As noted by Wayne McCashen in The Strengths Approach, SFBT emphasizes solution talk over problem talk in counseling sessions and is more concerned with how solutions work than how problems work. This is not to say problems are ignored, but rather than focusing on problems, counselors look for exceptions to problem. This means solution-focused counselors ask people questions that seek out times when the intensity of the problem was lessened or absent all together (i.e. exceptions). Exceptions to problems often highlight our strengths and resources, which can help foster change.
From a solution-focused perspective, it is more valuable to concentrate on what people are doing when the problem is nonexistent or less severe than to focus on what people are doing when the problem is greater or more frequent. But what does this really look like in practice? Counselors may begin by asking the client to describe what things would look like if the problem was not present. We call this the “Miracle Question.” While there are various forms of the Miracle Question, it essentially asks, “If you woke up tomorrow and all of your problems were to magically disappear, what would be different?” The client’s answer to this question paints a picture of their preferred future.
Here is a very basic example of beginning stages of SFBT in action:
If a client answered the Miracle Question along the lines of, “I would not argue with my child every day,” the counselor might reply by asking the client to describe a specific time or times when arguing with the child did not occur or occurred less frequently. Once the person has answered, the counselor may ask for elaboration through questions such as: “What was occurring instead? What circumstances were present that allowed a more peaceful environment?” and so on. Within the client’s answers to these very purposeful questions, we find exceptions, which aid in providing a direction as to where to start for change to occur.
When clients begin to recognize that exceptions are always present and can be used as catalysts for positive change, hope and confidence emerge. From here, plans can be made and actions can be taken towards a preferred picture and transformation can begin take place. The solution-focused approach offers a context that underscores and respects people’s capacity to be their own agents of change, shifts away from pathology and emphasizes people’s strengths and abilities to be their own experts in times of hardship and adversity.
McCashen, W. (2010). The strengths approach: A strength-based resource for sharing power and creating change. Victoria, Australia: Innovative Resources.