapy approach but is also very relevant for coaching and team facilitation.
Also read: The autonomy supportive teaching style

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.

September 23, 2009

Internal and external desires for change

Solution-focused change is a deliberate change approach which you can use when there is a desire for change. When there is no explicit desire for change because things are working satisfactorily there is no need to deliberately change and you can keep things going the way there are going. In the words of the pioneers of the approach: “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” A desire for change can be a problem or a wish. In the case of a problem there is something negative which is somehow bothering and causing dissatisfaction with the status quo. When there is a wish, things are going okay but there is an unfulfilled aspiration.

A desire for change can either be internal or external. An internal desire for change comes from within the individual. This is the case when the individual has a problem (he wants to get rid of something negative which is bothering him) or a wish (he wants to achieve something positive which is not yet there). An external desire for change comes from the outside. The individual is confronted with someone else (for instance a manager acting on behalf of an organization) demanding him to change. The table below show internal and external desires for change in relation to each other.

September 19, 2009

Bill Clinton Quote

The important thing is to keep stumbling in the right direction.
~Bill Clinton (source)

September 18, 2009

Three definitions of solution-focused practice: which one is the best?

Yesterday and today I trained a group of experienced coaches, which were rather new to the solution-focused approach though. At the beginning of the second day I asked them to describe in one sentence what they saw as the essence of the solution-focused approach. Within a few minutes, this resulted in the following three definitions:
  1. Helping people to find solutions themselves in a positive way.
  2. The core of solution-focused practice is to, while working with the perspective of the coachee, work toward a desired situation by letting the coachee describe positive behavior.
  3. Future-oriented method which, on a short term, lets the customer formulate a positive behavior description which stimulates him to achieve the desired situation through self-found internal solutions.
Which of these definitions do you like best?

September 16, 2009

Popular because it does not work

Intuitively, you would think that if something works its use would spread fast and if it doesn't work its use would not spread fast wouldn't you? The argument is often used: "If X does not work, like you say, how do you explain that so many people use it?" The argument is so appealing because it seems to fit with basic evolutionary principles. After all, evolution says that variants that are more adapted will become more common, while variants which are not well adapted will become rarer. And doesn't the fact that something works mean that it is well adapted? Well, then, an approach that works should become more common, an approach that doesn't work should become more rare. Right? Well, not exactly. Reality sometimes has some counterintuitive features.

September 15, 2009

Neil deGrasse Tyson on the argument from ignorance

The always wonderful Neil deGrasse Tyson (at least I think so) has a terrific and entertaining answer to the question "Do you believe in UFO's or extraterrestiral visitors?". Watch it and enjoy:

September 13, 2009

Voluntary or involuntary?

In solution-focused coaching and therapy there is the distinction between voluntary and involuntary clients. Aristotle (384BC-322BC) was the first philosopher who write about that distinction and he showed it is not always easy to distinghuish one from the other.

September 10, 2009

Changing your mind can be an act of considerable courage

Have you ever changed your mind about something in a way that really surprised you? To do such a thing can be an act of considerable courage. This quote by Leo Tolstoy is about how hard fundamentally changing your view can be: "I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusion which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to other and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives."

On top of this there is the severe social sanctions that people can be confronted with for instance when changing some of the views they were broad up with. Doing this can make you even feel like you are being disloyal to your friends and family, or even yourself. That is why it is often easy for people to disregard evidence which goes against their views and to hold on to their views in spite of missing evidence. But there are many examples of people who have shown the kind of courage which is required to drastically change their minds. One example which I find inspiring is that of Roy Baumeister (which you can read about here).

Question: Have you ever seen anyone (maybe yourself?) making such a courageous change of mind? 

September 8, 2009

What can you be really negative about?

As you know this site is dedicated to the solution-focused approach, an approach which focuses on positively formulated goals, analyzing earlier successes, being constructive etcetera. In the spirit of this theme, most of the items you will find here are constructively phrased, and the tone of discussion is kept respectful. Yet, we cannot be positive all the time and there are good reasons to believe that this would not even be healthy. For instance, John Gottman researched positive/negative ratios in communication and found that 5:1 was most likely to lead to productivity and continuation of relationships. This implies that sometimes there is room for negativity. This is also what Barbara Fredrickson and Marcial Losada found in their research on the positivity tipping point. They found that flourishing begins when positive experiences happen thrice as much as negative ones but ends when they outnumber them by eleven times or more. So, negativity is not all bad. So, with slight hesitation, as an experiment and by exception, my question of today has a negative focus:
What can you be really negative about? (and why?)

Differential effects of failure and success on neuron development

The assertion that we can learn something from every failure is often heard. A study by Earl Miller and his colleagues Mark Histed and Anitha Pasupathy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory tests that notion by looking at the learning process at the level of neurons. The study shows how brains learn more effectively form success than from failure. The researchers created a unique snapshot of the learning process that shows how single cells change their responses in real time as a result of information about what is the right action and what is the wrong one. Brain cells keep track of whether recent behaviors were successful or not. When certain behavior was successful, cells became more finely tuned to what the animal was learning. After a failure, there was little or no change in the brain -- nor was there any improvement in behavior. This research seems to support SF’s assumption that analysing why something went wrong is unlikely to lead to ideas about how to create a better situation. 


Hat tip to Paolo Terni

September 6, 2009

Positive expressions in conversations

Christine Tomori and Janet Beavin Bavelas have micro-analyzed conversations of four distinguished therapists, client-centered therapists Carl Rogers, and Nathanial Raskin and solution-focused therapists Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg (read their article). Micro-analysis is interesting because it does not focus on the theories or assumptions behind models but it shows you what practitioners actually do in conversations with their clients. One of the things Tomori and Bavelas compared is the occurance of negative and positive expressions by the four therapists. They found the solution-focused therapists use much more positive and much less negative expressions (see figure below and click on table above left for details).

Mindset predicts achievement

September 1, 2009

How much self-knowledge is enough?

On the forecourt of the ancient Greek Temple of Apollo in Delphi, famous for its oracle was imprinted: gnōthi seauton, know thyself. This aphorism has been attributed to at least six ancient Greek sages: Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates, and Thales of Miletus.

Socrates, one of the greatest philosophers of all time, thought of it as one the most important ideas in life. It makes logical sense that it is important to know yourself. How else can you make good decisions, for instance in your career. People have long thought that introspection would be the best way to get to know oneself better.

But Timothy Wilson and other psychologists have shown this to be untrue. They have found that direct access to the vast amount of unconscious processes with your own brain is impossible. Wilson has argued that only indirect methods will help to increase your self knowledge such as monitoring your own behaviors and make inferences from these about your motives, drives, etc and using feedback from others.

A question I would like to raise here is: how much self-knowledge is enough for a person to function well? My feeling is that trying to increase your self knowledge is process which can go on forever and there will be diminishing returns at a certain point. And that point may be sooner than we think. Ideas welcome on this.

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