The Next Generation of Solution Focused Practice – next steps?

My new book The Next Generation of Solution Focused Practice: Stretching the world for new opportunities and progress was published by Routledge on 13 April 2021. There was a launch event on the day, and I also hosted an event on SF World Day (3 May).  I hope you have a copy by now! If not, please relax. You can buy it from the publisher (link above) and it’s also available through all the usual channels. 

This blog is to introduce the book and talk a little about what I am hoping to achieve by writing it. Nicholas Brealey, my first publisher, was fond of pointing out that the book had to speak for itself as I wouldn’t be there to tell people about it!  Of course this is true – and with blogging and social media there are now many more opportunities to continue the discussions.

I decided to write this book at the Solution Focused Safari conference organised by Dr Jacqui Cziffra Bergs in Johannesburg, South Africa in March 2017. Jenny and I had just moved to Scotland and I was thinking that I might be stepping back from the SF world a bit. No chance.  At the conference I noticed that some people were talking about SF as it was practiced in the 1990s while others were talking about what appeared to be a different and more recent iteration stemming from developments in the 21st century.  Being appreciative and patient (as SF folk aspire to be), nobody was mentioning this glaring difference! So I returned to the UK determined to write about the distinctions. 

This book is the result. It is in five sections:

  • Why I think SF is important and continues to be important (because of the 5 E’s – it’s Effective, Efficient, Ethical, Energising and Elegant)
  • The development of SFBT – from the 1920s through the connections with Bateson, Erickson, the Mental Research Institute Palo Alto and its Brief Therapy Center, the developments in Milwaukee led by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg and their colleagues, and how it continues to develop (and how the co-founders were keen on development rather than orthodoxy)
  • The more recent developments led by BRIEF in London and others, including myself, which show a newly coherent picture of SF, and how this fits well with the latest development in enactive cognition and enactive psychiatry, leading to the friendly explanation that SF work ‘stretches the world’ of the client
  • How (in detail) to do it (including session transcripts with commentary)  
  • A final overview of SF work as an ‘aesthetic’, which values very different features from most therapy traditions (including brevity).

The pivot between these two iterations comes with this question:

What are we trying to do when we sit down with a client?

There are two possible answers to this:

First generation SF workNext generation SF work
Ask the questions so we can hear the answersAsk the question so the client can hear their own answers
(In order to construct an intervention or task)(So the client changes themselves and there is no need for a task)

In the very early days, there is no doubt that Steve, Insoo and the others were working from the first position.  I document this in the book.  They then started to move along the line – Peter de Jong told me he thought Insoo got about 60% of the way towards the right hand column.  The question, then, is what does a form of practice look like which really commits to the right hand column 100%? That’s what this book is about.

What it looks like, briefly, is a practice based on description-building, with the practitioner helping the client to create a series of descriptions rather like images on the walls of an art gallery.  This is not a new idea, but those who devised it have been somewhat reluctant to show the differences that this view can make.  These include:

  • An even simpler view of how to do SF practice
  • A crisp practice which involve the practitioner at three levels: big questions (like best hopes, miracle, scale etc), small description-building questions (what difference would that make and half a dozen others), and tiny micro-encouragements like smiling, nodding, “mm-hm” noises etc)
  • A clear and friendly explanation of ‘how it works’ in terms of stretching the world of the client, based on the latest development in enactive cognition

All of these offer great opportunities to extend the research base and academic connections. (Some people might not value that. I think that if we are serious about getting our work taken seriously we should embrace the chance to be clear about how we work.)

Alasdair Macdonald asked me a week or so ago what I was hoping for from the publication of the book.  It’s an excellent question. Here are three things I’d love to see.

  • More research into this way of doing (and looking at) SF practice
  • More research and exploration of ‘stretching the world’ of the client
  • A wider appreciation for the ethics and aesthetics of brief practice (which are still very under-appreciated in the wider world).

In the meantime, please buy the book, read it, and at least play around with the ideas in your own practice.  My experience with this has been very positive.  Tell others about it – you’ll all be glad you tried this out.  And if you have the chance to research this, even at the level of small-scale in-situ experiments. And please let me know what you think via mark@sfwork.com.

McKergow, M. (2021). The Next Generation of Solution Focused Practice, Oxford: Routledge

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