As part of my work with the HESIAN research hub at the University of Hertfordshire (http://herts.ac.uk/hesian) I compile a list of recent research into Solution-Focused therapy, theory and practice (link). Part of this involves keeping an eye on what comes up in Google Scholar under the search term ‘solution-focused’.
I’ve been monitoring this quite closely one way and another over the past year or so. One thing I am seeing more and more is the term ‘solution-focused’ used (with a small s and f) as a general term relating to coaching, social work and other caring practices. For example, the definition of coaching offered by the Association for Coaching in 2005:
“Coaching is a collaborative, solution focused, result-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and person growth of the coachee.”
Now, this is not a bad definition of coaching at all. However, there is no indication (and I think no intention) to point to Solution-Focused work as developed by Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg and many others around BFTC Milwaukee. To be fair to them, Steve always insisted that his field was called Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT for short), as the ‘Solution-Focused’ was an adjective qualifying the noun ‘brief therapy’. However, as the reach of BFTC’s thinking has extended over the past two decades to include the helping professions, coaching, teaching, managing and so on, it has become more common to refer to such work as Solution Focused coaching or whatever. I myself can take a share of the blame for this, having co-authored a book entitled The Solutions Focus in an attempt to draw attention to the more general applications of these ideas.
Recent years have also seen editorial style moving away from using Initial Capital Letters in written prose. The Guardian newspaper’s style guide, a common reference point and a surprisingly fun read, now recommends that terms like prime minister are now rendered in lower case. This is in part because using too many Initial Capitals is Often the Sign Of A Madman writing in Green Ink. (The initial capital is supposed to suggest to the reader that some special meaning of the word is in use, but any more than a few of these is a clear sign of someone attempting to redefine the English language. English, by the way, should still be spelled using a capital E.)
Under these circumstances, it would be no surprise if enthusiasts for BFTC-rooted SF work started writing it as solution-focused. However, this potentially gets confused with the more general solution-focused described above. Other forms of work such as CBT have an advantage here – even if cognitive behavioural is written in lower case, the term is unlikely to be used in a general sense.
Chris Iveson of BRIEF started a discussion recently about whether people referred to themselves as solution-focused or Solution-Focused. I was shocked to see some very experienced practitioners from the SF world being reluctant to identify themselves as Solution-Focused, not wishing to tie themselves to any particular approach. Presumably, they so much wish to help their clients that they are prepared to do anything to achieve that.
I find it quite shocking that there are those in the SF community who are reluctant to identify themselves – possibly skilful mavericks, possibly people who just do whatever they think is right, possibly people who are seriously misguided as to their abilities. If you just do anything, then whatever you do must be right. And this again muddies the waters around what people might expect when seeing a ‘solution-focused’ practitioner.
I am concerned that there is a risk that we may lose sight of the huge progress produced by Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg and their colleagues. In my view, they have shown us a new way forward. Now we have to find a way to build on it without either dissolving into a not-knowing mush or forming bands of brothers/old comrades who are unchallengeable and gnomically diffident. Thoughts please?