Q. I’ve heard there is a type of therapy that focuses on solutions rather than on problems. As I understand it, in solution focused treatment the past history of a person is not important. I’ve also heard that change happens much more quickly with this type of treatment; that this really works. What can you tell me about this type of treatment?
A. Solution focused therapy is quite different from a more traditional, passive model of therapy in which the therapist listens to and focuses on the client’s thoughts, history, dreams, symptoms, fears, angers, hurts, guilt, resentment and pain. The focus of traditional therapy has been on problems and pathology; on the past and on unconscious issues or issues we attempt to avoid.
In solution focused therapy little time is spent exploring with the client “Why?,” “How long?” or “How does it make you feel?” Instead, the Solution Focused therapist will be more active in directing the therapy and will focus on solutions and the future.
Solution focused therapy is based on a number of assumptions. Some of these are:
1. Each person has strengths and abilities to help themselves. Once these have been identified and verbalized, the person knows how to solve their problem. Instead of dwelling on pathology, the focus is on the strengths and abilities the client has and what they can do about their problem.
2. The therapist cannot change a client. Clients can change themselves if they want to do so. Some clients believe their problem is external, “My son has a problem,” or “My husband has a problem.” Their son or husband may have a problem but the person seeking the help can only change their own behavior or attitude. This in turn, will affect their relationships.
3. A small change can lead to bigger changes. “A journey of one thousand miles begins with one step.”
4. No one can change the past. So how much information is necessary? Often therapists and clients dwell on the past. With someone who has been abused, who has experienced a trauma or who is grieving, focus on the past may be helpful, I believe. Eventually, however, we must let go of the past.
5. Human interactions are very complex and are not due to true cause and effect. Therefore, does the cause matter? There are usually many factors causing family conflict, for example. Even if you knew the cause would it solve the problem? The answer is no.
6. If something works don’t fix it. If it doesn’t work, do something differently. Often we keep doing the same thing over and over trying to solve a problem. If we keep doing the same thing we will keep getting the same result.
Solution focused treatment asks future-oriented questions that help the client envision life as they want it to be and figure out from this how to achieve it. For example, clients are often asked, “If you were to wake-up tomorrow and your problem was solved, your life was improved, what would be different?” Similarly, the therapist will help clients note the times the problem does not occur and look at these exceptions. The question is asked, “What are you doing differently during the times your life feels good?”
Solution focused treatment is very practical and is conducive to change. Since it is future oriented, it guides the client to setting realistic goals in the future to make their life and relationships move in the direction they desire.
To learn more about the solution focused approach to change read Divorce Busting and Fire Your Shrink both by Michelle Weiner-Davis. There is much that is worthwhile and effective in this approach.
Another solution focus that works is prayer and seeking God’s presence and wisdom to guide you.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6