September 12, 2010

Building a Bridge between the Better Past and a Better Future

Building on the work of Steve de Shazer, I have thought of some new terminology with which to described solution-focused approach. Working solution-focused can be described as building a bridge between what you might call the better past and the better future. Here is an explanation of those three terms.
  1. The better future: how do you want things to become?  Answering this question provides a sense of direction. It is also very motivating and hope-inspiring. When people start to see before them how they would like things to become, this picture will start to attract them and they will begin to believe it will be realizable. The better future in solution-focused change does not mean an ideal or perfect future. Instead it is, as the word suggests, better. It may be much better than the current situation of may be just acceptable, or good enough. The essence is: it is better. 
  2. The better past: when were things already going better?  Answering this question not only strengthens one's hope and confidence that more change will be possible, it also provides specific ideas about how to proceed. With 'better past' we don't necessarily mean a fantastic past, let alone a perfect past. Instead, what is meant is a past situation that was better, even if it was slightly better, or even less bad. 
  3. The bridge between the two: how can the better past be used to build the better future? Once clear pictures have been developed of both the better future and the better past, solution-focused practitioners start to facilitate the process of building a bridge between the two. This means that the better past is used as a source of inspiration to choose small steps forward in the direction of the better future. 
During solution-focused conversations much time is spend on encouraging clients to answer these questions. This is usually not done serially (first one question, then the other). Instead, as conversations proceed are likely to keep on switching between focusing on the better future and the better past. During this iterative process ever clearer pictures tend to emerge of both the better future and the better past. This sounds easy in theory but facilitating the process of clarifying the better past and better future and to help build the bridge between the two can sometimes be hard. Soon, I'll post some tips on how it can be done.


  1. A very nice way to put it like this! As a counselor in a part of Holland that has not yet fully "discovered" the solution focused way of thinking, I am always searching for good words to tell how the solution focused way works ..
    Ella de Jong
    Bureau Uil

  2. Hi Coert!
    Thanks for discribing and complementing Steve de Shazer's ideas about Building bridge...and Death of resistance and bringing fourth De Jong's & co thoughts about Leading the clieng from one step behind in such a interesting way.

    I'm writing an essay on metaphors related my studies in UWE Bristol, and I'm planning refer to your writings.

    For sake of referring correctly I would like to get a confirmation that I got it right; Are the methaphors (Buildind a bridge between the Better Past and Better Future, Death of resistance and Leading the client from one step behind)your own, or are you referring to those writers?

    Thanks in advance!

    Mari V.

    1. Hi Mari, good that you ask and sorry I apparently created confusion. No I did not coin all of those terms. The terms "Bridge" and "Death of resitance" are by De Shazer. The term "leading from behind" is by Cantwell and Holmes. The terms Better past and Better future are by me (at least I don't know that anyone else thought of them first). By the way the if you want to read more about the history of the solution-focused approach, this might be interesting for you:

    2. Thanks - this helps me out greatly!


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