Set Goals & Find Solutions with Solution-Focused Methods
By Don Shar, MA, NCC, Staff Therapist at Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry
A popular type of counseling is Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT). SFBT is different from many types of counseling in that it relies little on examining previous failings, weaknesses and problems and, instead, focuses on clients’ strengths and previous successes. SFBT is based on conversations that result in defining and building solutions towards a preferred future.
Don’t be pushed by your problems, be led by your dreams.—A Proverb
Outside the counseling office, these solution-focused conversations are useful in helping individuals, families, and organizations to be more effective at solving problems. Much time and energy can be spent attempting to find the source of the problem, and who or what is to blame. Often, and especially in relationships, this is a bottomless pit. Being solution focused, rather than problem focused, avoids this trap and can result in joint effort towards common goals.
Here are some of the qualities of a solution-focused relationship:
The Solution-Focused Relationship
- Be respectful and hopeful. Spend the necessary time to clearly understand, accept, and appreciate what is important to others (and yourself). Paraphrasing what you’ve heard and then asking if what you said is accurate is a great way of checking for your understanding.
- Be cooperative and inclusive, rather than adversarial and divisive. During a disagreement, people will often use “Yes, but… “ statements which minimize what the other person is communicating and can invalidate their point of view. For example:
Spouse 1: “We should go on a nice vacation.”
Spouse 2: “Yes, but we need a new roof.” The “Yes, but” minimizes the previous statement and sets up an either/or (or win/lose) scenario.
Let’s try that again:
Spouse 1: “We should go on a nice vacation.”
Spouse 2: “Yes, and we need a new roof.” The “Yes, and” shows equal footing and value for both statements, and supposes a both/and (or win/win) possibility.
This is just one example of how small changes in language can alter a conversation in favor of cooperation.
- While keeping in mind item #1, maintain a basic belief that problems are best solved by focusing on how someone would like their life to be, and what is already working, rather than focusing on the past and the origin of problems. Attention to how a problem was created is frequently a futile exercise as far as solving it or coming up with a solution. If you want to get from A to B, it’s often unnecessary to figure out how you got to A.
- Define a “preferred future”, the goal(s) with as much detail as possible. If you awoke tomorrow and your biggest problem was gone, how would you know? What would be different? What difference would that make for you, your family, your coworkers? It’s a start, but not enough to determine that you, or others, don’t want [insert problem]. What do you want instead of the problem? Don’t I look into myself and say: “What is the right word for this feeling, this mood? And, is it clear that my mood isn’t intensified, for instance, by this looking?—Ludwig Wittgenstein
- Assume people are resilient and are continually making changes and coping. Solution-focused thinking assumes that people are resilient and changing. How has the problem, or other similar problems, been solved in the past? When could the problem have arisen, but didn’t? How do you cope?
- Notice and Compliment. While acknowledging the difficulty of the problems, notice and validate what is already working well. Look for times when the problem is less of a problem.
- Be curious. Take a solution-focused stance of “not knowing” or “leading from one step behind”. Question rather than make directives or interpretations. Solution focused questions are present and future focused rather than past oriented. Questions are related to what is going on now and in the desired future. This reflects the basic belief that problems are best solved by focusing on what is already working and how people would like their lives to be, rather than focusing on the past and the origin of problems. Stay curious!
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”—Isaiah 43:18,19
If you are having difficulty with conflict within your relationships, call Anchorpoint to schedule an appointment for couples or family counseling at 412-366-1300.