Anyone who has been studying Solution Focused Practice will soon realise that the approach is not particularly concerned with the ugly side to our client’s life stories. As Solution Focused practitioners we may well be curious about the resilience, skills and abilities that enabled our client to overcome the ugly, difficult moments, but we certainly aren’t curious about those ugly, difficult moments in themselves.
If a client had suffered a traumatic event for example, a Solution Focused Practitioner would be interested in all the ways the client had managed to overcome the event and keep going with their life, as well as the different skills and abilities of theirs that they had drawn upon in order to do so. What we wouldn’t be doing, is deliberately exploring the ugly by asking questions like: “Tell me more about the accident/assault/argument”. This purposeful choice is because we want to draw attention towards our client’s strengths and capabilities for change, rather than vulnerabilities that might hinder them.
Working in this way is challenging enough. Our natural human curiosity (or nosiness) fights for control of our questions – we want to know about the trauma, we want to know about the disaster, we want to know about the ugly. It is easy for this type of thinking to interrupt effective Solution Focused work, to cause us to stumble in our practice.
What I want to suggest today however, is that there is another danger we need to be aware of. In the same way that getting caught up in the ugly can be dangerous to a Solution Focused piece of work, so can getting caught up in the good.
A close friend of mine loves to share sayings and quotes and bits of inspiration with me – one of them, which gets repeated numerous times, is this:
“The good is the enemy of the best”
What he means by this is that our time and resources are finite, and focusing too much on good things can cause us to miss out on the best.
This got me thinking.
Why is it that in Solution Focused Practice we ask people their ‘best’ hopes and not just their hopes? The latter sounds like a better constructed and less odd sentence after all.
“What are your best hopes from our work together?”
“What are your hopes from our work together?”
I have to admit, I have been tempted in sessions with clients recently to ditch the word ‘best’. It sounds a bit strange, the clients can look at me quizzically when I ask it, and I feel a tad awkward. So why persevere with this phrase?
For me there are two reasons: Firstly Solution Focused practice is unapologetically time efficient – not for our sake but because we believe client’s lives are meant to be lived not simply talked about for hours on end, and secondly because the ‘best’ are the ones who win, the ones who find a way, the ones who triumph in the end.
Let’s take the first point. Solution Focused practice is designed to be as brief as possible, for client’s to receive only the number of sessions that they need, not one more. This is both ethically sound, with clients only needing to invest (be that their time or money or both) the minimum amount required, as well as minimising the footprint of therapy on their life, and being a ‘lighter’ way of working for practitioners. The truth is that time flies. I was reminded of this recently when a close friend was hospitalised. So why on earth wouldn’t we aim for the best with the time that we do have?
One of the phrases where we tend to hear the word ‘best’ is: ‘best bits’ – this could be applied to a highlight movie reel, a tourist guide, or a plate of food. What camp are you in? Are you the person who eats the ‘best bit’ on their plate first or the one who saves it until last? If we are trying to be time efficient in our practice, then the word ‘best’ invites our client to jump straight to the most vital and important part of their life for discussion. Why spend lots of time talking about the green beans, broccoli and carrots, when the thought of crispy roast potatoes alone will be enough to inspire and motivate? You see, placed within the context of treating the client’s time as precious, it is indeed true that the good can be the enemy of the best.
Now thinking about our second point – the other place the word ‘best’ is commonly heard is when talking about winners; those who are the best in their chosen field, be that sports, science or art. The ‘best’ are the ones who overcome adversity and triumph anyway. So when we ask clients what their ‘best hopes’ are from our work together, we are subtly inviting them to consider which are the hopes that will win out, the ones that have the best chance of triumph in the end.
It’s often been said that when a client chooses to answer the question about their best hopes, they have in that moment, accepted the possibility that change could indeed occur. So as soon as a client states “I’m hoping for a better relationship with my mum” for example, they have displayed a belief that a future in which they and their mum get on well is achievable. By adding in the language of ‘best’ hopes, I think we are softly solidifying this belief. We’re not asking the client to consider any old hope, we’re asking them to consider their best ones, the ones that are resolute and find a way to succeed.
So to conclude my thoughts for today, I have to agree with my friend that the good is the enemy of the best. What’s more, by adding the word ‘best’ to our hopes questions, we are both valuing our client’s precious time and subtly affirming belief in change.
When faced with the good, the best and the ugly, plump for the best.
Solution Focused Possibilities