Solution Focused Brief Therapy, Steve de Shazer and BRIEF


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BRIEF comments on some key quotes taken from Steve de Shazer's writings. Steve was very much our 'mentor' at BRIEF during the last 15 years of his life. He saw many clients with us at BRIEF in London and inspired our thinking. Indeed our work has been an attempt to take his thinking 'seriously and to explore where it can lead.

Published in: Health & Medicine

Solution Focused Brief Therapy, Steve de Shazer and BRIEF

  1. 1. BRIEF BRIEF Steve de Shazer, Solution Focused Practice and some BRIEF reflections Evan George BRIEF London, UK +44 (0)20 7600 3366
  2. 2. BRIEFPhotos BRIEF Steve de Shazer Harvey Ratner Chris Iveson Evan George
  3. 3. BRIEFBuilding homes ‘Building homes for solutions is what the solution-focused language game is designed to do.’ Gale Miller & Steve de Shazer Emotions in Solution-Focused Therapy (p 21) BRIEF
  4. 4. BRIEFBRIEF reflection  So often in Steve de Shazer's writings you can find something that presages future developments of the approach. 'Building homes for solutions' - a wonderful idea that moves the approach away from both 'problem solving' and of course' solution building'. When we talk about 'solution building' we are staying very close to the problem since problem and solution are so closely connected as ideas. But 'building homes for solutions‘- this jumps us into something else entirely. And of course it fits perfectly, even though BRIEF would not use the word 'solutions', with the way that the BRIEF team will typically start a description of the preferred future right at the beginning of the day. Recently someone came in to BRIEF to talk about various work issues - but most of the first meeting was taken up describing how breakfast would be different on a day when the work issues were resolved. There was very little talk that was directly about work. During Summer School last year a volunteer 'coachee', who wanted to think about a specific work challenge, found a lot of the conversation focused on his commuting drive. No wonder not only therapists but coaches find our approach challenging! BRIEF
  5. 5. BRIEFNot directly related ‘Solutions need not be directly related to the problems they are meant to solve.’ Steve de Shazer Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy (pp 51 – 52) BRIEF
  6. 6. BRIEFBRIEF reflection  I think that this is one of Steve’s ideas that has caused our field most confusion and some no small difficulty, particularly when it is repeated in a way that is not quite what Steve meant (I believe). What you sometimes hear people saying is ‘there is no connection between the problem and the solution’. And clearly that is not quite what Steve said. However even what Steve did say might be less than helpful.  If we accept first of all that by ‘solution’ Steve means ‘the life that contains the solved state’ or ‘the life after the miracle’, then what we might also be able to accept is that the client’s preferred future is not predictable from a problem description. If the client says that s/he is depressed we cannot know from that statement how s/he would describe the life that s/he would with to be living (instead).  However the fact of this unpredictability is not quite the same as ‘need not be directly related’. I do believe that in the client’s thinking there is (normally) a connection between their idea of the problem that brings them to us and their picturing of the preferred future. It is just that we therapists neither can, nor need to understand that connection. We can just ask ‘what are your best hopes from our talking together?’ and not worry about how the best hopes and the problem are connected. BRIEF
  7. 7. BRIEFTherapy . . . a joint construction BRIEF 'All that a therapist deals with is his construction of how the client constructs his own reality; from these two constructions client and therapist jointly construct a therapeutic reality.’ Steve de Shazer Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy (p 63)
  8. 8. BRIEFBRIEF reflection  What Steve is pointing to is that we as therapists never deal directly with the 'problem'. We interact with the client's description of the thing that he or she has come to call 'my problem'. We are working with the client's account, their narrative and the change that takes place, if and when we all get lucky, is in the client's description. It is important for us to remember this because it helps us to remember what we are up to when we sit with the client.  All we are doing is co-constructing a new narrative - important, but that's all! BRIEF
  9. 9. BRIEF Brief Coaching: a solution focused approach Chris Iveson, Evan George and Harvey Ratner. Routledge: 2012 "This book offers the expertise of leading solution focused therapists for an audience that is interested in how to take a solution focused approach to their coaching work. When resources are tight, a BRIEF approach offers a well researched way of making the most from coaching interventions." - Carole Pemberton, Executive Coach and author of Coaching to Solutions BRIEF
