by Erin Sepe

Bus with flowersI frequently reflect on my therapy sessions. I ask myself what went well and what I’d like to improve. Recently, it occurred to me that I had not been scaling very much. I find scaling to be a useful tool when a client is walking around in vagueness. I hear clients state things like, “I’d like to find myself again.” “I’d like to be more relaxed.”, “I want freedom” “I want to be happy” “I want better relationships” or “I want to be more confident”. I find these statements are vague and they need definition. When I assume I know what the client means or what she wants, it feels like I am putting myself in the therapy driver seat. What I really strive for is to be the passenger reading the map.

There are many paths on the solution-focused therapy map. I want the client to tell me, with specificity, where are we headed, what’s the destination. Once they begin to define what they mean by: “relaxed”, “freedom”, “confidence” and “happy”, then I can better assist them in navigating the path to getting there.

How do I know the “right” scaling question? I don’t want to drive the bus so I ask for clarity, to narrow down the location. I need to control my impulse to want to drive, “fix” or “give advice”. Solution-focused therapy is a method combined with training, instinct that is strengthened by practice and experience, and art. I cannot assume that I have ever been where this client wants to go however with practice I become skilled in maneuvering. A scale can be a good approach to test a path. Particularly, when a client is vague and they haven’t really identified their ultimate destination.

Scaling can be productive when the client has been driving around aimlessly. When she begins to identify what type of path is appealing, some of the tangible things she wants on the path to her destination then I can formulate a scale. “I want better relationships”, hmmm, okay on a scale of 0-10, ten being I am perfectly content with the relationships I and zero being as far away from that as possible what number would you say you are right now.

Now I have a scale, based on the client’s language and I zoom in on getting closer to the destination. I begin to “work the scale” by asking, “What is it that defines that number?” What is needed to increase that number? What do you already have that keeps that number from being lower? When the client answers these questions it allows me to offer “turns”. Left, right, forward, maybe we need to backup. Further, I gain insight that may signal other paths to explore up ahead.

There are likely several scaling questions a clinician can ask that would be “correct”. My definition of “correct” is whether or not the navigation was helpful to the client. Have we made progress in identifying signs along our way that confirm measurable progress? Did it get them closer to knowing where they ultimately want to go?