By Anne Bodmer Lutz, M.D.
In my over 20 years as a practicing child and family psychiatrist, I have come to realize that in addition to a very different paradigm than problem-focused therapies, solution-focused therapy pays meticulous attention to language and words that instill hope and respect. I invite you to consider a few examples of how the choice of words used can make a difference in navigating a solution-focused conversation.
I have asked many people who have fluency in multiple languages what they have found most helpful in learning a new language, and four consistent answers have emerged. One, there is a need and motivation to want to learn the new language. Two, there is a need to have knowledge and fluency of basic verbs as well as some general vocabulary. Three, there is a need to understand fundamental grammar. And four, it is essential to practice and speak with other people who are fluent in the language you are trying to learn, and to speak with others at a level commensurate with your skill level in order to build confidence. With these concepts in mind, I invite you to consider my first translation, the word “problem.”
A problem can be defined as a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with. Problems generally cause difficulties, complications, obstacles, and trouble for people. I realize how often and continually I, and those around me use this word. Contrast the problem-focused word “problem” to the solution-focused translation “challenge.” The word challenge summons one to a contest of skill and strength. It is a task that tests someone’s abilities assuming it will be met with success. Requesting clients to accept and confront their problem is very different than asking them whether they are up for the challenge of learning new skills. Asking children to do homework to address their problem of anxiety is much less palatable than posing to them whether they are up for the challenge of learning new skills. Challenges invite and dare people to succeed. Problems need to be faced and fixed and convey something burdensome and onerous. Personally, I have taken on the challenge to rid myself of the word problem from my lexicon, and hope you may take this challenge on as well and see what difference it makes for you.
I’m looking forward to sharing a few more of the following translations in our upcoming newsletters.