February 18, 2010

Some Solution-Focused Concepts

Anton Stellamans told me about a retreat on the solution-focused approach, he had with his colleagues in Malmö. facilitated by Harry Korman. In the session they micro-analyzed a videotaped solution-focused conversation. Anton mention that the following concepts were introduced by Harry during the session: repair sequences, calibrating, echoing, cognition-behavior-interaction-concept, not getting in the way of the thinking process of the client, leaving no footprints in the snow. I asked Anton to tell me a bit more about some of those concepts and the wrote down this explanation. I got his permission to share it here with you.
  • Repair sequence: At one point during the coaching interview I made a brief summary of what my client just said. But apparently this summary did not really grasp what he was thinking about. Harry Korman stopped the video right after that reaction of the client and correctly predicted a repair sequence: a sequence where coach and client try to repair the misunderstanding by reformulating, adding information, shaking heads, "ooh I sees" etc.
  • Calibrating: Calibrating is a process that is taking part throughout the conversation. A repair sequence is a moment in which you can see that coach and client are calibrating their understanding of what the other says. Harry Korman said that all these techniques like nodding, "uh hum", "oh", taking turns, smiling, frowning, etc. are happening in day to day conversations. In SF they are used more explicitly to foster solution talk.
  • Leaving no footprints in the snow: All the talk about "understanding" is of course not to be understood in the classical way, where subject A translates his thoughts in words which are then picked up by B and processed into the exact thoughts A wishes to convey. As Steve de Shazer said somewhere: "There is no such thing as understanding, there is only more or less useful ways of misunderstanding." During the coaching there were a lot of moments where I knew I did not understand exactly (or even vaguely) what the client was talking about. But that didn't matter. I deliberately did not stop him in order to get my thoughts clear because I saw that he was thinking and continued to talk and make sense for himself. When watching the tape I asked the client if letting him talk at that moment was useful and he said yes. He was happy that I didn't interfere with his thinking/pausing/talking. This lead us in a discussion about 'not getting in the way of (the thinking process of) the client'. There Harry mentioned Insoo's saying: "Don't leave no footprints in the snow."
  • Cognition-emotion/Behavior-Interaction/Context: This is my way of referring to a diagram Harry drew on the flip chart. Some sort of compass for composing useful SF questions and staying on the surface. The diagram consists of two circles. The inner circle stands for cognition/emotion. What traditionally has been located "between the ears". The outer circle is what others see us do (between the noses) when we are having these thoughts/emotions. He then partitioned these two circles like a pie, saying that every piece of the pie stands for another context in which all this is taking place. For example: the client was talking about "having new perspectives". A useful way of working on that is asking who will notice that (and who else), what they would notice (and what else), in which contexts it will make a difference (and where else). I think that you could also add the notion of time to this diagram: when would you/others notice... It reminded me of the "coming through the ceiling" tape with Steve de Shazer and the woman who believed that her upstairs neighbor was keeping her from sleeping. In the introduction, Insoo interviews Steve about this case (very interesting!). There Steve explains that staying on the surface means to determine where and when the solution should be found: i.e. in her bed at night. And not at work, in family contexts, during the day, while on a holiday, ...) And he restricts the area of the solution to that place and time.
I hope you like this and I welcome your thoughts...


  1. Regarding "Leaving no footprints in the snow", this reminded me about the attitude found in nonviolent communication that says that we should not pay attention to the "thoughts" of a person but to the needs of that person and the feelings this needs create.

    Thoughts are like weather, sometimes bad, sometimes good, ever-changing. Needs are rock solid.

    I imagine that in a lot of patients there is a need for significance that is being met by a careful, active listening from a therapist. Meeting this need might create feelings of relaxedness that are conductive to productive discussions.

  2. thx Peter. btw soon there will be a new article by me in which I claim that SF interventions help to satisfy basic universal needs of people

  3. thx. the article is based on self-determination theory research which distinguishes basic needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness

  4. I attended a Mastercourse and was struck by the micro-analysis made by Korman. Do you know if any SF trainers use this method to train SF skills? It seems to me a thorough way of looking at language and conversation.


  5. Hi Iris, thanks. Yes, I think there are many Sf trainers who use this. I myself use it too and I agree it is very useful


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