There are several key Solution Focus interviewing skills that are indispensable in moving individuals from problem focus to solution focus.
Exploring the meaning helpee is giving to words, situation, experience. Solution Focus helper provides direction; helps the helpee uncover concrete and relevant feelings, experiences, and behaviors. Solution Focus helpers do not interpret meaning for the helpee but allow the helpee to interpret their meaning for us. We rely on the helpee’s expertise and therefore ask questions such as: “what does that mean to you?” or “what is happening that is telling you nobody likes you?”
Well thought out and relevant questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no. For example, you might ask, “Suppose things did get better for you, what would need to be different?”
Helper brings together in a summary way relevant verbalizations; a restatement of helpee’s thoughts, actions, or feelings. It strings together an overview of the message.
Helper gives back to the person the overall essence of what has just been said by shortening and clarifying helpee’s comments. Paraphrasing indicates to the helpee that he/she has been heard.
Helper is tolerant of helpee’s periods of silences without feeling a need to “jump in” with talk. By remaining silent, you provide them with the opportunity to process an answer. If your question was thought provoking, helpees will need time to think about their response. Try to refrain from answering the question yourself or leading the helpee with an answer. If the silence becomes unproductive, you may utilize another Solution Focus skill.
Helper gives a direct – positive evaluation in response to helpee. Qualities such as resiliency, determination, sense of humor and so forth, are helpees’ strengths. Noticing these can have significant affect on helpee’s perception of the situation they are articulating. For example, “In light of all that is going on with you, I’m amazed by your ability to still get up every morning and get your children ready for school. I am not sure I could do it and I really admire your inner strength.” Helper may give indirect compliments as well. Indirect compliments is a question that implies something positive about the helpee’s such as, “How have you managed working a full time job and provide good parenting for your children at the same time?” Any form of helper using compliments is to capitalize on helpee’s self compliments. For example, a helpee may say, “I quit smoking because I got smart.” The helper, recognizing the compliment as a sign of progress will reinforce it with questions such as, “Are you more aware of your inner strength?” Understand that the helper is not just throwing out compliments for the sake of compliments, but compliments are reality-based. That is, it is derived from what helpee has communicated to you. It reinforces in the helpee’s mind what is important to them.
In Solution Focus, affirming helpee perception is crucial to the helping process. It is the helper’s ability to convey understanding of helpee’s feelings, thoughts, actions and life experience. Affirmation of perceptions can be done through gestures (nods, smiles, uh-huh, etc.), or verbalizations: “From what you have shared with me, I can understand why you lost your temper.” Affirming and exploring helpee’s perception is a major part of Solution Focus interviewing.
Amplifying “solution talk”
Solution talk addresses what aspects of their life helpee want different and the possibility for making these changes. Though most helpees’ cling to the proclivity to do problem talk, if redirected, they will engage in solution talk. The helper’s role is to know when they have returned to solution talk and to encourage as much solution details (amplification) as possible. The key to engaging helpees’ in solution talk is to be keenly attuned to what they would like to be different as they discuss their problem talk (troubles, problems, etc). Inherent is all discussions of problems is the desire for change or success. These are the hints of possibilities helpees’ give during conversation even though they may not be aware of it.
Solution Focus understands that when confronting difficulties and problems, people often lose perspective. Overwhelmed and overcome by the pain and tension associated with the problematic issues, individuals often feel as though they have lost control and the situation unsolvable. Normalizing involves responding to problem talk by wondering with clients if perhaps their difficulties are not within the range of ordinary problems of everyday living. For example, a parishioner of mine talked about the troubles she was having with her 13 year old daughter. She feels her daughter is growing up too fast and is becoming defiant to house rules. The parishioner was asked, “Do you think what she is doing is normal behavior for 13 years olds?” Another way the question could have been posed: “sounds like you daughter may be displaying typical teenage behavior, what do you think?” What is of primary importance too is to listen to client or helpee’s response to your normalizing question. You will be listening for clues about what helpee want different. Normalization is a useful Solution Focus tool as it offers individuals an opportunity to detoxify their difficulties.
Returning Focus to Client
Many people, when discussing their issues, focus on what they wish others would do differently. It is as though they are powerless and subject to the whim of others. In order for helpees’ to move from a state of powerlessness to empowerment, Solution Focus counseling help them return the spotlight on themselves. They will be encouraged to shift their focus from what they do not appreciate about others and focus on what they would like to have happen differently. This is what Shazer calls the change from problem talk to solution talk.
This is a powerful change stratagem used to assist individuals in shifting the meaning they make of their experience of events, people, relationships and circumstances. The interpretive “frame” people put around their experience determines the meaning it has for them. Helping them to alter the meaning or value of something, “reframes” context. If people experiencing difficulty can shift their frame from a negative, closed perspective, they have the possibility of moving away from their positions and opening up new possibilities for resolution. For example, a woman demeans her partner by relating his negative qualities (frame of reference). Of course, he has some positives that she is overlooking. Solution Focus systematically encourages discussion around these positives thereby engaging the woman in a discussion of the partner from a different context (reframing the reference).
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. http://www.clergyservices4u.org She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: A Grief Healing Workbook, will be available soon.