My Skepticism of the Solution Focused Approach – WHY THAT CHANGED
April 9, 2021
I still remember the very first time I was introduced to the Solution Focused Approach. And if I’m going to be totally, totally honest with you when I first heard it, and I first heard it described to me, I was super duper skeptical. The way that I first heard about Solution Focused Brief Therapy was I was doing in-home family therapy at the time.
And I was working with these kids and families that were really, really high, like high needs kind of situations in Fort Worth, Texas working in community mental health. And I was going into these homes and these are kids who are diagnosed with like severe symptoms of ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder. I remember working with one kid, the referral behavior was he was beating up his grandmother. He was like nine years old and he would beat up his grandmother. And the very first time I went to a home visit, the grandmother was laying in the bathtub with a mattress over her head, like covering her to protect her from the nine-year-old. That was like, those are the situations where I was working with and I was in graduate school at the time.
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And the job that I was doing was kind of requiring us to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques. So I go to graduate school and I have this professor who explains what Solution Focused Brief Therapy is and how it works. And I raised my hand and I asked, how does this approach work with kids who are oppositional defiant and who tantrum a lot? And the professor said, you have to believe there’s no such thing as tantruming. And I thought, that’s crazy. I literally just left a client’s house that was tantruming. How could you ask me to believe there’s no such thing as tantruming? So I was really kind of turned off about this idea of Solution Focused Therapy. I was really kind of off-put from that first interaction. Like, it felt a lot like this professor was telling me something does not exist when it clearly does. And it made me think that in order to do Solution Focused Brief Therapy, you have to believe that problems don’t exist in order to focus on, you know, miracles and all this stuff. And I didn’t like it, to be honest with you. I didn’t like it.
What saved me was the more I read about Solution Focused Brief Therapy, the more that I realized the way that they were describing this theory and this process just made sense to me. And I started thinking if it makes sense to me I might as well continue to do it. And the more I did it, the more I understood a very, very important lesson. And that is, this approach is not about whether you believe that problems exist or not. I think we all acknowledge that problems exist. Diagnosis is real. Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD and all these things, they are real, they exist, and we acknowledge it. What I think my professor was trying to say was, it’s not helpful to view your client as oppositional.
It’s not helpful to view your client as difficult or ADHD, like whether or not it’s real or not. It’s not helpful to view them through that lens. We have to view them through a lens that makes change more likely. And now that I realize that it makes Solution Focused, Brief Therapy make total sense. But you know, I have interactions with people online all of the time.
And it’s clear to me that people still don’t understand this approach because I get a lot of questions where people are saying, “How do you use this approach with people…”, I got one just this morning, “How do you use this approach with people who have Dissociative Identity Disorder?” or people ask me, “How do you use this approach with a couple where there’s been infidelity?” or “How do you use this approach with someone who’s been struggling with an addiction?” And I mean people ask me these questions.
This week, early this week, I actually had an interaction online with somebody told me saying that like Solution Focused Brief Therapy is only effective when the problem is superficial. I mean, these things are ridiculous. It’s not true, but you have to understand that Solution Focused Brief Therapy is not about ignoring the problem and Solution Focused Brief Therapy is not about believing that the problem does not exist or even believing that the problem is not significant, important or impactful.
Solution Focused Brief Therapy is about realizing I have to go into the session with a helpful stance towards the client that I’m seeing. And I think that makes a huge difference. Not only in Therapy, but just in the world, just in life itself. You know, when I was working at that mental health agency, I used to look up to the therapist. Like I wasn’t quite a therapist yet. I was in training to become one. And the therapists to me, they were like, oh my gosh, you’re like a licensed therapist. There was this one woman, her door said, I won’t say her name, but the other name, then , LCSW. And underneath it, it said Psychotherapist. And I wanted a door that said Psychotherapist. But I did notice that the therapist would come into the break room and they would, you know, eat their lunch and drink, you know, drink their water or whatever.
And then they’d say, “All right, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go see that depressed client at 2pm.” Or, you know what I mean? “Oh man, I got that. I got the difficult couple at 3pm.” And I was thinking, how is it helpful to view people through that lens? That’s someone’s Mom, that’s someone’s Dad. That’s someone’s Daughter, someone’s Son. You know what I mean? Like we have to view people in the most respectful light possible in order for change to occur effectively. And something happens in that dynamic that is important.
So I just want to do address and let you guys know how important it, when you deal with problems in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, this is not an Approach about ignoring the problem, ignoring the symptoms pretending they’re not important or any of that. This is about remembering how I view my client is significantly more important than anything else. I have to view them through a helpful lens and believing that people can change regardless of the problem is the key to this approach.
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