Solution Focus – A Way of Thinking, and Acting

I still remember coming across Solution Focus when I was in my final semester of my master’s program in Social Science with an emphasis in Counseling, from the University of South Australia,

This bit of learning something quite new threw me off-guard. It fascinated me. I hadn’t thought about the possibility of seeing life from a solution’s perspective. It seemed completely and totally natural to be generally pessimistic about life. Even skeptical. And cynical.

But Steve DeShazer and his wife, Kimsoo Im Berg, thought and taught otherwise. They were rebelling against the contemporary way of looking at psychological difficulties from a “sickness” (or if you prefer, pathological) perspective. I mean that was how Freud kicked off modern psychology in the late 1900s, and early 20th century. Freud was very much into neurosis and psychosis. In fact, he is on record of saying, “I do not break my head very much about good and evil, but I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all” (letter to his pastor friend, Oskar Pfister, 10 September 1918).

Freud’s insights resonated with me at some points. I could see where he was coming from; chiefly that our present psychological stuckness has a lot to do with pain, hurt and trauma of childhood that had gone under the radar (the subconscious). And it resonated wildly with me that Freud talked about denial as the core and pillar of the human being’s attempt to deal with this pain, hurt and trauma. I was all about denial growing up.

At the same time, I also resonated with the thinking and teaching of Freud’s contemporaries, howbeit juniors, like Carl Jung and Alfred Adler. Both these guys can be considered as the earliest front-runners of what has come to be known today as Positive Psychology. Their thoughts, teaching, and work were the germs which eventually led to the full-fledged breakout of strengths-based psychology.

So I was fascinated, and drawn to this Solution Focus philosophy, and its way of doing therapy, and counseling.

It had a down-to-earthness that clinical psychology and psychiatry was woefully without.

Solution Focus was iconoclastic, and even, dare I say, funny! I mean which therapy proudly trumpets its first principle as “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”?!

And the “Miracle” question? I mean, seriously?

However, I found that the Solution Focus way had its powerful merits. What I had come to appreciate about this way of thinking and doing was its “teleological” bent. This big word simply means goal-directedness. And I also realized that if people weren’t ACTIVELY working on their goals, they were working on their “reverse goals”.

What am I talking about?

You see, whether you and I like it or not, we ARE inherently, and intrinsically, goal-directed beings. If we are not actively steering ourselves to empowering and enabling goals (also ennobling!), we are by default, or automatically being steered to negative goals, outcomes not of our liking.

Here’s an agricultural example; if a garden, or any piece of land is left bare and unattended, see how quickly it over-grows with lallang? Leave even a pot of vegetation unattended, and see how quickly the reeds sprout and push through the soil.

The reality of life is that whatever is left unattended becomes wild. And humans are called to manage our environment responsibly.

The same reality exists within us psychologically. If we are not taking care of ourselves and moving steadily towards positive goals, we are automatically, that is, by default, stagnant, and defaulting towards psychological weeds, thorns, and briers.

So coming to Solution Focus thinking was a tremendous paradigm shifter. The way I began looking at life changed a lot. It was a reinforcement of what my faith had already taught me. Solution Focus helped me see the practical aspects and application.

I began looking for when the problems were NOT occurring. What was happening within me, and in my circumstances when there were NO problems.

I started to be more mindful of areas in my life that were thriving. How could I do more of that? Use areas of strength to leverage off areas of weaknesses?

The Scaling question helped to gauge how I was thinking and feeling about any given matter or issue that was challenging me. Yes, it was purely subjective, but it was still some sort of feedback. Cybernectics (feedback systems and mechanisms) are intrinsic to humans. We are goal directed beings, remember? We are constantly receiving feedback from within, and without. We are constantly rearranging how we move forward.

Suffice to say, my way of working with people now in coaching, and training is influenced and impacted by the Solution Focused paradigm. Of course, I have also learned that the person before you determines the approach you take when you attempt to help them. Your client, or interlocutor remains a strong reference point.

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