How many times in your life have you called someone, a friend or relative, to talk about your problems and get their emotional support? Now think about how many times you have called those same people to talk about the positive things going on in both your lives, and explore ways to have even more happiness. I would bet the first scenario is much more common. Most people tend to focus on the negative events in their lives, and when things are going good, we often don’t spend as much time evaluating our success. It’s almost as if we go through life unconscious to the positive events, and only take note when things go sour. Maybe it has something to do with the way we were raised and/or our society in general. We usually hear about it when we are not performing up to standards, but we don’t hear positive feedback nearly as often. Why didn’t you make that play? Your report is incomplete! Why can’t you do it right? Sound familiar? Solution-focused therapy encourages people to look at the bright spots in their life and discover why they are successful. Even when life isn’t going well, there usually is a bright spot. I read about this in Switch, a book by Chip and Dan Heath. A book about how to change things when change is hard.
Solution-focused therapy was developed by Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg, and their co-workers at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee. In traditional therapy, a therapist helps a person dig in to their past to discover the reasons for their present behavior. Often times this will bring a sense of clarity to the person on why they may be experiencing problems, but it usually doesn’t solve anything. Solutions-focused therapy is about discovering the bright spots, moments when things are going well, and investigating the reasons why they are going favorably. The person finds explanations for their success with the guidance of the therapist. People think therapy has to be complicated, but Solutions-focused is simple.
Early in the therapy, the therapist uses one of the most important techniques, the miracle question. If you went to sleep tonight and a miracle happened while you slept, essentially eliminating your problem, what would be the first small sign that the miracle had occurred? Once they have established some realistic signs that the miracle had indeed taken place, the therapist unleashes a second question, when was the last time you saw a little bit of this miracle, even if it was just for a short time? It’s known as the exception question. This helps the person realize that they can solve their own problem. The more details that the person recalls about the time they were successful, the more effective the therapy is.
Of the 24 most common words for emotions, 18 are negative and only 6 are positive. Our society has a tendency to focus on those negatives. Instead, I challenge you to look at what’s going well, and do more of that!