As physicians shift care from a disease-centered to a patient-centered clinical method, there is a need for a compatible counseling paradigm. Solution-focused therapy is a competency-based model that minimizes emphasis on past problems and failings and instead focuses on patient strengths and resources (Trepper et al., 2006).
Read the full article on Psychiatric New Update
Conversations that allow clients to access possibility lead to amplified self-agency and a realization that goals are realistic and attainable.
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It is with deep sadness that we write of the passing of our longtime SF colleague and dear friend, Luc Isebaert. He died peacefully at home on September 30, surrounded by his beloved wife, Sophie, loved ones, and his loyal dog, Epicurious. He was 78 years old.
Luc was both an esteemed colleague and close friend of the late Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, and had a significant influence on the later developments of the SFBT approach. Berg and de Shazer considered Luc to be a genius; they had good reason:
In addition to being a medical doctor, Luc was a Specialist in Neurology, Psychiatry, Psychosomatics, and Psychotherapy, and developer of the Bruges Model. Widely recognized as an international authority on alcohol dependency, he headed the Department of Psychiatry and Psychosomatics at St. John’s Hospital (Bruges, Belgium) for many years and made a significant contribution to the research on efficacy of SFBT for addiction treatment.
Luc was also the founding Director of the Kozybski Institute which officially started in 1984, original Founding Member, Secretary, and later, President of the European Brief Therapy Association, founding Secretary of the IASTI (International Alliance of Solution- Focused Teaching Institutes), Founding Member and former Secretary of the A.E.R.T.S. (Association Européenne pour la Recherche en Thérapie Systemique), Founding Member of the VVDO (Belgian Association of Solution- Focused Therapists, Member of the Royal Society of Psychiatry of Belgium, Member of the European Family Therapy Association, Member of IFTA ( International Family Therapy Association), Member of the BVRGS (Belgian Society for for Relational, Systemic and Family Interventions), Founding Member and Secretary of the AFACC (Association Francophone pour les Approches Centrées sur les Compétences), Founding Member of the Belgian Association of Systemic Family Therapy Trainers.
In addition to publishing over a dozen books in 4 different languages, Luc spoke at countless international conferences all over the world, regularly taught seminars, and trained literally thousands of students. He demonstrated deep respect and compassion for his patients.
He was also a gifted gourmet cook, a memorable, oftentimes hilarious storyteller, a wise and compassionate friend, and a delightful, endlessly entertaining travel companion. The latter was due in part to Luc’s almost encyclopedic knowledge of classical literature, western philosophy, and music, but even more so because of his gracious personality, generous sense of humor, and kind heart. He will be deeply missed by all of us who knew him.
An Inspiring Conversation with Dr. Margret Cheng
I have had the immense pleasure of meeting Dr. Cheng, who has combined training in both Pediatrics and Internal Medicine. She dedicates her work to the care of medically and socially complex patients in underserved areas. She recently has been trying Solution Focused Skills in the care of her patients and has found it both inspiring for herself and beneficial for her patients. We recently spent a few hours sipping tea and conversing about the ways in which she has found Solution-Focused tools helpful in her practice. Below are a few of the pearls she has noticed in her work.
We began our conversation about a very complex patient she has been particularly inspired by. Briefly this patient is a 15y/o girl who is being treated for Diabetes and has coped with trauma and homelessness, Child protection involvement and family addiction. We will call her Sue.
Sue initially presented to the emergency room for chest pain and came to Dr. Cheng for a “sick visit” as an urgent appointment. She was not a patient she was regularly following. During this visit, Dr. Cheng discovered that she had poorly controlled diabetes (Her blood glucose in the upper 300s), and also found out she had visited the emergency room 6 times in the past 4 months and during all those ER notes, there was no mention that she had Diabetes Mellitus. During her ER visit, the focus was on her complaint of chest pain. She was given an EKG, told that her chest pain was due to anxiety and referred back to her Primary care provider.
Dr. Cheng met with both Sue and her mother for what was her initial visit with her and asked her gently how she could be helpful for them and whether it would be ok to talk with her about her Diabetes. Sue looked toward her mother for a response, and her mother said she wanted to keep her daughter out of the emergency room. Dr. Cheng had only 15 minutes during this visit, but by simply asking what they wanted help with and took time to validate and acknowledge the challenges of caring for her daughter’s complex needs, they both agreed to come back the following week.
