July 28, 2023

Solution Focus - what a bad name

Burger and French fries, cinema and popcorn, love and marriage, solution and problem – words that always appear in pairs. For every pot there is a lid, for every problem there is a solution. So when we talk about “Solution Focus” many people think that the word means that we “focus on solutions” and ignore or solve problems.

And, big surprise, that’s not what “Solution Focus” in the tradition of Solution Focused Brief Therapy is about at all. Rather than assuming that there is a straight line of causality between a problem and a solution, Solution Focus knows that the world of conversations, meaning and human interactions is complex and that linear chains of cause and effect are very hard if not impossible to determine in complex systems.

So why “Solution Focus”? It is a historical development. One of the first articles written on the subject was called “The family has the solution” written in 1978 by Don Norum which is where the name might come from. Another explanation could be the article “Brief Therapy: Focused Solution Development” by de Shazer, Berg, Lipchik, Nunnally, Molnar, Gingerich and Weiner Davis which responded to Weakland, Fisch, Watzlawick’s classic pater “Brief Therapy: Focused Problem Resolution”.

Even in these early days, it was not about “solving problems” but about focusing on “the solution” rather than on “the problem”. What is different (and what was new then) is that instead of analyzing the problem, the therapist would invite the family to describe what they wanted more of: “the solution” if you want to call it that.

In Solution Focus, we invite clients to describe the future that they want, irrespective of “the problem”. This is especially true for Solution Focused Coaching, where clients often come with something they want to achieve rather than a problem they would like to solve. The description of the preferred future helps clients observe areas in their lives in which they are already close to this future and also helps them recognize signs of improvement. From the vantage point of the preferred future, often creative experiments ensue which help clients move toward where they want to be. Instead of inviting clients to explore what is wrong, we invite them to explore what they really, really, really want: who they want to become, what is valuable to them, what they want to do, etc. This is as “deep” as any problem exploration, but with a different direction to it.

We should be called “Future focused” or “Progress focused” or something else – but historically we are stuck with “Solution Focused”. Next time someone tells you that Solution Focused Coaching is shallow and a quick fix, doesn’t go deep enough etc., you might now know what to say.

If you want to experience a bunch of Solution Focused coaches, hang out with likeminded others, have question about our classes, why not come to one of our next free meetups and exchanges?

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