This psychologist’s path to solution-focused therapy


Child on pathwayAs a kid in Banff, I often stepped in when other kids were getting bullied. It just didn’t seem fair to me that kids were getting picked on for the way their bodies or clothes looked, for being sensitive, or in my case, for being more serious and coming from one of “those families.” I wanted to show the kids who were being picked on that not everyone bullied and that some of us wanted to get to know them. I wanted to show the kids that were doing the bullying that not all of us would quietly watch and let them get away with it.

In my early adulthood, one of the girls who had been relentlessly bullied in my grade came to town and looked me up. She told me how one of our teachers had watched a boy throw a dictionary at her head and chose to ignore it. She went on to tell me that she was going to kill herself in grade nine when I started talking to her. We started hanging out on weekends going skiing or hanging out at one another’s houses. She told me I had saved her life and she wanted me to know.

Working in the helping profession seemed like a natural fit. My first job was in a group home with teens. Some of the kids came in with huge labels attached to them. “This one’s a pimp who took a baseball bat to someone. He’s a lost cause.” This same kid loved to be tucked into bed at night, to cry about some of the things he had done and to talk about how he wanted to do some things differently. I saw a boy who wanted to be accountable, not a hardened gang member.

Labelling continued: I moved on eventually to counselling kids and families and doing some preventative programming. I am sad to admit this but I sat in meetings with some professionals who were quick to label and write off kids and/or their families. One professional seemed to enjoy trying to figure out how he would diagnose a kid or family according to the DSM-IV-TR (the Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV-Text Revised), a manual used by psychiatrists and some psychologists to diagnose a problem. It seemed to be an exercise to boost his expert status, not to help a child or family. I felt like the minority, but I chose to focus on kid’s and family’s strengths. I began to learn about solution-focused ideas.

Focusing on Solutions: Getting the opportunity to work with other Alberta psychologists that used a solution-focused brief therapy approach (sfbt) was like a breath of fresh air. Here was an approach that assumed people were competent, that they had strength, and were actively working on trying to make things better–even if they and others didn’t always see it at first. This way of working was really hopeful for both the people I worked with and me. I could participate in and witness change–often quickly–despite some people experiencing some serious troubles. Who wouldn’ want to feel hopeful, motivated, and to live the life they want?

More and more professionals work this way now. See Lance Taylor at the Brief group and a group of therapists in the U.S.

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