They did return for the next appointment and also followed up with the request to get labs. During this visit, Dr. Cheng discovered Sue’s Hemoglobin A1C (A marker of how well Diabetes is managed) was the highest she had ever seen – almost 16. Dr. Cheng began the appointment by thanking them for coming to the appointment and inquiring how they were able to make it there and follow-up with the labs. She again asked their “best hopes” for this appointment so it would be helpful for them, and her mother said that she was now homeless. Dr. Cheng responded with a “for you” statement about how difficult this must be for them, followed by this question “Where do you get your strength from to continue?” This question invited Sue’s mother to open up about how she was one of 13 children and was “given nothing”. She was raised to just “carry one and not trust anyone, but to do what you needed to survive”. When asked how she had been coping, her mother said they have a place to stay with their family for now, and Dr. Cheng provided her with resources to help with housing. Sue and her mother were now making all follow-up appointments and during the next appointment when asked how she could be helpful for Sue, both her mother and Sue stated to “get her blood sugars under better control”. She asked her how she has tried to manage her sugars, and Sue and her mother said they were told by her brother’s endocrinologist to “do what he does”. Dr. Cheng asked what Sue and her mother know about how to manage blood sugars, and it became apparent they needed education on how often to monitor blood sugars. The next appointment Sue stated she was self-initiating checking her blood sugars once per day. She noticed it was high. Dr. Cheng explored this positive difference. Was it different for her to monitor her own sugars? Sue said yes. When asked how it was different, she stated she would often not check her sugars for days at a time. When asked if it was helpful for her, she stated that she is beginning to notice that when her sugars are high, she observes she is also more tired. When asked her how she managed to remember to check it, she stated she was getting a reminder from her mother and wanted to get better and get her driver’s license. Her mother was complimented on her support and asked how she managed to remember to remind her daughter.
This vignette brought up a several pearls for Dr. Cheng. The first being “You can do medicine best only after you have engaged positively with your client and their VIPs.” Dr. Cheng also noticed the paradox of starting “slowly” and how this paradoxically speeds things up. Dr. Cheng was inspired with the movement and progress of her patient. The nurses also were excited and pleased. Practicing the Solution-Focused Approach can be used to satisfy both patients and clinicians. Dr. Cheng began conversations by activating resources, identifying both Sue and her mother’s strengths toward achieving their best hopes for their future, and aiming to do more of what is already working. Dr. Cheng was inspired by the difference it made to focus on what is currently working, how clients are coping with extremely challenging life situations and redirecting the conversation towards positive elements of their situation. She was reminded that a patient’s “best hopes” may or may not align with those of the physician, but this is the place to start. At the end of the conversation, Dr. Cheng began reflecting on her excitement to try some additional questions we talked about when she returned to work: “ What’s happening that you want to continue to happen?” and “On a scale from 1-10, where 10 is you are satisfied with how you are coping with your challenges and 1 is the opposite, where are you now?” “ What keeps the number from being lower” What else? What would be a good enough number?” “How satisfied are you with how you are managing the diabetes from 1-10, where 10 is you are satisfied” “What number would your mother give you?”
We agreed to meet next month for tea and continue the inspiring conversation about how solution-focused skills are very effective tools when working with medically complex patients. Stay tuned!
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.
By Anne Bodmer Lutz, M.D.
“And for all those tea drinkers out there: Let’s learn a lesson from tea. It shows it’s real worth when it gets into hot water” ~ Annonymous
“There are questions which illuminate, and there are those that destroy. We should ask the first kind” ~ Quote from Nobel physicist Isaac Isador Rabi.
Suicide presents a major challenge to public health in the United States and worldwide. Current global estimates indicate that approximately one million people die by Suicide each year, accounting for more than half of all violent deaths in the world. (Ting, Sarah, A., et al.). In the mental health field, managing “risk” is the dominant paradigm in responding to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Risk assessment focuses on ensuring the client’s safety and minimizing the danger of harm without treatment. A solution-focused safety assessment (SFSA) is a paradigm shift providing an additive dimension to conventional risk assessment and cultivates hope. It highlights individual, and relationship resources (VIPs), coping strategies, reasons for living, and client needs. An SFSA emphasizes how clients have coped and managed to endure, even a little bit, the seemingly overwhelming distress that they have found unbearable at the moment.
