May 2021 Inaugural Edition
Many thanks to Karen McDonald Louis for her terrific contribution:
Of all the afflictions known to bedevil mankind, engaging one’s mouth before one’s brain (sometimes known as “Open-Mouth-Insert-Foot Disease”) is surely the cause of many of the world’s problems. And it would not be an exaggeration to say that, on more than one occasion, I too have fallen prey to this malady. My 15-year Solution Focused (SF) journey has not cured me entirely, but it has often served as preventative medicine. (I will never forget the SF training session in which pioneer SF therapist and author Harry Korman demonstrated placing his hand over his mouth during a session to help remind himself to be quiet and let the client speak. I have found that covering my mouth literally to stop myself from speaking has been a great tool!) Using Faith Focused Solutions (FFS) in work settings has often enabled me to help others learn for themselves rather than being told what to do; using SF with coaching and counselling clients has helped me professionally but for the sake of this article I will share how being an SF practitioner has helped me personally. Below are longer versions of the stories in the shorter article, using SF with a child, a spouse, a friend, an elderly parent, and myself!
I was first exposed to the magic of SF when my husband and I attended a conference headlined by Insoo Kim Berg herself! Even though we knew little of the mode of therapy she and husband Steve de Shazer had come up with, we felt it would be an honour to sit at the feet of any founder. The conference was amazing; we left filled to the brim with SF theories, phrases and ideas. About the same time we reached home, our 6th grade daughter came back from school and announced in a frustrated tone that she had completely forgotten she was supposed to have had a maths test earlier in the day. Usually if she were to have said such a thing, my husband would have given her a reprimand for being so forgetful. However, after having his brain pleasantly refreshed with SF thinking all week, my husband said, “That’s okay, sweetie. Suppose you don’t forget next time – what might you do differently?” or something to that effect. Our daughter’s face lit up immediately! With a big smile, she said she would make a note of the next test in her diary. We all high-fived, my husband said, “You’re very clever!” and there were no hurt feelings, rejection, put-downs or drama. (Our daughter truly changed in her time management and is now a therapist herself raising a toddler!)
During a Q&A session after a lecture by Brian Cade, author of one of my fellow participants asked Brian if the class could get help with particularly difficult cases. When it was my turn, I said something in the line of, “Why is it that I can feel like a reasonably competent therapist with my clients but when I go home and speak with my husband, I say the completely wrong thing?” Cade’s reply was humbling. “Well, congratulations, you’re human.” And while I have never managed to find a way around I have on rare occasions remembered to ask my spouse, “Oops, suppose I could have said that differently – and I wish I had! How would YOU wish I could have said it?” The magic of SF!
Once I was having a conflict with a colleague and fellow church member. I wasn’t mad at her, but she was really upset with me and it didn’t seem to matter what I said. At a loss, I wanted her to feel better, so I kept suggesting different things (and kept defending myself!) but she became more bitter and angry. It seemed to me that this colleague, who was also one of my closest friends, was blaming me for practically every area of her life that wasn’t going well. I felt sick, confused, and hurt by her accusations (making it about me in my head). Silently praying for intervention, an SF question suddenly popped into my brain – courtesy of the Holy Spirit. I changed the tone of my voice and said, “OK, let me ask you this – if you had a magic wand from a fairy godmother and you could ask for anything in the whole world, what would you ask for?” I was literally holding my breath, worried that this was my last chance to salvage our bond. When she answered, my friend’s face changed, her volume lowered, she adjusted her seating position, and then replied in a broken and pleading tone, “For my husband to be spiritual.” This had absolutely nothing to do with anything we had been talking about for over an hour! But at the end of the day, for her, it was the issue that was behind everything else. That’s what she really cared about. My response was to reach across the table for her hand, listen empathically to what she needed to share about her marriage, and offer support in any way she thought would be helpful. With a bit of divine intervention, an SF question had saved a relationship and set my friend on course toward her preferred future.
My parents are in their mid-80s and a few years ago, I visited them while they were preparing to move from their sprawling home of 25 years to an apartment. My mother felt very overwhelmed; she was definitely not motivated to make decisions about what to bring and what to leave behind. After a half-hour SF conversation, she was able to picture what difference it would make for her if she was able to accomplish a few small tasks each day, and she is very happy with the home they live in now!
Lastly, I’ve even used SF on myself! As part of the FFS course, we as the participants had to practice coaching each other. Knowing it would soon be my turn to be the “coachee”, I had to come up with a problem to discuss. Inspired by my mother’s decluttering, I figured it would probably be a good thing for me to start doing that as well. Sure enough, during my coaching session, I asked my peer coach for help coming up with a plan to clean out every space in my home. As the coach asked questions, I was filled with gusto and decided to set aside one hour a day to begin the long-overdue task.
Alas, the great procrastinator, I never even began!
A few months later I was very upset with myself for not starting, and when it was time for another peer coaching session, I told my buddy I needed to revisit something I had brought up a few months earlier. This time, the person coaching me got me to think about my preferred future in more palatable and bite sized terms; rather than saying I would clean out cupboards for an hour a day, I was moved to start small! I said, “Okay, here’s what I am sure I can do – I will work on cleaning out my bedroom closet, just the clothes and none of the other stuff, plus the toiletries in my bathroom, for only 30 minutes every Saturday – very specific.”
Would you believe it? The very first week I cleaned for three hours instead of 30 minutes! After several Saturdays, I had already organised the clothes in my closet! It just took one more Saturday for me to finish the toiletries in the bathroom, and I kept going! Over the next few weeks, I cleaned out the rest of my closet, basically a lot of rubbish and papers and stuff I had been putting off dealing with for years! The next week I attacked my guest rooms and eventually the living room and more hidden drawers in my bedroom. Lo and behold, in six months, my entire house was completely de-cluttered! Thanks be to God for SF!!!