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What is Solution Focused coaching

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Joel Marks
Joel Marks
Solution Focused Practitioner
Table of Contents

Origins of solutions focused

Solutions focused approaches have their roots in family therapy models developed the 1960’s. A key step towards what is recognisable as SFBT (Solution Focused Brief Therapy) is the paper by Steve de Shazer, Change and Focused Problem Resolution in 1974. Developments in the model and papers on SFBT continue to this day, while the approach itself has yet to become mainstream.

Counseling vs. coaching

There are many schools of counselling therapy, however most of them have a degree of focus on diagnosing or observing pathology, with the goal of addressing a range of pre-supposed underlying causes such as trauma or dysfunctional behavioural patterns (e.g. such as in family systems). Rogerian schools may focus on listening as a route to healing, whereas CBT encourages a more pro-active approach.

Coaching can be defined as a useful conversation between two people, where the client is experiencing a level of wellness, or remission of symptoms, which allows pro-active behaviour towards a preferred change. Most private coaching clients self-refer, which is a further indication of having sufficient mental health to engage with the coaching process.

Coaching is often used in work environments to increase or optimise employee performance, or in sports or creative professions. It is a growing industry with many diverse approaches and client groups. While coaching is a not a regulated profession, there is a degree of self-regulation and standards developmenmt in business coaching through avenues such as professional membership bodies.

SFBT has an evidence base for being effective in therapy contexts for troubled clients, however, as a coach, I am particularly interested in the use of solution focused approaches in coaching contexts.

Problems vs. solutions

Solution focused approaches, especially in therapy, attract the criticism that they ignore the problem and do not allow the client to disclose their troubles in a safe and understanding environment. SFBT understands the importance of listening to a client’s problem as a means to build rapport and trust.

Where Solution focused approaches differ is that they question the underlying assumption behind other therapeutic approaches. The assumption is that a careful analysis of the problem by a professional with expert knowledge is the key to developing a care plan that will solve the problem.

While a solution focused practitioner will listen to the client’s problems, they are working with a different assumption: That the solution to a client’s problem cannot be found in an analysis of the problem itself, but in a focus on those aspects of a client’s life in which are working now and have worked previously. Therefore the practitioner will choose to guide the conversation in a way that will flow towards the client’s preferred outcomes.

Where solutions are found

In the book Brief Coaching, (Iverson, George, Ratner) 2012, the essence of solution focused coaching is described as

  • to look for resources (not deficits)
  • to explore possible and preferred futures
  • to explore what is already contributing to those futures

Mark McKergow has put forward the idea of a Solution Focused Art Gallery, as a metaphor to work through a solution focused conversation.

The gallery has four rooms. These rooms contain functional ‘chunks’ of the conversation. Most solution focused conversations now contain these functional elements:

  1. Ticket office
    • What are the client’s best hopes for the future (developing a common project which acts as a contract between the client and coach for the duration of the conversation)
  2. Future gallery
    • What does the ideal future look like (this new version of a preferred future is developed using the “miracle question”)
  3. Instances gallery
    • Descriptions from past or present that align with client’s best hopes and preferred future
  4. Gift shop
    • Appreciative summaries

(from Next Generation of Solution Focused Practice, McKergow, 2001).

Professional development and membership

Coaching is generally an unregulated profession. Solution Focused coaching has a number of organisations that have developed and championed standards.

In the UK, the UKASFP (United Kingdom Association of Solution Focused Practitioners) is a membership organisation that also has a professional standards arm which assesses coaches and therapists against strict criteria for solution focused work. It also hosts an annual conference to exchange best practice and remain up-to-date on developments in the field. As of 2023 I work as a volunteer with UKASFP to assist them in their online strategic engagement.