  10. 10. BRIEFThe expectation of change 'What seems crucial here is that solutions develop when the therapist and client are able to construct the expectation of a useful and satisfactory change. The expectation of change or the making of a different future salient to the present seems to be a skeleton key to opening the door to solution.‘ Steve de Shazer Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy (pp 45- 46) BRIEF
  11. 11. BRIEFBRIEF reflection  Looking back it seems odd to me that I did not 'get' the centrality of Steve's emphasis on 'expectation', until after he died and I re-read all his books one after the other. It was at this point that the significance to him of 'expectation' leapt out at me. And for me this has been a point of central significance in my work ever since, continually reflecting on the question how can we co-construct in our conversations with people an evidence-based expectation of good outcome. And that last phrase is important – ‘evidence-based’. What evidence is there in someone’s life, in the history of her daily doings, that change is not only possible but indeed expectable? BRIEF
  12. 12. BRIEFGetting from A to B  ‘If you want to get from point A to point B, but know no details of the terrain in between, the best thing to do is to assume that you can go from A to B by following a straight line. If this assumption proves faulty and you run into huge mountains, then you need to look for a pass that is as close as possible to your original straight line. As William of Ockham might say, never introduce complex descriptions when simple ones will do. ’  Steve de Shazer Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy (p 150) BRIEF
  13. 13. BRIEFBRIEF reflection  I am particularly fond of this quotation. It fits with what I think Chris, Harvey and I have been up to for the last 15 years. Having tried to learn the approach, something that perhaps took us (well me at least) 10 years or so, we have then spent the past 15 years concentrating on straightening out a few seeming kinks, twists and bends in the line, trying our best to make it a little straighter. Starting with the ‘best hopes’ question rather than ‘what brings you here’, and prioritising what we came to refer to as ‘instances’ (little bits of the preferred future happening), over ‘exceptions’ (times the problem does not), seemed to us to make the conversation a little more direct. And of course, following Steve’s bias towards simplicity we came to question the necessity of the ‘miracle’ question and to wonder about the necessity of what used to be referred to as ‘compliments and tasks’.  So many of the later developments of SFBT are ‘previewed’ in Steve’s writings. BRIEF
  14. 14. BRIEFWho’s got the magic “ . . . so I went off to learn how to do therapy magic à la Erickson and I’ve come 180º on that . . . the therapist doesn’t have the magic . . . the client has the magic and we’d better do something small and let the magic operate.” Steve de Shazer AAMFT tape "Learning Edge" 1990 BRIEF
  15. 15. BRIEFBRIEF reflection  Here is Steve de Shazer in 1990. Who was it who talked about ‘clever therapist’ versus ‘clever client’ models? Was it John Weakland? Here is another way of saying something similar ‘the client has the magic’ – what a great phrase and one which fundamentally reframes the well-established idea that it was the client who had the problem, certainly not the magic, and the therapist who has the solutions, or the ‘magic’ if you prefer. (It was definitely the therapist who was holding the wand, the professional who worked the miracle.) This idea shifts the nature of the relationship between client and therapist, alters the ‘power relationship’. And perhaps more important than anything else, it impacts on the way that the professional thinks about the client, and since thinking and ‘treating’ are closely related, inevitably changes the way that the therapist ‘treats’ the client. And all this almost 25 years before the word ‘co-production’ appeared in the cutting-edge mental health professional’s lexicon. BRIEF
  16. 16. BRIEF SolutionFocused Brief Therapy: 100 key points and techniques Harvey Ratner, Evan George and Chris Iveson. Routledge: 2012 ‘All you need to know! What more can I say. A must read for anyone interested in Solution Focused work.’ Rob Black BRIEF
  17. 17. BRIEFContinuing transformation ‘From the beginning of the first session the therapist and the client are constructing a therapeutic reality based on continuing transformation or change rather than on initiating change.’ Steve de Shazer Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy (p 5) BRIEF
