Staying SF aint easy!

I really, really, really like to write positive posts, this one may not appear so positive, though it does have a happy ending.

This is a topic I have written on before in journal articles and on websites, message boards and so on. I am re visiting the topic as there seems to be a ‘creep’ into SF, or at least practice or practitioners that purport to be SF that is far from SF.

The seemingly innocent strays into behaviourist territory “What do you need to do to….?” Are common enough, and I have sometimes been tempted into this…there is a difference of course in “How did you do?” and “how will you do”. These wanderings do not alarm me and as long as we are self-reflective then we can accept these misdemeanors and carry on.

The more alarming issues for me are twofold:

  • The assumption of knowing/being/doing SF when one is not
  • The introduction of therapist agenda


The assumption of knowing/being/doing SF when one is not:

On looking at a recent website I see someone describing that they do Brief Solution Focused Therapy…agghhh….all SFBT is Brief, to describe it as brief SF rather than the other way round does not recognise that the entire process is brief, not a shortened version of a longer therapy….

Someone else who has a website actually advertising that they are an SF therapist….when looking closer they state that solution focus counselling is:

Solution-Focused counselling is designed to be brief and is based on four stages of therapy:

  • Awareness and education
  • Developing and implementing strategies for change
  • Emphasizing the positive
  • Rehearsal of newly learned skills.

I would hazard a guess and suggest that any therapist that bases their practice on ‘stages’ and on education and awareness is probably not delivering an SF intervention but a formulaic, therapist led intervention.

Talking to someone at a recent conference “I am mainly SF but am mostly eclectic in my approach as I know other modalities”…eclectic = hectic (or at least not SF).

Someone else in the workplace stated when we were meeting for the first time “Actually I am very solution focused in my practice…it is my job to suggest solutions to my clients that they may not be able to see themselves”. Words fail me……


The introduction of therapist agenda:

The mantra in SF of asking the next question based on the clients last answer (which will initially be related to preferred futures) is a great underpinning for all SF practice, be it therapy or any other SF practice…a simple tip when stuck is to repeat back exactly the last answer and ask an SF question:

Client: “I think I would notice that I had more energy”

Therapist: “And if you had more energy, what difference would that make for you?”

Client: “I would be able to get out and see more people”

Therapist: “Who would be the first person that you might see?”

and so on…following the clients lead.

When the therapist introduces their own agenda, their own question, often based on what they think needs to be answered, it stops being SF and starts closing down possibilities:

Client: “I think I would notice that I had more energy”

Therapist: “Are you sleeping ok and looking after yourself?”

Client: “No, not really”

…and into the problem talk.

A therapist that does not recognise the individual autonomy that SF welcomes in clients is not SF, one that says “the miracle question answer they gave was a bit unrealistic, so I helped them be more realistic”….one that says “I gave them some really good homework based on their best hopes” and so on.

So, here is the happy ending…..all of these things can be changed. Anyone that states they are SF has the ability to read and learn more about SF. The very fact that they state they are SF means they at least want to be good at it, and they can be. A story I often tell in training….for a year or so after my first training at BRIEF I used to take cheat cards into my sessions, with the order of what I was going to ask (SF)….the people I saw got a raw deal and not very good SF, although it was better than the core model I was trained in (don’t ask). I remember having a bit of an epiphany that actually I did not use the cheat card on scaling, it came pretty naturally, and I could ask anyone based on their last answer where that was on a scale and so on. I had realised that attention to the last answer was more important than getting the order of the questions right….so that is my number one tip for staying SF, good luck.