The Interactional View of Emotions and Solution-Focus

Following up on a recent post in which I noted how Barbara Fredrickson put forward an interactional view of love, I read Lisa Feldman Barrett paper on the interactional view of emotions.

In her paper Psychological Construction: The Darwinian Approach to the Science of Emotion I found a stance that is very useful to Solution-Focused practitioners and which validates our perspective on change (“action is in the inter-action“).

Take the following: “Our hypothesis is that during every waking moment of life, mental states are constructed as interoceptive cues from the body and exteroceptive cues from the world are continually categorized and made meaningful with conceptual knowledge stored from past experience. […]. In our view, an instance of emotion is constructed when affective changes are categorized as related to the situation using an instance of an emotion concept BECAUSE those affective changes are in the focus of attention […].”.

Changing the focus of attention is key to constructing emotions, according to Barrett. Isn’t one of the main purposes of SF that of shifting clients’ perceptions from a problem-frame to a solution/opportunity-frame?

Also: “Emotions are said to be coordinated packets of physiology, experience and behavior, but every waking moment of life is just such a coordinated package; there is no package that is “essentially” anger, or sadness, or even emotion.” If emotions are not essences but categorizations of perceptions, then a conversation as a tool for change makes a lot of sense: it would not change an “essence” but it would surely change what we perceive and how.

SF is such an effective, elegant and powerful tool because it does not put any kind of label on clients and does not see them through the lens of a theory. On the contrary, SF practitioners stay on the surface and resist the temptation to categorize or to look for the “essence” of the problem. That is why I could not help but smile when I read this: “Progress in the science of emotion depends on whether we can resist the urge to essentialize.

Welcome to the interactional view, science of emotion!

Update on 6/30: The Boston Magazine has caught up with me, I mean with the importance of Lisa Barrett’s work :) for psychology. Here is a link to their feature article –>

Great intro to Positive Psychology


Shawn Achor does an excellent job introducing Positive Psychology in a very funny, engaging way, and in all of 12 minutes.

What I found really interesting was the first graph he showed his audience.

It highlighted the data point which “messed up” the neat averages and trends.

I think in this search for “anomalies” Solution-Focus shares its roots with Positive Psychology.

As Solution-Focused practitioners we do not hide such a data point.

Quite the opposite. We keep asking questions, and specific kind of questions, until we help clients see just those data points. The useful exceptions. What defies negative generalizations and stands out as a success, even if tiny.

“No problem happens 100% of the time. What happens the rest of the time?”.

I also think this attitude in the DNA of the Solution-Focused method of inquiry explains the gap with psychological research. A gap so difficult for many SF practitioners to bridge.

Researchers deal with averages, trends, statistics, constructs.

Solution-Focused  practitioners deal with individuals, single episodes of “when things are a little bit better”, details and real-world, observable interactions.

Of course this gap disappears if we are thinking of outcomes to find evidence of Solution-Focus effectiveness. But it is there in the forma mentis of psychological researchers vis-a-vis Solution-Focused practitioners.

I just thought that was interesting.


There is scant evidence, objective evidence, to confirm that this massive, expensive, thirty-plus-year effort [to teach leadership] has paid off. To the contrary: much more often than not, leadership development programs are evaluated according to only one, subjective measure: whether or not participants were satisfied with the experience.
Kellerman, Barbara (2012-04-10). The End of Leadership (Kindle Locations 2665-2667). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The quote above should appear in any promotional material for leadership development programs – sort of like the FDA warnings on cigarettes.

Dear consumers of leadership development programs (either individuals or organizations): before dishing out thousands of dollars for a program, ask what the evidence is that the program works.

Be an informed consumer… and May the Force of Scientific Evidence Be With You, dear reader.

PS: a very interesting conversation about this is going on here –> (Linkedin – Solution-Focused Canada).

Microanalysis and Solution-Focus: change happens in the details

One of the key principles of Solution-Focus practice is that “The Action is in the Inter-Action”, as Mark McKergow and Paul Z Jackson brilliantly put it. Which means that we “co-construct” meaning and solutions in the interaction.

