Keeping clients from being stuck in the past

When moving clients from a “stuck” position, I have found that some of the hardest things are to facilitate a sense of progress, and to prevent the client from slipping back into that stuck position between sessions or even in the one conversation.

The Solution Focus approach provides some very useful tools to assist with this.

The notion of scaling allows for the consideration of what progress might look like and what would make this possible. This assists to maintain attention on a better future and how to achieve this.

The first step is to ask the client where they want to get to-what does their perfect future look like. Then comes consideration of a scale for measuring progress towards this outcome. If 1 is where they are at now, and 10 is their perfect future where they want to get to, what small steps need to happen to move them along this scale?

The next step would be to build on what has been working for them and capturing any signs of progress . You might ask them, if 10 is where they want to get to, where are they on that scale right now? What has happened to move them to this point, how can they recognize these small signs of progress? These are sometimes described as counters or factors enabling progress along the scale towards the desired outcome.

This progress can then be explored to assist in understanding what is contributing to this forward movement. Questions such as: When might you have achieved some of the things you want in your picture of the perfect future? How would you recognize when some of these aspects are actually taking place? What skills, resources and experience do you or others have that could be useful here?

Tapping into skills and resources can reinforce confidence in the ability to move forward, and for positive change to be likely in the future. It also focuses on strengths, and how to support and enhance these. Appropriate questions might be: What are you pleased with that you have done to get to this point? What did you do to make that happen and what helped you achieve this progress?

Multiple scaling can also be extremely effective at understanding how most situations are multilayered, and progress can be made on various different levels at the same time, and at different rates. This can open up how a situation is being regarded and managed, to allow for creativity and a more positive outlook.

Various aspects of the perfect future might be identified, and each of these seen as a different scale. For instance the ultimate goal may be effective parenting, and this could be broken down into communication, collaboration, decision making, participation in activities and family functions, and meaningful time. A separate scale could be applied to the parenting overall, as well as each of these aspects, allowing progress to be measured on each, separate resources to be identified, and small steps of progress in different aspects to be acknowledged.

The idea of identifying small steps in the progression towards future goals, understanding what made these possible, and identifying strengths and resources to support these, can also be applied to the comparison of different stages in this journey when there have been different results.

Questions could be asked such as: Why did this event at this time result in a positive outcome and move you down that scale towards your future perfect, but on that occasion it did not? This can allow for an investigation of the positive aspects that are more likely to be constructive and promote future focused solutions. The idea is to learn from the situations when things go well and apply this learning as small steps to those situations that could work better.

This approach promotes a sense that progress is being made towards that number 10 on the scale. A session may involve the client being able to determine one small action that could be attempted to move them along the scale. They may be able to see how progress is different for different aspects. They should also at some stage be able to identify when they have reached 10 and what this might look like for them, as well as those around them, such as the other parent, their family or their children.

I have been working on incorporating these ideas into my practice. They are promoted by the Solutions Focus work that is the subject of training in “Positively Speaking” undertaken around the world by Paul Z Jackson, Janine Waldman and Andrew Rixon. I would value the opportunity to share experience with others who are also interested in good practice and trying out different approaches to find the best tools for each unique family. Please contact me at Creative Family Law Solutions to commence a conversation!

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