As you go through life, brother,
Whatever be your goal:
Keep your eye upon the doughnut,
And not upon the hole.
This little snippet pretty well sums up my counselling approach in a nutshell. Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is based on the fundamental belief in the competency of the client, that together the helper and the help-seeker can focus on goals and possibilities. There is absolutely no question that many, if not most, of us are preoccupied with what is missing in our lives, the “holes”, the empty spaces. I just don’t see how it can be even remotely helpful to my clients to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in that dark space with them, focusing on what is wrong and how painful it all is.
It is of course imperative that clients be given the opportunity to tell their story, to describe the genesis of their issue/s and how their lives have been impacted. It is a crucial piece in the counselling process…to be heard and validated. It takes an enormous amount of courage to take the difficult step and reach out to a stranger for help with very painful and personal stories; every client deserves to be heard in an environment that feels safe and judgement-free. It’s my professional responsibility and my deeply held belief that client safety is at the very core of a successful counselling experience. A big part of the first session focuses on the problem; the doughnut hole. I want to know about it. I need to know about it. But before my clients leave my office that day we will have clearly identified what they want from our work together, what are their GOALS.
Clients are encouraged to describe their goals in the positive, what WILL they be doing and thinking when the problem is solved, rather than NOT doing or thinking. Because the focus is on a goal, not a problem, the susceptibility of me to put my own ‘slant’ on the problem is significantly decreased. I won’t be taking a stab at what the clients want from their counselling experience, it will be clear and succinct without the often unhelpful and at worst, dangerous, inaccurate assumption on my part about what is best for my clients. There is an on-going engagement in conversations between the clients and myself around goals and expectations for our work. A joint and collaborative creation of goals and solutions contributes to a demystification of the therapeutic process for the clients. They are given an equal and inclusive status in the therapist/client relationship, where my role as ‘expert on their lives’ is rejected. I don’t see it as my job to ‘treat’ my clients. I see it as working cooperatively with them to find better solutions that create less pain and discomfort in their lives. My clients are not pathologized as is the case in many other therapeutic models. Where these models focus on what has not worked in the past and how this is affecting the present, SFBT concentrates on what has worked in the past and can be reapplied in the present or what thus far unidentified solutions can be learned and applied.
SFBT is pragmatic, straightforward and actually very uncomplicated (Nichols and Schwartz 2001. Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods ). It is a structured approach to counselling, one that opposes the tenets of what many clients have identified from past counselling experiences as ‘fluff’. The beauty of this approach is that it provides the clients with the opportunity to re-envision their situation with hope and possibility. This is achieved through a solid, no-nonsense and pragmatic exploration of what has to happen to lessen and/or alleviate the power the problems once had.
In her book Becoming Miracle Workers, Gale Miller (1997) poignantly sums it up for me in her assertion that “troubled individuals may or may not be part of the problem, but they are always part of the solution in solution-focused brief therapy”.
So let’s spend a little time with the doughnut hole, brother. Then let’s move on and give the doughnut our attention.