August 24, 2011

Question: how threatening can the solution-focused approach be?

Several years ago, I was talking to a psychotherapist living in a village who told me how she had been losing clients in her private psychotherapy practice. She said, with a facial expression which looked like she was tasting something disgusting: "There is a new therapist in our village who does brief therapy. Many clients seem to prefer that, nowadays. I think it is a shame that people believe that such brief and superficial approaches are enough to deal with mental problems."

Somewhat more recent, I attended a meeting of many management consultants. Before the actual meeting started I was introduced to a consultant who had just won a prize for a publication he had written. When he heard my name he said: "Oh? I think we shouldn't be glad with you. You are writing about clients being able to solve their own problems, aren't you? You are trying to make us obsolete, right?" I was a bit surprised when he said this but when I reflected a bit on it afterwards, I thought I understood better what he meant.

It is true that solution-focused therapists and coaches assume that clients are competent and autonomous. Instead of diagnosing clients and analyzing problems they normalize what clients say and do. This seems to work and clients seem to like it. It is probably right to say that solution-focused interventions are, in the end, not actually superior to other approaches' interventions. It is probably more realistic to say that they are equivalent but briefer. In other words, they yield the same results faster.

In addition to that, solution-focused interventions leave the client in the position in the driver's seat. Solution-focused professionals deliberately focus on enhancing the client's sense of autonomy and competence. The sooner the client feels independent of the professional the better. My feeling is - correct me if I am wrong- that many leading solution-focused professionals have to some extent shifted from a coach or therapist role to the role of a trainer. This shift perhaps accentuates the assumption that clients are normal and autonomous individuals who are competent and just seek to further develop their competence.

Question: do you agree that solution-focused working can be threatening to 'other' professionals?


  1. Well, anything can be threatening when you recognize some power in it (either factually - as in loosing clients to the "other side" or subjectively, by recognizing some superior aspects to your own practice but you don't plan to adopt them).

    I first mispelled "adopt" to "adapt". Freud would love it, but I think it comes down to the same thing: that when you don't adapt, you'll loose in the end. Whether you're right and the others are wrong doesn't matter. It's what clients think that matter.

    Now, from a constructionist point of view, any form of therapy or coaching is "right" when the client feels it's right for him/her. You seek who you think will be able to find what problem you think you have. And indeed, looking for that kind of problem, chances are that the therapist will find it.

    I'm not knowledgable as the different kind of existing therapies, though from what you explain, I'd say that there are two kind of them (I make a parallel with my world: that of the business): there are consultants that use their knowledge to propose their solutions to your problems, and there are the coaches that help you help yourself. I have the feeling, reinforced by what you say, that most therapies fall in the consulting field (even if the solution is extracted from the client). Brief therapies (SF) seem to fall better in the coaching field (other coaches are also good at helping you solve problems, so coaching is not synonymous to solution focus).

    Scribes (and moreover monks re-copiing manuscripts) certainly felt threatened by the invention of Printing. So did Radio by Television. So did cinema and music industry by Internet. What next?

    As to that therapist you encountered, you could have asked her to remember and time in her past where, faced with something different, she overcame that threat feeling: what did she do, then? What prevents threat from happening in the first place?

    Nicolas Stampf

  2. I think they just feel threatened by what they do not know ... professionals probably feel that way because they do not understand what is solution-focused work. The other possibility is that they have forgotten that what is most important is the result for the client and not the financial security of the professionals (due to long-term therapy).

    InĂªs Roda

  3. Hi Coert - it's understandable that therapists using longer approaches might feel threatened - they do have to make a living!

    When I first trained in SF I was a freelance therapist, and I remember wondering if doing this brief stuff might make it difficult to make a living. You could say I myself was threatened by recognising the effectiveness of being able to do the same work in a much shorter time! After learning about SF I found it impossible to go back to psychodynamic working. Needless to say it all worked out fine in the end and I had many happy years in SF therapy before moving to training, mediation etc. later on (still using SF!).

    I think it's good to tread carefully and be respectful of therapists using other models, and not to get sucked in to the territoriality which is so common in the therapy world.

    Carole Waskett

  4. It strikes me that if therapists using other modalities feel 'threatened' by SFT, that's very much 'their' problem, not ours.

    As a therapist who happily uses a number of integrative approaches to my work I am a believer that there is no 'one size fits all' approach anyway.

    Let's rejoice in our differences.

    Roger Stennett (Bristol)

  5. Just told a clients' boss that his staff person with whom I've been SF coaching for 18 months may want to take a break, i.e., that she needs to practice what SF providers should be doing for their clients ... become self reliant.

  6. Hi Alan, yes, staff people and managers can play a great role in helping people become self-reliant (or autonomous, or whatever you may call it)


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