INTRODUCTION TO SFSA
In my practice, I often am challenged with clients coping with suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Incorporating an SFSA has been very helpful both for my clients, their VIPs, and managing my own anxiety in these very stressful situations. Preparing clients for questions that evaluate their safety, by explaining that these questions are routinely asked, helps to normalize their struggles, aiding them in feeling less alone. Framing questions about safety in the context of “pain” and “good reason” imparts empathy. Asking clients their “good reasons” for behaviors that appear harmful (i.e.) self-harm, drug use, staying in a domestically violent relationship, to name a few, reveals how clients engage in these behaviors because in some way they are useful and beneficial for them. The question does not condone the behavior but instead helps to understand the client’s motivation and can help lead the conversation towards alternatives. When clients have contemplated suicide and not followed through, it is essential to ask what kept them from acting on their thoughts — asking clients their reasons for living guides the conversation towards their hopes, goals and future dreams.
Below is a picture of my Solution-Focused Safety Scale (SFSS)
I keep a stack of solution-focused safety cards available in my office. I write the plan on the card with the client present and, if possible, also include their VIPs in the conversation. I have found the act of giving them the safety card which we have worked on together and which can be kept with them at all times, provides a tangible reminder of the work with have accomplished as a team. It can cue them to their strengths, resources, and coping strategies in times of distress.
SFSA and creating a “VIP Map.”
Inquiring about a client’s VIPs early on and throughout the conversation broadens “who” the client is and assists in integrating their unique social context within the dialog. VIPs highlight relationship resources, enhancing possibilities for solutions. Assessing who is a client’s VIPs is critical in understanding and assisting them in building solutions from the multiple perspectives of those most important in their life. VIPs are often the primary reason people stop themselves from acting on destructive thoughts. VIPs may include spouses, friends, children, teachers, coaches, grandchildren, pets, people whom they feel responsible for, and even people who may have died but whom they keep in their heart. Below are questions I ask to create a client’s “VIP map.”
- Who are the most important people in your life?
- Who else? Who else?
- What do you most appreciate about them?
- What else? What else?
- Who was “worried” or “concerned” about you that they thought coming here would be helpful for you?
- Do you have pets? How are they helpful for you? What do you most appreciate about them?
- Whose wellbeing do you feel responsible for?
- Who relies on you for help and support?
On the front of the card is a picture of a scale from 1-10 (10 being the best). Solution-focused scaling questions are constructed in such a way that the 10 highlights a positive direction of where the clients want to go. When performing an SFSA, scaling questions measure how confident the client is that they can keep themselves safe. It is important to “work the scale.” Asking a variety of questions that amplify the scale often uncovers more opportunities to compliment clients and cultivate hope. Below is a list of questions that can “work the scale”.
What do you “KNOW” questions
- What do you know you need to do to keep yourself safe?
- This is asked to both clients and their VIPs
- What else do you know you need to keep yourself safe?
What have you “TRIED” questions
- What have you tried that has helped you endure these very painful moments and make them “even a little bit tolerable?”
- What else have you found has helped you cope to make it even a little bit bearable for you?
- What would your VIPs say has helped you manage these moments in a bearable way? What else would they say?
Scaling CONFIDENCE in safety: “On a scale from 1-10, where ten is the best:”
- How confident are you that you can keep yourself safe?
- What keeps the number from being lower?
- What else keeps it from being lower?
- What would be a “good enough” number?
- What would you be doing at this “good enough” number?
- What else would you be doing?
- What would your VIPs notice you are doing at this “good enough number?
- What else would your VIPs notice you doing?
- How would you discover when it goes up by one point?
- What would you be doing? What else would you be doing?
- How confident would you predict your VIPs would say you can keep yourself safe?
- What was the highest number it has been?
- When was this?
- What were you doing at that number? What else were you doing?
- What do you think helped the number be higher at those times? What else helped?
- At what number would you require a higher level of care, such as going to the emergency room, calling 911, or calling a crisis team?
- At what number would your VIPS say you require a higher level of care?
- How confident are you from 1-10 that you can do the necessary things you need to keep yourself safe?
Scaling a “Good enough” number to keep safe
Scaling can also help clients and their VIPs confirm what they need at particular numbers. Of particular importance is to confirm a “good enough number” in which they know they can keep themselves safe. This is important to ask both to clients and confirm with their VIPs. If clients think they can keep themselves safe and their VIPs do not agree, it is critical to detail the reasons for the discrepancy. What is the reason the client is confident 10/10 they will keep themselves safe, but their VIP thinks it is only a 2? Ensuring a client can maintain their safety requires confirmation that their VIPs are in agreement.
