This week I’ve been studying solution-focused brief therapy and it reminds me a lot of life coaching. The therapist uses questions to get their clients to focus on solutions, not their problems. They also use a lot of “cheerleading” and they are very positive. I love the idea of being solution-focused as opposed to problem-focused. A lot of people become too focused on the problem to see a way out.
For one of the assignments in the class, we had to listen to a therapy session with a young woman prostitute who was dying of AIDS. It was amazing how the therapist found the tiniest bit of positivity and managed to provide the client with a new sense of peace–which was her goal in coming to therapy. It was moving to listen to how compassionate the therapist was. In the end, the therapist left the room to consult with some colleagues and admitted she had cried not for the client’s plight, but for the strength she exhibited despite the horrible background she came from. It makes the listener realize that everyone, underneath all their baggage, has a part of humanity that needs to be loved and understood; they need to feel they matter. A few years ago, there was a person (Brendon Burchard) who had a near death experience who came back and said there were three questions he asked himself during the NDE: Did I live? Did I love? And did I matter? I can see that two of these questions involve the self, but the second question asks us how have I loved in this lifetime? For the therapist in this interview, she may not have “loved” this client, but she showed compassion to someone who many would call “unlovable.” It is easy to judge others or to say to ourselves, “Thank goodness I am not like that.” We are all human beings underneath our race, culture, beliefs, government, religion, sexuality, handicap, job, etc. I really believe we are all trying to do the best we can in each given moment.
Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is based upon the notion that questions can help sort out the positive solutions from the problems for their clients, doing it sometimes in one session. They use the miracle question in their therapy as a way to define a client’s goal in coming to therapy. If you’re not familiar with the miracle question, it is:
Suppose a miracle happened overnight and all of your problems were wiped away. Gone! How would you know they were gone when you woke up in the morning? What would it be like?
How would you answer that question? What would life be like for you if you had no problems? What would life be like for you if you had an idyllic childhood? Be careful not to get stuck in the part where you can start feeling sorry for yourself. Just focus on how you’d be different. How could others tell you’d be different?
Most of us aren’t immune from problems (I try to look at them as learning opportunities–what lesson am I supposed to be getting from this experience?). For a long time, during my first marriage, I was stuck in denial thinking everything was fine. I didn’t focus on the problems all around me because 1. it was too painful and 2. I had 3 small kids to deal with as we moved from state to state. I kept the home together as long as possible. The moving and kids kept me busy enough not to recognize the signs of an unhealthy and dysfunctional marriage. Denial does that. So does a childhood so traumatic that you never want to be hurt again. That’s when I ask myself: “Well, how did that work out?” Trying to avoid hurt only pushed it away for 17 years until it all came crashing down. And with the crash came all sorts of lessons that I never could have gotten had I stayed married in my dysfunctional relationship. I don’t think seeing a solution-focused therapist at that time in my life (when I was married) would have helped me at all. I would have stared blindly at the therapist and asked to talk about my childhood. And it’s true. My issues stem from childhood which I’m recreating in my adult life (dear God, I hope I am done with that!). I see it in marriages and families all the time. People recreate their pain over and over again, with different partners or within the same relationship. If they have kids, the kids become symptomatic often times because of one or both of their parent’s unresolved pain and issues. Resolving your childhood issues helps your relationships in the present. You’re no longer trying to fill the hole inside of you with something or someone “out there,” because you learn how to fill it yourself. You become whole. But I digress…
Questions can be a powerful tool for self-growth and self-reflection. The miracle question is one such question. Here’s another powerful question for you too: What if you only had days to live (or months), what would you do differently? How would you be?