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The whole thing

“We have to grasp the whole theory in order to grasp the meaning of any one of its theoretical terms” – Open University Study Guide.

Reading this while studying for my present masters course in philosophy took me back to an essay I was invited to write during my masters course in solution-focused brief therapy, on what is the essence of SFBT. Actually, I might be mistaken about the word essence being used, as it was more than ten years ago, but it was something along those lines. But I remember quite clearly the thrust of what I wrote, which was that SFBT could only be understood holistically, and that one could only judge whether someone was ‘doing’ SFBT by watching a whole session. It is not about using individual solution-focused techniques – the miracle question, scaling, coping questions, compliments etc – all of which can be and are used by therapists of other persuasions (I have just been alerted to a very brief clip of a CBT-therapist, Don Meichenbaum, talking about how he would approach a first session and there are some remarkable similarities with SFBT – “how would you know if this was working?”  “what would other people notice?” –

It is about a whole process, within which the sf practitioner maintains a solution-focused orientation throughout, set off by the client articulating what they want from the work, and then always determined by that desired outcome, with the practitioner typically only eliciting descriptions of that outcome realised and of movements towards that. And, crucially, nothing else, give or take some appreciating and summarising by the practitioner. That there is nothing else is one of the reasons why the whole has to be seen before a piece of work can be judged, as solution-focused or otherwise.

This is what happened when I saw the amazing Manganiyar Seduction at the Womad festival last weekend, a 75 minute aural and visual feast served up by about 40 Muslim singers and musicians, that I won’t (because I can’t) begin to try to describe here (but see a sample here). It started slowly, and there were some what appeared to be languorous bits along the way, but at the end, after a tremendous climax, the whole thing made entire sense, and the audience’s roars of approval nearly took the top off the tent.

It made sense only because it was a whole thing, just as a question is only solution-focused in as far as it is a part of a whole solution-focused session.

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