Asking clients what number they would be at if things are “not good enough” and they do not feel confident in their ability to keep themselves safe affords an opportunity to detail what they would be doing at that number and connecting that number to what they need. When things are “not good enough”, they may report behaviors such as contemplating Suicide, staying in their room for much of the day, not talking, sleeping all day or not have the energy to do what is required of them. Detailing the actions of clients at each of the numbers and correlating these actions to what they need acknowledges their pain while elucidating to both clients and their VIPs a concrete plan of action that corresponds to their needs. They may need to call someone, have someone stay with them, go for a walk, pet their dog, call a crisis hotline, or go to the emergency room. What is critical is to refrain from assuming what you think they need, and instead ask both clients and their VIPS what they know is required at each particular number. I have found this level of detail reassuring to clients and their VIPs, as well as equipping them with a highly individualized plan that can be mutually confirmed.
Safety Number Check-Ins with VIPs
Scaling questions also limit language confusion and assist in creating a safety plan that both the client and their VIPs can agree on. Asking clients if they think it would be helpful to have someone do a “safety number check- in” provides a way for clients and their VIPs to assess confidence in their safety quickly and easily. Inquiring with clients who they think would be most helpful to check in with, how often, and by what method (i.e.) text, phone, email, can incorporate their VIPs within a safety plan in tangible ways.
Indirect Compliments and Positive Differences
Clients and their loved ones are understandably very distressed when suicide is disclosed. Providing indirect compliments to clients in the form of a question (How did you do it?) invites clients to appreciate what they have already done and are doing to cope with their painful situation. The meticulous use of past tense verbs highlights that clients have already done something to cope with their painful situation and thus can do it again. How did they decide to have the courage to ask for help? How have they endured their pain, even if only a little bit? How have they managed even if for brief times to keep from acting on the suicidal thoughts? These moments may seem negligible and can be easily passed over in a clinical encounter, yet it is these seemingly “micro-positive” differences that are critical to amplify in times of despair. What clients are doing to cope in seemingly small ways are the very things they need to do more of to endure their situation. These positive differences may include when clients were able to get through part of a day, got dressed, talked or texted a friend, cared for their pet, ate some food, drank a cup of tea, helped a friend, accomplished even a small part of a goal, and stopped themselves from acting on their suicidal thoughts. Amplifying these differences by exploring whether these differences were helpful, how they are helpful and how they accomplished these differences uncovers additional resources.
Highlighting situations as temporary instead of permanent
“Rewording,” a client’s “permanent language” to “temporary” can help clients endure their situation even “a little bit.” Emphasizing the temporary nature of their situation can subtly impart hope. For example, when a client says “I don’t see any way out,” rephrasing it to “right now,” it doesn’t feel like there is a way out. Or when clients say nothing seems to matter, rewording their statement to “It seems right now” nothing seems to matter.
A Language of Empathy: “For You” Statements
Clients and families who are struggling with suicide often experience hopelessness, fear, anger, and anxiety, requiring a great deal of “for you” responses. Examples of “For You” statements with clients might be acknowledging how exhausting it must be “for you” to endure the suffering and painful situation you have been dealing with. For parents and loved ones, it might be validating how scary and frightening it must be “for you” to see your child struggling with suicide. Acknowledging how difficult it must be “for them” confirms their emotional perspective and can help them tolerate their situation even a little bit.
SFSA Risk Assessment
An SFSA integrates solution-focused language in a “traditional” risk assessment. The following are SFSA risk assessment questions.
- How well from 1-10 (10 being the best) are you managing your mood, anxiety, cravings, substance use, and other health conditions? What are good enough numbers for these domains? What do they need to help them manage these areas?
- Have you ever had to cope with domestic violence, abuse, natural disasters, war, homelessness, substance use, loss, divorce?
- How have you coped? How else?
- Have you ever had to cope with prior suicidal ideation or behaviors?
- How did you cope?
- What kept you from acting on those thoughts? What else?
- What treatments/providers/medications have been most helpful for you?
- What do know has been most helpful about your prior treatments/ providers and medications?
- How satisfied are you from 1-10 with your most important relationships?
- Has anyone in their family had to cope with depression, substance use, suicide, or other mental health conditions?
- What do you know has been helpful for them?
- Who in your family is doing well?
- What do you know about what has helped your family members who are doing well?
- How well from 1-10 are you managing your work and financial stress?
- What is a good enough number? What keeps the number from being lower?
- How satisfied are you from 1-10 with the treatment and resources available to you in your community?
- Do you have guns/ unlocked medications in your home?
- What do you know is needed to manage these means of harm? How confident from 1-10 are you that you can do what is needed to minimize these lethal means?