  18. 18. BRIEFBRIEF reflection  It has seemed sometimes that our confused thinking has led us to curious conclusions. Therapists have often seemed to confuse the ‘therapy process’ and the ‘change process’, and since the therapy process, we have tended to assume, starts when the client sees the therapist (erroneous of course) then we have tended to believe that change must also start when the client meets the therapist. de Shazer reminds us that change is continuous, that our meeting with the client is just one step in the client’s already established change process. It is our job to support the changes that the client is already making, rather than imagining that it is our job to initiate change. de Shazer challenges us to give up our sense of self- importance, to challenge our therapist-centric view of our professional worlds, and to find a rather more humble place for ourselves in the client’s journey. BRIEF
  19. 19. BRIEFNormal difficulty ‘It is, of course, easier to develop a solution to a "normal difficulty" than it is to develop a solution to a "very pathological problem that has roots deep in my infancy”.’  Steve de Shazer Putting Difference to Work (p 66) BRIEF
  20. 20. BRIEFBRIEF reflection  Here de Shazer reminds us that problems are not found, they are constructed and the way that we co-construct the problem with the client will inevitably affect the likelihood of resolution. Making the problem bigger, which is of course easy to do often merely by exploring the client’s ‘problem-history’, is likely to slow down the change process and to reduce the client’s expectation of change. When clients ask me why their problem happens I tend to respond truthfully, saying that it is difficult to know but that very often we get ourselves stuck in patterns of behaviour that originally had some usefulness but which have ended up outliving that usefulness. ‘Getting stuck’ in a pattern offers a way of explaining problems that is unlikely to exacerbate the difficulty. After all ‘getting stuck’ is normal, we can all get stuck, and ‘getting stuck’ is minimally critical (or blaming perhaps) of the client. ‘Problems’ that are positively connoted, framed as ‘originally of use’, often seem to be easier to leave behind., and clients who are not invited to criticise themselves, often seem to find it easier to move on from them. BRIEF
  21. 21. BRIEFAnything ‘Anything that prompts the client to say that ‘things are better’ needs to be identified as verification of change, and anything that is new or different or more effective that the client reports needs to be encouraged or amplified.’ Steve de Shazer Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy BRIEF
  22. 22. BRIEFBRIEF reflection: part 1  Of course the word that most interests me here is the word that Steve de Shazer uses twice in this short sentence (and which I have italicized), the word ‘anything’. We are not being invited to be interested in particular changes, even perhaps changes that are seen as fitting with the client’s ‘goal’, but in ‘anything that prompts the client to say that ’things are better’. What we are focusing on, it seems, is the co-construction of an experience of change, rather than the construction of any particular change. And it is this idea, the idea that people are more likely to change when they ‘expect’ change to occur, and that they are more likely to expect change to occur when they are already noticing change, that lies behind BRIEF’s non-contractual stance. At BRIEF we are not interested in firming up or specifying with people what particular actions they could, should or indeed will be taking following a session. This reduces the odds on change being noticed if merely because the client’s focus is now too narrow, focused predominantly on those actions which they have agreed to take. We are much more interested in inviting them to keep their attention and focus as wide as possible, suggesting that they might wish to ‘watch out for anything, anything at all, that you find yourself doing, that is different or that is taking your life in a good direction’. Keeping the focus so wide increases the odds that the client will notice ‘something’ and when they notice something or indeed anything that is different, de Shazer’s cycle of change comes into play. BRIEF
  23. 23. BRIEFBRIEF reflection: part 2  In the following paragraph, again from Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy (p 77) just count the number of ‘anys’ that de Shazer uses.  ‘Since solutions are not predictable in any detail and since there is more than one potential way of behaving in the future without the complaint, the new set of expectations can be constructed out of any satisfactory or beneficial changes. Any change stands a chance of starting a ripple effect which will lead to a more satisfactory future. Therefore, the brief therapist reacts to any change as an indication that things are starting to go right for the clients. It does not seem to matter if a particular change is new or different behaviour, or if it is an exception to the rules of the complaint, or even if it seemingly has nothing to do with the complaint. Any change is a difference that could well prove different enough to be part of the solution. In any case, any change can become part of the construction of a new set of expectations that will be part of creating the solution.’  de Shazer really could not be clearer, the brief therapist should not be picky in the way that we respond to changes ‘any change could well prove different enough to be part of the solution.’ BRIEF
