When my clients describe their experience of counselling, the same pattern regularly emerges: a set number of weekly sessions, usually between six and fifteen, an hour in length more often than not, with a counsellor specialised in one approach, whether it be psychodynamic, behavioural, person-centred or other. Months or years later, many are still struggling. Even those who benefited temporarily describe being compelled to attend sessions at set times when they didn’t necessarily feel like talking, limited in what they could discuss, faced with an approach that was too rigid, textbook like, impersonal, and generally not suited to their individual needs.
Solution focused brief therapy does exactly what it says. Instead of concentrating on the problem, it focuses on solutions. Look at it this way: You are driving to the airport, on your way to catch a plane to your dream destination. Suddenly, a light flashes on the dashboard, signalling a puncture. You stop the car. You check the tyres. Yes, one is flat. What do you do? Do you keep looking at it, wondering when, why or how it happened? Do you focus on finding the positive side of the situation? Or do you try to sort it out as quickly as possible so that you don’t miss your plane? Once on the plane won’t you have plenty of time to think about it? Will you though? Or is your mind more likely to drift to the heaven waiting for you?
“What you think, you become.
What you feel, you attract.
What you imagine, you create.” (Buddha)
By now, we have all heard about the power of thoughts. Thinking about a problem creates and reinforces it. In fact, most of my clients, by the time they come to me, actually believe that they are the problem. Although some want to understand the root of their difficulties, most find reliving distressing events traumatic and, for that reason, are reluctant to seek help. Solution focused therapy does not necessitate to describe the source or even the issue itself, only its consequences, in order to work out solutions.
Let me illustrate: A client approached me in a Mind, Body and Spirit event, in her fifties, head and shoulders down, exhausted look on her face, faded blue eyes, crushed by life. She collapsed on the chair opposite me, not sure what she was hoping for, or if she was capable of hoping even. She described the decades of therapy following “bad experiences in her childhood” she didn’t want to talk about any more. I listened to her describe several examples of recent unhappy situations, undoubtedly symptomatic of Complex PTSD, and conclude that she was “broken beyond repair”. So, we normalised the symptoms and identified the triggers. As we did so, the interaction developed, allowing us to focus on very specific aspects of her daily difficulties. Naturally, solutions started flowing, practical and easily achievable. She looked at me, bemused that it could be so simple, stood up, thanked me profusely, and walked away, head high, shoulders back, her face glowing with relief and hope. The conversation lasted less than thirty minutes.
Solution focused therapy concentrates on what the client can do, not what he cannot do. Emphasis is put on hope, on what the client is looking to achieve, his preferred future. This is done in concrete terms so that realistic, workable solutions can be found, easily implemented and evaluated. For example, a client suffering from paralysing anxiety that prevents him from going to work in the morning might initially consider ways of modifying his morning routine to shorten the process and reduce the stress experienced, whether it be moving his shower to another time of day or not putting the news on, if those add to his anxiety.
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” (Confucius)
For they trigger a domino effect, small changes produce big results. As nothing succeeds like success, the client soon feels in control of her life again, and capable to do more to move forward. For that reason, solution focused therapy is brief. I have seen clients who had suffered for years responding so well that three sessions were sufficient. Brief, as defined by Steve de Shazer, one of the founder of the approach, is “as long as it takes and not one session more”. Between three and five sessions is usually the norm in solution-focused therapy conducted by a proficient practitioner. For some clients, one session might be enough.
For the aim of counselling is to empower individuals to regain control as quickly as possible, the process starts by leaving the client free to decide which format suits him best – 20min, 40min or 60min sessions in my practice; when the best time is to have a follow up session – a few stick to the weekly format, but most like to take more time to implement and evaluate changes; finally, when enough has been achieved.
If you haven’t heard of solution focused brief therapy before, it might be because it isn’t as lucrative for practitioners as other forms of therapy and, sadly, not so widely used as a result. Yet, it is a very flexible approach that is suitable for all and tailor-made for each, regardless of age, background, culture, experience or belief. It works wonderfully within a holistic practice, as in my case, associated with dream analysis, healing, card readings and spiritual guidance.
Therefore, if you are currently struggling but reluctant to seek help, whether you have had counselling in the past or not, chances are solution focused brief therapy could be your low-cost ticket to your dream destination. Don’t miss the plane!
Article by Sandrine Berho-Lavigne MA – M.M.A.N.F – AHCP (Reg.)
Sandrine Berho-Lavigne is an experienced teacher and holistic counsellor committed to improving the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing of individuals across North Wales and further afield.
For more information, visit www.talocounselling.co.uk.
Originally published at healthwellbeing.focusonuk.co.uk