Some clients are embarrassed and ashamed about coming to therapy. They have described their need to seek therapy variously as “weak”, “self-indulgent” or “insane”!
Invariably clients come to therapy when they are in crisis or at an impasse in their lives; sometimes they feel ‘co-erced’ into coming by a parent, partner, or agency. Many are apprehensive, not being sure whether they will encounter Madame Arkati with her fringed shawl and weeja board, or a sappy nutter in sandals and a jumper, muttering about karma and handing out snakeoil. One relieved young client stated to me : “I thought you would look like my nan and nag like my mum!”
Clients are quite right to be apprehensive and cautious – you take a bit of a risk when you wade out into the therapy waters, looking for a cure. It’s difficult to be sure that you will get the ideal: objective help from someone who is well qualified, and professional and prepared to help you sort things out rather than keep you chatting or poking about in areas you feel are irrelevant to your issues.
It is also time consuming to investigate all the different therapies and it can be difficult to decide if what they offer would really be useful to you in your quest to solve your problem.
One fundamental difference which sets solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) apart from other approaches is that the solution-focused therapist doesn’t make any interpretations or analyses about your problem. There are no ‘hypotheses’ or ‘fantasies’ or ‘theories’ about why you are as you are and why the problem exists. We avoid trying to lead you down a path that is irrelevant to your problem, and we don’t give advice, since this would get in the way of listening to you and helping you to discover what you want. We will of course make suggestions if desirable and appropriate and if they fit into the context of what your situation is. In this way we lead from behind rather than in front.
Our main way of facilitating is to ask questions, which we hope will help you to look at the problem in ways you may not have thought of before, so you gain a new perspective on your problem. We work from the premise that if you have a vision of the sort of life you wish to have when the problem isn’t there any more, then you can set about finding the solutions to achieving this.
Clients often ask me: “Is there a solution to this problem”, and the answer is, of course there is, if you want to find one. There is a solution to every problem, it may not be the one you think you’re looking for, but it is there to be found. The steps to changing a situation can be small and incremental, or taken in great leaps.
What helps clients a great deal is the discovery that no problem is there all the time; this way of looking at a problem is another strength of the SFBT approach which is different to other therapies. If you look for them there are always exceptions when the problem isn’t happening: times when you’re not arguing as a couple, times when you’re not depressed, times when you have been able to have fun and feel less anxious, times when your teenager is happy and communicative.
One elderly couple declared miserably that they never seem to get things right. On closer examination they were surprised to be able to acknowledge, that amongst other things, they had successfully brought up three children, who were leading happy and fulfilled lives and could cite countless times when they had contributed significantly to the wellbeing of friends and their work places over the years. This way of addressing problems in SFBT is not to deny the problem, but rather to avoid being bogged down by the whys and wherefores. Whilst it may be helpful to have this understanding (most people have a good understanding of cause anyway) it doesn’t actually help you to deal with things and try to put them right.
As a solution-focused therapist, I believe people are resourceful, resilient and perfectly capable of finding solutions to their problems and I am often filled with admiration at their perseverance. I never feel depressed about my clients or exhausted or bored by their problems, since talking with people who are taking control of their problems and working through them logically is an energising process.
Therapy should not be about creating a victim mentality and scraping the problem-pot so hard we fall into it and drown in the lard. It also shouldn’t be a gossipy chat around the village well, where advice is swapped and fingers wagged. And whilst a heart-to-heart with a sympathetic friend can help it is easier to talk to a personally ‘disinterested’ party who will let you work out, in your own time, the solution that’s most fitting for you and your life. Problems are a natural part of living – everyone encounters problems (even therapists) and searching for another perspective on difficulties which are proving intractable can be helpful in moving us forward. Therapy can and should be a positive and affirming experience, it shouldn’t be a cause for embarrassment.
With words to this effect, one client, who had been to three therapists previously, aptly commented to me: “I just want to sort it out, not trawl forever through the dustbin of my life, being overwhelmed by the fumes”.