  24. 24. BRIEFResistance? ‘It must be kept clear that resistance is only a metaphor for describing certain regularities of phenomena, and that other metaphors can be used. Resistance is not something concrete, only a concept used as an explanatory metaphor.’ Steve de Shazer Patterns of Brief Family Therapy (p 12) BRIEF
  25. 25. BRIEFBRIEF reflection: part 1  Finding this in Steve’s very first book, written before he had perhaps realised that he was developing a ‘solution focused’ approach, made a useful difference to my thinking and to my practice. It is, as Steve makes clear, so tempting to think of ‘resistance’ as something ‘real’, ‘concrete’, ‘out there’, something that can be pointed to and prodded, a product of the client’s “internal dynamics” (p 10). But if we think about it as a ‘metaphor’, then it becomes just one of many possible metaphors, one of a myriad of different possible ways of describing, of different words that we can use to speak of what is going on. After all we do not judge ‘metaphors’ according to their truth. We might judge them in relation to their elegance, to their beauty, in relation to their capacity to encapsulate a complex experience or to highlight a particular aspect or element of the distinction that we are attempting to communicate or to grasp. (continued on next slide) BRIEF
  26. 26. BRIEFBRIEF reflection: part 2  And in therapy, as opposed perhaps to in literature or poetry, it would seem sensible to evaluate a ‘metaphor’ pragmatically, considering and reflecting on what the effect on me as the worker is of describing things in any particular way. And when I focus on the effects of the ‘resistance’ metaphor, I find that those effects are generally unhelpful, leading almost inevitably to a conflictual model for therapy, a conflictual way of describing and conceptualising the interaction between client and therapist. As Steve writes “From the earliest days, 20th- century psychotherapy has most often been described as a contest . . . The contest was this: The therapist (for change) had joined battle against the client's resistance (a force against change). Once the therapist "won" this contest, the client was no longer seen as resistant, and there was a "cure"; the problem was solved. (p 13)” Accepting Steve’s invitation and developing a ‘cooperating’ model has proved, for me, altogether more fruitful. BRIEF
  27. 27. BRIEFReferences  de Shazer, Steve (1982) Patterns of Brief Family Therapy: an ecosystemic approach. New York: Guildford.  de Shazer, Steve (1985) Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy. New York: Norton.  de Shazer, Steve (1988) Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy. New York: Norton.  de Shazer, Steve (1990) "Learning Edge“: AAMFT tape  de Shazer, Steve (1991) Putting Difference to Work. New York: Norton.  Miller, G., de Shazer, S. (1998) Emotions in Solution-Focused Theapy: a Re-examination. Family Process. Vol 39 No 1 BRIEF
  28. 28. BRIEFBRIEF  BRIEF, established in 1989, is the UK’s longest established Solution Focused training, consulting and practice organisation. Situated in the heart of the City of London our work has taken us to all parts of the UK, across the whole of Europe and indeed further afield to Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Abu Dhabi and to the USA and Canada.  Inspired by de Shazer and his emphasis on developing the approach through a constant observation of sessions and what works even better, BRIEF has remained at the forefront of developments in the model and is recognised as a world leader in the approach.  Find out more about BRIEF and its work and programmes at BRIEF
  29. 29. BRIEFSome useful links  Chris Iveson article freely available on-line  BRIEF Practice Notes  BRIEF FAQ’s  Training opportunities  International discussion list  SF Research summary  BRIEF Facebook page  BRIEF Twitter feed BRIEF
  30. 30. BRIEF BRIEF Brief Coaching with Children and Young People: A Solution Focused Approach Harvey Ratner, Denise Yusuf Routledge: 2015 ‘For readers new to the Solution Focused way of working, this text offers an accessible, user-friendly, yet comprehensive guide to having solution-building conversations. For readers already familiar with the Solution Focused approach, this book offers REAL, practical advice on the HOW of having Solution Focused conversations with children and adolescents.’ Michael Durrant
  31. 31. BRIEF BRIEF Evan George © BRIEF 2016 The ‘BRIEF reflections’ in this slideshow were authored by Evan George on behalf of BRIEF. They are and remain the intellectual property of BRIEF. They cannot be used for commercial purposes without the permission of the copyright holder/owner. BRIEF 7 – 8 Newbury St. London EC1A 7HU UK +44 (0)20 7600 3366 tel.