What really is solution focused?
As therapists we are so used to throwing certain words around on a daily basis, assuming that they are ‘just’ self-explanatory.
We focus on the solution…
‘I have worked that out already’, I hear you say. Of course you did! But why do we think that focussing on the solution is that important?
The brain is a bit like a sat nav or your own personal driver.
Let’s call it ‘James’.
Imagine getting into your car and telling James, ‘I don’t want to go to the zoo’. Well James might look a little surprised and almost certainly would reply with ‘Where would you like to go instead?’.
Again, if you reply with a more random answer ‘somewhere with lots of animals’, James will find it hard to get you safely to your destination. He’ll need at least an address or a clear direction.
You see, James is a really good driver, but he is not trained to question things. He will be at your service and do a great job, but he is the sort that needs clear instructions. And he can only take you somewhere, if you know where you want to go. And as he is not that intellectual, he will take you anywhere you tell him… good or bad.
How do we become solution focused?
In solution focused hypnotherapy, we work in a similar way. If I asked my client ‘what was bad about your week’, anyone would have a long list of bigger or smaller events that made their life difficult in the last few days. But if I ask ‘what has been good about your week’, many clients struggle much more to find answers, especially they feel depressed or anxious. We are not necessarily used to giving value to good things or we can be overwhelmed and lose sight of the many positive things we already call ours. That is usually the moment when a client gives me a surprised look and struggles to find answers. That again is the moment I know I am doing a good job… because in that moment, I help my client create a new or reinforce an already existing pathway of ‘looking at life in a positive way’…
So I might ask how they WANT their life to be, or how they DO want to feel.
Most clients will initially reply with lists of ‘I don’t want to feel anxious/sad/depressed anymore’. Now remember, in order to tell James where to get to, we need to turn this around. We might ask ‘How do you want to feel instead?’. ‘I’d like to feel happy’. Now we are already getting clearer, but for James to start driving, he needs a bit more, a clear picture. ‘What would that look like if you felt happy? What would you be doing if you felt happy? What would I notice if I saw you feeling happy?’.
What we are doing here is creating a picture of the clients imagining themselves as vivid as possible, living the life they hope for and dream about. Because our primitive brain does not make the difference between imagination and reality, here in that moment, we are giving it a positive experience, one that the primitive brain believes to be real, and actually happening in that very moment. A positive moment that is often truly needed in difficult times.
‘Thinking positive’ versus ‘solution focused’
Thinking positive is great and will get James to start driving in the right direction.
But our brain tends to think big and that can be counterproductive. It can be truly overwhelming when you feel depressed and your end goal is to be ‘happy’. That can feel equivalent to being a novice rider and aspiring to being a professional show jumper… So to help us get there, the solution focused approach helps introduce smaller steps and to clarify what it is we actually want, in more practical terms.
The solutions have to come from the client
Being happy might mean ‘having a job that fulfils me’ for one person and ‘being able to go for walks daily’, for another. So in my work as a solution focused hypnotherapist, it is important that my client comes up with the answers. And my job is to facilitate this, in the most positive and constructive way.
With science telling us that we have over 6000 thoughts a day, you can start to see how James can be busy driving around. The clearer we are in our thinking, the quicker and safer we get to our destination. The more positive we are, the more fulfilling that destination will be.
Another interesting fact: Our brain overrides certain words.. like ‘don’t’
If I tell you: don’t think about a cow lying on her back with a pig on her tummy.. what do you see? It is similar with our thoughts such as ‘I don’t’ want to feel anxious’. If we are focussed on not looking at that cow and the pig, our brain cannot see all the other more positive pictures and solutions available to us.
To find out more about our brain and how positive thinking helps, check out my blog ‘The power of positive thinking’ here.