What?s the Problem: Introducing Solution Focus Pt 1

Solution Focus is the brain child of Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer. This positive approach to problem resolution is rooted in the tradition of Milton Erickson's brief therapy. It assumes that small modifications in the individual's cognitive and behavioral expressions can lead to significant life changes. It further assumes that how individuals perceive events is what gives meaning to those events; how one organize and reorganize those experiences in conversation with others, allows for a reality that is versatile, fluid, and capable of revision. This approach is based on the premise that all individuals and families have definite strengths, coping skills and unique problem solving abilities to create positive change. Solution Focus taps in to this strength, helps individuals/families build upon it and uses a variety of tools such as purposeful questions that are utilized to assist in the movement from problems to solutions.

Three of the biggest hindrances to helping others are the helper's tendency to: (1) be judgmental (2) begin with preconceived notions; (3) "know" what is best for the helpee. Professionals and non-professionals alike are notorious for thinking we know how to run other people's lives better than they do. In actuality, we do not have a clue! Thus enters Solution Focus. Solution Focus discards these roadblocks and begins from a position of Not Knowing. The helper is not the authority on the life of the helpee. The helpee is the expert of his/her own life. Solution Focus recognizes and respects this truth. "Not Knowing" is a term first coined by Anderson and Goolishian and supports the contention that helpers do not have a priori knowledge of the importance of the helpee's world of experiences and behaviors. Therefore, the helper must rely on the helpee's perception and explanations. The helper puts forth every effort to enter into the helpee's frame of reference. Helper's adopt a stance of curiosity, of not knowing, yet desiring to be informed by the helpee. This is not easy to do which is why so few actually do it. It is difficult primarily because helpers have an almost unconquerable tendency to believe they know what is best for others. It takes practice and commitment to allow others to be the experts of their own lives and to solve challenges within the framework of their own strengths. It is a continuous skill building process.

Useful Solution Focus Skills - Dynamic Listening

Good listening is an essential part of being a successful Solution Focus (referred to as SF) helper. You must be very aware of the feedback you are receiving from the people around you. It might be added that being a good listener is a skill important in many other settings. For example, being a good listener will enhance your social relationships of all types, marriage, dating, parties, work, etc. But, be warned, it is hard work.

Dynamic listening means listening actively and not just hearing the words being spoken. This is important to any communications and paramount to SF intervention. Dynamic listening involves sensitivity and the ability to perceive and listen to others as persons who are unique, have needs and emotions as well as strengths and skills. It is being able to listen from the client's perspective, experience, or point of view, rather than your own. This is difficult I agree, but not impossible. Anyone can improve their listening capacity through purposeful effort. Most people have what it takes to be a good listener. Good listening includes a package of skills, which requires knowledge of technique and practice very similar to good writing or good speaking. Many people believe that good listening skills are easy to learn or automatically part of every person's personality. Neither is correct. I am certain that you have experienced occasions when you have asked someone, "Are you listening to me?"

Poor listening habits are very common. Actually, poor listening skills are more common than poor speaking skills. Have you noticed situations when two or more people talking to each other at the same time? People cannot talk and be an effective listener simultaneously. There is shallow listening and deep listening. Shallow or superficial listening is all too common on the job and many other settings. Most of us have learned how to give the appearance of listening while not really listening. Even less obvious is when the message received is different from the one sent. We did not really understand the message. We listened, but we did not get the intended message. We heard, but we missed the context. Can you recall times when you knew the person supposedly listening to you, did not have a clue as to what you were really attempting to convey. Such failed communications are the consequences of poor speaking, poor listening and/or poor understanding.

Good listening skills will vary from one communications situation to the next. For example, what is effective feedback for one may be different for another. Some people to whom you are listening may need more feedback than other people. Listening skills can always be improved because perfection in listening, just as in other communications skills, does not really exist.

It cannot be emphasized too often that listening is vital to effective communication, yet we don't always do it well enough. Listening is more than just hearing until the other person has stopped making noise so we can share our thoughts or agenda with them! Joan Rivers made famous the cliché, Can we talk? This is what most people do. Talk. Talking is fine if that is all you want to do and all the other person expects from you. But if you are interested in learning and understanding and helping, dynamic listening skills are crucial. Active listening involves MUCH more than talk! To be effective in our SF communication, we really need to master the skills of "dynamic listening."

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 Water: A Grief Healing Workbook, will be available soon.

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