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Solution-focused practice and hope

Hope is at the centre of solution-focused practice. I’ve been asking: “What are your best hopes from our work together?” for many years, without having quite realised its radical nature and the full implications of a focus on hope. Over the past few years, some experiences, discussions and reading have helped me understand this radical nature a little more.

I took part recently in a panel discussion about campaigning against austerity, in which I was asked to talk about how a solution-focused approach could help in in this. The discussion was becoming quite heavy, as people recounted austerity’s devastating effects, and the chair turned to me, saying, “You’re the hope-man - give us some hope!”

Initially a little thrown by this, I collected myself and said I didn’t need to give people hope, as they must already have it.

The fundamental assumption of solution-focused practice 


If someone has come to another person for help, they must have some hope that something will come from that. 


Similarly, if people have attended a discussion on campaigning against austerity, they must have some hopes that something will come from that discussion, and some hope for the campaigning too. 

So as a solution-focused practitioner my role would be to ask, rather than to give, “What are your best hopes from being here?”

And - as I am also part of the campaigning against austerity, I can change the 2nd person “your” to the 1st person “our”. What are our best hopes from our campaigning? We are all in this together.

Hope means possibility and leads to action

In his book, Hope Without Optimism, Terry Eagleton draws on a large number of literary references and political, philosophical and theological thinking in his investigation of hope. He differentiates hope from optimism, as it is something deeper and more lasting than just being cheerful and looking on the bright side, finding the ‘positives’. Hope is also different from desire, which can be idle, just wishful thinking: I wish I was the best footballer in the world. In contrast, hope implies possibility, hoping includes an element of anticipation: I hope to see you at next year’s conference. So by asking someone what their hopes are, we are inviting them to be in the realm of the possible.

We are also inviting them to act, for hope breeds action: “To hope for the supreme good is to be obliged to exercise all one’s powers to bring it about” said the philosopher, Immanuel Kant. If I hope to write another book, for example, then this must be possible, and I need to do something to make this happen.


Social hope

Terry Eagleton ends his book with his own conception of hope, which not only involves the self but has a moral dimension to it and encompasses the good of others. Hope has both individual and social components to it, and solution-focused practice can be concerned with social as well as individual change. The two are actually entwined. As another philosopher, Ernst Bloch, said, “What drives us on are our daydreams of a better and brighter world”.

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