Recently, I participated in some online conversations about SF and how it is perceived.
I agree with Kirsten Dierolf and with Coert Visser that there is some confusion about what Solution-Focus is. As Bion would say, the term has become so saturated with meaning to be of increasingly little use as a descriptive term.
Much of the confusion surrounding SF practice seems to stem from a single word that is often used to (mis)characterize SF: “positive“.
I decided to make a few distinctions that I will be posting in the next few days to help us get untangled from this trap that our language has set for us.
Distinction #1: Solution-Focus and Positive Psychology.
Positive Psychology is an umbrella term created by Martin Seligman in 1998. It puts together different strands of research that focus on “how to make life more fulfilling”, not simply treating mental illness. The term Positive Psychology was meant to “make a self-conscious argument that what makes life worth living deserves its own field of inquiry within Psychology”. (Peterson C., A Primer in Positive Psychology, 2006, Oxford University Press, p.6).
“Positive Pyschology calls for as much focus on strength as on weakness, as much interest in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst, and as much attention to fulfilling the lives of healthy people as to healing the wounds of the distressed”. (Peterson C., A Primer in Positive Psychology, 2006, Oxford University Press, p.5). It is a “science that strives to promote flourishinng and fulfillment at each of the individual, group and social levels. A science that studies what makes life worth living.” (“Positive Psychology in Practice, edited by Linley and Joseph, 2004, preface). It is not just happiology then, and it is a science (vs. humanistic psychology).
IF therapy is about treatment and about helping people function in society (Using a sports metaphor, a therapist makes sure that an injured athlete recovers to compete again, via an effective rehab program)
IF coaching is about helping people function well in society, if it is about living better and about performing better (Using a sports metaphor, a coach makes sure that the athlete performs at his or her best, via an effective training program or effective motivational strategies)
THEN it stands to reason that:
– therapy, SF or otherwise, does NOT need to find connections with Positive Psychology. It might, but it does not have to. Therapy is about treating mental illness. Therapy is rooted in traditional Psychology. Therapy, how to treat mental illness, was the engine that drove traditional Psychology.
- coaching, however, SF or otherwise, does need to find common ground with Positive Psychology: the work done in the field of Positive Psychology should inform coaching practices, and empirically tested coaching protocols should inform the research in Positive Psychology.
Of course to explore connections between Solution-Focus and Positive Psychology we need to evaluate specific SF techniques or protocols vis-à-vis specific research results or theories that fall under the category of Positive Psychology.
That is being done very effectively by many members of the SF community, e.g.:
Carey Glass just wrote an article about the connections between specific Solution-Focused techniques and Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory (one of the main theories in Positive Psychology): Exploring What Works: Is SF the best way of harnessing the impact of positive psychology in the workplace?
Michael Hjerth, who has long been discussing and promoting the links between SF practice and Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory within the Solution-Focus community.
Coert Visser, who has been connecting dots between specific research results in Positive Psychology and SF practices; for example, in examining what scientific ground we have to justify creating positive expectations in our clients.
Mark McKergow, who has been exploring connections between SF and other fields related to Positive Psychology, such as Appreciative Inquiry.