Solution Talk vs. Problem Talk
Problem talk, of course, is talk about the problem. Solution Focus direct communications to talk about solutions. It does not try to overcome resistance to change, but rather, find where the change is already occurring in the system and accentuating it.
In Solution Focus, we listen to the details communicated about the problem. This is important because it gives us pertinent glimpses into the helpee's world and their perception of what is happening in their world. But regardless of how they perceive their circumstance, there are positive aspects of their lives that continue to exist. There are areas that are working and it is these areas where they are refocused to and encouraged to build upon. Solution Focus concentrates on the positive aspect to help them create changes. Remember, each individual is the expert of their own life. Helpers always retain a "not knowing" stance. Individuals and families have the ability to generate change and have made changes in the past. Solution Focus interaction seeks to uncover these past successes and solutions. The helper's task is to get information about the perceived problem, about "what went well" and how it happened.
It helps others identify their own strengths and resources and utilize them toward achieving their relevant goals. This non-blaming way of thinking shifts the focus away from what is wrong in people to what is strong in people and their competence rather than their deficits. There is less focus on "problems" and more focus on empowerment, strengths and exceptions to those problems in order to promote solutions. Rather than dwelling on the past and engaging in lengthy "problem talk" about mistakes, weaknesses and causes, the focus is on what worked before and what clients want, what their goals are and which solutions can help them achieve those goals.
"Exceptions" are those occasions in the helpee's life when the problem could have occurred but did not. For example: a mother and daughter complain of getting into arguments almost every day. The helper asks for a description of those times when they are not arguing and seem to be getting along well with each other: "When you are not arguing how are things different?" Or, "when you are not arguing what is occurring instead? How do you think that can be made to occur more often?" Those times when Mother and daughter are not arguing are "successes." We help helpees' transfer this ability from one situation to another. This is powerful! Many people are so blinded by what they perceive as problems that they cannot appreciate those times (and there are usually many) when the problem is not happening. In the example above, the keyword is "almost." They do not argue "every" day. Nothing occurs all the time. Solution Focus deals with those times when the problematic situation is not happening.
Miracle Questions. Miracle questions make inquiry into the helpees' frame of reference regarding their perception of what a miracle would mean to them in their life situation. It provides the helper with insight and forces the helpee to focus on the positive. In the above example, miracle questions would ask: "if a miracle occurred tonight and when you woke up the problem was solved, what would you notice first to tell you something was different? When have you noticed small indications of that difference already happening? Who would have to do what to make that happen? When will you know the problem is solved?" Helping using miracle questions is a wonderful approach because it creates a vivid image of what life will be like when the problem is solved. It also creates hope that life can be different from what it is now. You can be as creative as desire in using this approach. Some people use, magic wand, crystal ball, three wishes and so forth. The main idea is to focus the helpee on imagining what their life looks like without the problem and what small signs already exist toward making that life a reality.
(continued in Pt 2)
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. http://www.clergyservices4u.org She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: A Grief Healing Workbook, will be available soon.