- What is a good enough number?How confident from 1-10 are your VIPs that the lethal means can be minimized in the home can be minimized?
- How confident are you that you can call and ask for help if you are not feeling confident in your safety?
- Whose phone numbers are most important for you to have? Who else?
Remaining solution-focused when a higher level of care is needed
When a client requires a higher level of care, it is still possible to stay solution-focused. The following questions can help to sustain a solution-focused conversation encouraging both patients and their VIPs to be involved in this difficult decision while conferring a sense of control and responsibility.
- What are the patient’s best hopes for hospitalization?
- What are their VIP’s best hopes for their hospitalization?
- How are they hoping the hospitalization will be helpful?
- What will tell them they are ready to leave the hospital and have learned the necessary skills to keep safe?
- What will tell the client’s VIPs that they have learned the necessary skills to help their loved one stay safe?
Resources if you are need of help now
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is: 1-800-273-8255
For the National Text Hotline, text the word TALK to 741741
Locally, the crisis line for Call2Talk is 508-532-2255. Or text C2T to 741741
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has additional resources at https://afsp.org/find-support/
Castro, Sahily De, and Jeffrey T. Guterman. “Solution-Focused Therapy for Families Coping with Suicide.” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, vol. 34, no. 1, 2008, pp. 93–106., doi:10.1111/j.1752-0606.2008.00055.x.
Fiske, Heather. Hope in Action: Solution-Focused Conversations about Suicide. Routledge, 2008.
Henden, John. Preventing Suicide: the Solution Focused Approach. Wiley, 2017.
Kondrat, David C, and Barbra Teater. “Solution-Focused Therapy in an Emergency Room Setting: Increasing Hope in Persons Presenting with Suicidal Ideation.” Journal of Social Work, vol. 12, no. 1, 2010, pp. 3–15., doi:10.1177/1468017310379756.
Lutz, Anne Bodmer. Learning Solution-Focused Therapy: an Illustrated Guide. American Psychiatric Publ., 2014.
Ronquillo, Linda, et al. “Literature-Based Recommendations for Suicide Assessment in the Emergency Department: A Review.” The Journal of Emergency Medicine, vol. 43, no. 5, 2012, pp. 836–842., doi:10.1016/j.jemermed.2012.08.015.
“The Solution Focused Approach in Working with the Suicidal.” Preventing Suicide, 2017, pp. 123–151., doi:10.1002/9781119162926.ch8.
Ting, Sarah A., et al. “Trends in US Emergency Department Visits for Attempted Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury, 1993–2008.” General Hospital Psychiatry, vol. 34, no. 5, 2012, pp. 557–565., doi:10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2012.03.020.
As parents, we foist our dreams and aspirations on our children, push them to be more that we could ever be. But do we have the courage and honesty to look within ourselves and ask whether our parenting is driven by our own needs or those of our children? Just as importantly, are we able to accept them and respect them for who they are?
All You Need Is Love will convince you that parenting is not just about bringing up children; it is about empowering ourselves to be better human beings. It is not about teaching but about learning from our children. This is a book of strategies, tools, reflections and anecdotes for twenty-first century parenting. It will help you connect to the immense wealth of wisdom that is already present in you.
Child & adolescent psychologist and family therapist Dr Shelja Sen highlights this through her five anchors of parenting – Connect (create the foundation of parenting); Coach (build the necessary skills in children through an understanding of their unique wiring and temperament); Care (nurture ourselves for a more wholesome life); Community (build caring ecosystems for children to thrive in) and Commit (sustain the courage and compassion).
- Watch Shelja Sen’s TED Talk on How to Speak to Your Children
- Watch her Video on 5 Cs of Parenting
- Buy All You Need is Love at Amazon
Imagine: No Child Left Invisible
Building emotionally safe spaces for inclusive spaces and creative learning
Why do we send our children to school? How can learning be meaningful? And most importantly, how can we build schools worthy of our children?
From the time children are little, we start making stories about them. Schools are like factories where these stories are manufactured all the time. Some children at the top of the hierarchy enjoy rich, diverse and colorful stories which are told and retold. However, there are many who spend most of their lives in school, clutching on to single, thin narratives of ‘failure’: ‘can do better’ and ‘not up to the mark’, ‘not reaching potential’ – every ‘not’ restricting and making their narratives thinner, limited, with lesser scope for possibilities. These are the children who are forgotten, who are invisible and who are seen as never being good enough.
