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Solution Focused Therapy with Children

In: Philosophy and Psychology

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Book Review 1 – ‘Children’s Solution Work’ by Insoo Kim Berg & Therese Steiner

I chose to do my first book review of the year on ‘Children’s solution work’, as I was intrigued as to how this modality can be applied to children. My practice to date involves only adults so I am very keen to adopt tools and tips to effectively talk to children in a therapeutic way. I was definitely not disappointed! This book clearly demonstrated how the Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) model can be applied to the nonverbal, playful and creative habits of children. The books extensive use of examples and case studies in various contexts and situations was instrumental in demonstrating the creative techniques and strategies for working with children without relying exclusively on language. I will use this book review to discuss some of the ideas, techniques and cases that really stood out for me with the hope that I may one day incorporate them into my clinical work. “There is good harmony between SFBT and children because there are so many similarities between how children think and make sense of the world around them and the assumptions and procedures of SFBT.”
One excellent example of this is the child’s relative indifference to the “cause” of a problem, over their need/desire to “fix” it. I encounter this on a daily basis with my own children. I often find myself inquiring about the cause of their problems, feeling that by doing so I will gain greater insight into their thoughts and feelings. However, I notice that this line of inquiry usually doesn’t amount to any revelatory insights. Conversely, what does help me to better understand them is when I endeavour to help them come up with solutions to solve their problems. The solution finding process not only satisfies their need for finding solutions, but also highlights their individual needs, wishes, dreams, strengths, skills, abilities and internal and external resources. As such, I have experienced first-hand, that SFBT is not only an effective but desirable model, enabling children to hone in on their unique qualities and characteristics that will ultimately empower them to implement the solutions they have uncovered through this process. The aim as such, is not to change the nature of the child, but rather, work with each child’s unique characteristics to find appropriate solutions.

“Miracle Question”
I have often utilised the ‘Miracle’ question in my own practice as an effective tool to help people imagine how their lives would be different if their “problems” were no longer present. This enables the person to shape their lives based on their ‘Miracle’ picture as they “have a glimpse of how their life can be different”. What a great idea to use this question with children but adapt it to the child’s own experiences, such as the “tooth fairy” or “fairy godmother” waving her magic wand. I can appreciate how children would rather enjoy this imaginative type of question. An initial concern I had with this type of question with children was how to respond to potentially unrealistic “miracles”, e.g. divorced parents reuniting. I was relieved that the book nicely addressed this concern by stating that the important point is not in the details of the miracle, but rather in the differences that occur as a consequence of these miracles happening.

“Scaling Questions”
A “Scaling” question stood out as a potentially valuable tool for creating awareness of useful differences. Again, this is a great technique to use with children due to the simple and concrete nature of the question. I was excited by the creative adaptation of scaling to suit children’s needs. The particular ones that stood out for me were; “The Success Tower”, “Moving around the rope” and “Jump in different directions along the numbers”. “Naming and visualising the change”
Naming and visualising change strongly resonated with me as I have witnessed how effective this can be. My eldest son, attends social skills classes to help him develop self-assertion skills. He came home one day after class and told me how he was going to be a ‘dolphin’! He then went on to list all the qualities that a dolphin displays, e.g. strength, friendliness, kindness etc. He also explained to me that when we are being aggressive and mean we are being ‘sharks’ and when we are crying and not being self-assertive we are ‘jellyfish’. The name for his solution was to be like a dolphin and he could then go on to depict what that entailed. I could see how this really helped him turn abstract concepts such as being self-assertive and sociable, into something more concrete that he could really visualise and grasp. If he is ever feeling anxious about going to a social gathering, we will always have a conversation about how he has all the qualities that make a great dolphin and specifically name them. I will often bring some humour into it as well and tell him how I can see him jumping high out of the water and doing massive twists in the air! He responds amazingly to these visualisations. Conversely, if he is being mean to his siblings I will ask him what he is being now, and he replies a shark! I then ask him what a dolphin would do differently to a shark, he tells me and acts accordingly. I strongly value these naming and visualisation techniques and they form a large part of my parenting style.
Two of the visualising techniques in the book that stood out for me were the use of hand puppets and telling of stories. The case of Brad with the two animal puppets, was extremely helpful in displaying how effective ‘puppet talk’ can be. I also really liked the case example of Sarah and Tommy the marmot puppet. These cases highlighted how through the use of puppets, children are able to visualise situations in a non-threatening way.
The use of stories is another great way to help children visualise situations. This technique seemed a little bit daunting in its demand for spontaneous creativity, but I imagine that it is something you get better at with practice. Once again, the case examples of Vanessa and Miguel helped me to visualise how stories are implemented in the SFBT model.

I found many helpful and useful techniques throughout this book that I have not been able to expand on, but include, the concepts of feedback and of course the exception finding techniques. However, apart from all the specific SFBT techniques and tools, a lasting impression left on me was the importance of the role of the parent in SFBT. I thought it was wonderful as well as crucial to see the parents being incorporated into the application of whichever technique was being utilised.

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