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Milton H Erickson: The Inspiration
The history to solution focused therapy is a fascinating one and many people do not realise that it was inspired by the work of the very famous American psychiatrist and hypnotherapist Milton H Erickson. The life story of this man is a huge inspiration and is of its own accord an illustration of the power of a solution focused mind.
Erickson suffered the paralysing affects of polio not once but twice in his life. The first bout he suffered was when he was a high school graduate. When he heard the doctor tell his mother that he would be dead by morning, Erickson mustered an instinctive solution focused response to the news. He became infuriated but quickly calmed himself and requested his mother to move a piece of furniture to enable him to see the view from the window better. If his demise really was imminent he was certainly going to enjoy the best possible view!
Erickson regarded the time he spent confined to bed with only the senses of sight and hearing to entertain him as an education. He learnt to be an observer of human movement, intention, thought, expression and achievement. This close observation awakened in him the interest and understanding of unconscious patterns which was to become his future.
Erickson would lie in bed visualising what it would like walk, noting the smallest of mechanics which were the cogs in the machine of the act of walking. Unwittingly he activated the rehearsal room of his as he went over and over the small changes which would be the beginning of standing and of walking, skills which he went on to regain.
Even then Erickson was sowing the seeds of utilisation by locating inner resources gathered in other times and other experiences and applying them in this new context. He qualified as a psychiatrist and hypnotherapist rapidly acquiring a reputation for what came to be known as his teaching tales and metaphors. He would often succeed therapeutically with cases where his colleagues had failed to create positive change.
Ericksons work was observed by many therapists who sought to recreate his success. Bandler and Grinder were inspired by aspects of his work and their study of this formed the basis of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). Most hypnotherapists today incorporate some NLP techniques in their work.
Solution Focused Brief Therapy: The Beginning
Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg (a married couple) became the originators of Solution Focused Brief Therapy when they created the Brief Therapy Centre in Milwaukee, USA. They were soon joined by Yvonne Dolan and others. The solution focused approach was radical in that it focussed on the solution rather than the problem, thus clients were enabled to move from a problem centred mindset to solution focused mindset. The approach is client centred, non-judgemental and solutions are often not linked to the problem in a direct way. For example, one client found that playing tennis not only improved her ability to concentrate at work, it also improved her social life as well!
The Brief Therapy Centre dealt mainly with family problems which had often become very complex over time. It was a revelation for the therapist to be able to ask each family member present what they would see as improvement, how would they recognise improvement, and what difference those small changes, which were the beginnings of improvement, would bring to others close to them. In this way the Clients move away from problem formation mode into solution formation mode.
The originators of Brief Solution Focused Therapy used this form of therapy for a wide range of problems including depression, behavioural problems, addiction, family & relationship problems, depression, anxiety, phobia and stress related issues.
When hypnotherapists began to be trained in the Solution Focused Approach, the circle of inspiration had really turned full circle linking back to Milton H Erickson the hypnotherapist who inspired Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg.
Solution focused brief therapy (SFBT)
Solution focused brief therapy (SFBT) looks at an individual’s resources, the things they are doing when things are going well, to allow the person to move from the problem towards a solution. This therapy is based upon how the brain works. Research has shown that the part of the brain that comes up with these positive solutions is the left hand prefrontal cortex, and the aim of solutions focused hypnotherapy is to utilise the natural functioning of the brain and give us tools to overcome future problems.
SFBT’s evolution started with the work of Milton Erickson and the mental research institute in the States. Essentially therapists started to look at analytical practices back in the 60’s and realised that it had limitations. Erickson’s approach was to tailor the therapy around the individual and not fit them into an existing model. This meant that the therapy moved more towards using the client’s own internal resources more.
With Brief Therapy, the origins of the problem were by and large avoided because recognising it did not necessarily mean a solution could be found.
By focusing on what we want instead of what we don't want, we are much more capable in finding a solution. An example might be ‘I don't want to feel lonely’, so by concentrating on what would be happening if you were not feeling lonely, this might prompt the person to find out activities they might enjoy where they meet people. This may appear common sense, but often people focus on the negative when they find themselves in such a situation.
Weight loss is another area which can uncover some interesting underlying reasons why they have problems with food. So instead of ‘I would wake up slim’, further questioning may bring forth answers such as ‘I would be more sociable’, ‘I would go out dancing’ etc. All these then can help focus on different activities that will help the person move towards some kind of behaviour that helps.
SFBT has now been transformed into a great way to supervise practitioners and is used within the National Health Service (NHS) as part of their management strategy. It is also recognised by the Department of Health as a benchmark of good practice. It can be seen, therefore that not only can SFBT be used individually, it can also be used as a business model, helping companies make changes when they have problems they are having difficulties solving.