At the core of this book is a deep faith that learning is about the magical relationship the teacher builds with each child; it is about building emotionally safe, inclusive spaces for creative learning. That is the heart, the lifeblood, the bare bones of learning.
Imagine is a call to action for teachers, parents, counselors, therapists, activists, thought leaders and other change agents in our society. A game changer that will force us to reflect, rethink, redesign schools that our children truly deserve.
Watch her talk about her new book, Imagine: No Child Left Invisible as she answers pertinent questions.
It is with great sadness that we share the news of the death of one of our trainers, Martin Oswin.
Martin was the first to deliver the course that had been created by Greg Vinnicombe and myself, and was the first to test whether the structure and content would work in the hands of someone else. In the event , Martin demonstrated that the integrity of the course was not only replicable, but also allowed others to colour the course with their own individual flair and style. This, in turn, gave us the confidence to recruit further hand-picked trainers – Naomi, Stephan, Suzi, Tara and Kidge.
Successful completion of our course requires students to present five sources of evidence of learning, two being a Practice Log and a Case Study. Practice Logs and Case Studies are usually accounts of how SF Practice has been used in conversations with service users. I still recall an occasion when Martin contacted me to say that one of his students was a manager and could she use her use of SF in meetings in the Practice Log and as a Case Study. We checked our assessment criteria and could see no reason why not.
The celebration of Martin’s life was attended by about 500 people. In the midst of the gathering I chanced to meet the manager who had written the Case Study, Anne. Unbeknownst to me, Anne’s use of SF as a manager had led to extraordinary changes in her service. Also, unbeknownst to me Martin, as the unsung hero he was, had continued to provide massive support to make this possible. When I asked Anne if she could say more about what had been achieved, she shared the following.
“Martin has been such a big part of our life in the service as a previous colleague, friend and later trainer and mentor. The service developments started a number of years ago when I met up with Martin and he was speaking about the exciting course he was on and how it had the potential to change the way we provide mental health care – Solution Focused Therapy. I had known Martin for some years and worked in some complex situations with him, and his ability to meet people at their level and acknowledge and empower them by his caring, fun and at times pure whacky personality was always dynamic and infectious, so if he thought this was going to work I was intrigued to know more. I spoke with Martin on and off over the years and then we came back and revisited solution focused therapy in a more strategic way.
I enrolled on the solution focused therapy certificate course with a desire to use SFT in team and service development which I have found to be a powerful tool and has instigated a number of positive changes in our locality. My portfolio was made up of transformation workshops in Primary care, Learning disability and Secondary Mental Health care through SFT which I would have only achieved through Martin’s mentoring and guidance. Most take a handful of clinical cases to describe how they can use SFT in practice. With Martin’s encouragement I took a series of community service development workshops affecting many staff – I could only have done this with Martin there saying “you can do it and make it work”.
In the service we had been planning a transformation of how we manage and lead community services. We were keen for management structures to work across pathways that service users access for their care, and also ensure a coordinated approach to provision. We wanted to break down barriers between teams so that service users did not experience multiple referrals and team criteria but felt they were on a pathway of recovery that was right for them, and to achieve this we needed to have more coordination. I had a vision of everyone who accessed the service through our Crisis pathways and entry points to services having a united response and that this should be empowering for service users and carers, not prescriptive by staff. This would be a cultural transformation of practice rather than changing teams and staffing as we see in most service transformations.
As I met and talked through with Martin we viewed how solution focused therapy could be our tool to ensure compassion, empowerment and coordination. After months of negotiation and planning Martin drew up a training programme for staff working in the crisis pathway so that service users met in acute hospitals, through Police intervention, Crisis House, Crisis Cafes, Primary Care workers and Crisis Resolution Home Treatment teams all experienced a SFT approach. This was completed by a raft of training days for staff with follow up days and supervision, whilst Martin supported me to maintain momentum from the senior management team to ensure ongoing progress.
Martin was a dear friend who I had planned to work more with, but sadly that will not be now. He brought SFT to my work and I am keen to ensure this lives on as I see the benefits for our service users, carers and staff.”
Martin’s wife has asked that stories of Martin can be shared with her so that she can share them with Martin’s young sons as they get older. I very much appreciate this opportunity to share one of many stories that can keep the memory of Martin alive and keep Martin as an on-going source of inspiration. If you would like to contact Anne to ask more about what has been achieved and how this was done please contact me on John@johnwheeler.co.uk and I will put you in touch.
Head of Centre. Solution Focused Trainers.
by Erin Sepe
I 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?