But how?

This is where microanalysis comes in. Pioneered and extensively used by Janet Beavin Bavelas and her research group at the University of Victoria, microanalysis is defined as “the detailed and reliable examination of observable communication sequences as they proceed, moment by moment, in the dialogue”….

My guest post on Microanalysis in Coert Visser’s Blog.

Read more here >>>>>>

Nine Brain Myths

Here is my rule-of-thumb regarding “social media”:

– I use this blog to share observations, thoughts, reflections about (Solution-Focused) Coaching, Training and Consulting.

– I use my business FaceBook page to post daily links to articles or blog posts that might be relevant to Coaches,  Therapists, Trainers and Consultants. If interested, just “like” the page and the links will appear in your FB newsfeed.

I decided to break my own guidelines and post here the following link —>

And here is the summary:
Nine Stubborn Brain Myths That Just Won’t Die, Debunked by Science
Brain games will make you smarter! The internet is making you dumber! Alcohol is killing your brain cells! The brain is a mystery we’ve been trying to solve for ages, and the desire to unlock its secrets has led to vast amounts of misinformation. Many of these false notions are more widely believed than the truth. We took our healthy skepticism and a bunch of brain research to find the truth behind some of the most common myths about intelligence and our brains. Here’s what we learned.

it is too important to weed out superstitions that get in the way of effective change strategies!

PS: if you want to learn more, read “50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology“, highly recommended!


I loved reading Timothy Wilson‘s Strangers to Ourselves. It introduced me to the concept of “Adaptive Unconscious”. And it is the book on which Malcolm Gladwell based his bestseller, Blink.

I loved even more reading Timothy Wilson’s latest book, “Re-Direct: the Surprising New Science of Psychological Change“. A must-read. Science-based. Full of interesting information and insights. And the “story-editing” approach Wilson advocates shares with Solution-Focus the same strategy: a brief intervention that has self-sustaining effects leading to long lasting changes in behaviors.

Wilson’s approach is based on the idea that it is all about the interpretations we give to events – not about the events themselves.
Not a novel idea, since it was one of the cornerstones of Stoic thinkers.
But now we have the science to test this approach and… it works!

The interventions Wilson puts under the “story editing” umbrella follow one of the following strategies to change the stories people tell themselves:

  • redirecting the narrative in a way that leads to lasting change: exercises, like Pennebaker’s writing protocol, which are useful for people who have failed to come up with a coherent interpretation of an event that does not make sense and / or it is unpleasant to think about (e.g., trauma)
  • story prompting – redirecting people down a particular narrative path with subtle prompts; for example, by giving people information that would allow them to reframe their experiences. E.g. students might interpret their academic difficulties when they start college as a sign they are not cut out for it; simply showing them data that tells them experiencing difficulties at first isnormal, in addition to a video of peers saying they too experienced difficulties when they started, is enough to have a significant impact
  • do good, be good; as Aristotle said, “we become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlling by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage.”  So by acting in a certain way, people shape their narratives in ways that are helpful to them. E.g., they act kindly and so they get to think of themselves as kind persons.

One of the most interesting point made by the author is that while we thoroughly test drugs before putting them on the market, we do not do the same with psychological interventions. As a result, much money and effort has been spent on programs that seem to make sense – but do not work. One example: D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education).

It gets worse. Not only some programs or interventions do not work – they might actually be harmful. Among these: CISD (Critical Incident Stress Debrief); “Scared-straight” programs like R.I.P. (Restoring Inner-city Peace). Bottom line: test first, roll out later. Not vice-versa!

But as I mentioned, the book is not about what does not work – it is about what works in facilitating self-sustaining, and therefore long-lasting, change.

You will learn about a technique that, again, was conceived by the Stoics – negative visualization. You will learn about the power of volunteering for keeping teenagers out of trouble. You will learn about the tricky but effective “minimal sufficiency principle“. And you will learn about how a simple 15-minute writing assignment allowed students to close the achievement gap. Among many other things… and it is all in —> here.