Sharing and building Solution Focused practice in organisations

Inbetween, not inside or outside - the radical simplicity of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

Harry Korman (who runs the SFT-L SF therapy listserv) and I have been working on a paper for a while. We think it's now ready for an initial discussion in the SF community, prior to a second version for external publication. We'd be very interested in your comments.

You can read the paper at or download a pdf from Harry's website by clicking here.

The article has already been discussed at some length on SFT-L (I was away on holiday when Harry announced its availablility). There was a lively discussion. What do you think?

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Comment by Paolo Terni on June 4, 2008 at 14:48
Hi Mark,
thanks for the thought-provoking article that you linked!
I will try to give some forms to my thoughts, but here is the abstract: I basically agree with what Michael is saying in the comment above.
As Michael said, we are "multi-determined".

I guess one thing is to say: "it is, we propose, an unnecessary complication to introduce either of these concepts into the conversation by the therapist"; we can all agree on that.
And it would be a huge step forward to share this insight to a larger audience, as you set out to do.

Another thing is to say "people are not controlled from the inside".
That is a more sweeping statement.
I see some potential hurdles in making that statement:
- there is the risk of making a "straw-man" argument: I am not aware of anybody that is claiming that we are actually "controlled" by genes, i.e. that is arguing that genes are " 'controlling' mechanisms which must be changed in order for any other changes to occur"; rather, as you point out: "Genes do not control which possible behaviour and interaction is used in a particular situation - rather, they set 'parameters of possibility' and allow huge variation to emerge".
- The general consensus seems to be along the lines of the distinction you put forward, "between 'associated with' or 'limited by' and 'controlled by'".
- So "we are not controlled by inside" is either what everybody else is saying, given the meaning assigned to the word "controlled", or it is something that is false
- the note above applies to the concept of genes, on which you dwell; i realize it might apply less or not at all when we talk about "mental maps", or "beliefs": I think they are very different concepts, and that is another thing that I see as a potential problem: lumping together very different concepts under the heading "inside". I can argue that we are controlled by "brains", but not by "beliefs" or "mental maps" or "genes".

I love what you say in the chapter about "Occam's razor".
And yes, we can say we do not need those concepts for therapy, but from that does not follow those concepts are "disposable": "This doesn't mean that SF-therapists say that "brains" or "genes" do not exist or that such things as "attitudes" or "motivation" can't be mapped, discussed or examined. Indeed, we often talk with clients about their strengths, useful personal qualities and so on".
I also love what you say about the "in-between" (yeah, I was reminded of Stacey, too...).
In that "in-between", as part of the language game, there are "beleifs" and "mental maps" and "cultures"; after all the whole trait approach to personality was born out of studying language (how people represented different personality in language)!
I think we can stand firmly there without passing judgement on the inside or the outside: "what we cannot speak about we must pass on in silence" ;)
Comment by Michael Hjerth on June 3, 2008 at 20:43
Hi Mark,
I don't know if you saw my rather critical point on the SFT list. I still think most of my point are valid, even though I've made a different reading now which is more positive.

My view on SFT in relation to different bodies of knowledge remains the same. SFT is a tradition of practice. Not a science or a body of knowledge, but It's success leads to some interesting questions about human nature and science. It does not lead, I my view point, to a view on human nature like "people live in the emerging world in-between". I consider it a fact that humans are multidetermined, not non-determined by causes. Human behavior is determined, at the same time, from the inside (neuroscience), outside (cultural and social-sciences), and in-between (constructionist perspectives) Since we are multi-determined, reality is complex, and to an extent emergent. That is not to say that we are co-constructed or anything like that. Evolutionary explanations, neuroscience, social science etc still is valid and plays a role.

The problem are not inside/outside sciences and there concepts as such: the problem are occational claims of control and eliminative reductionism. You have a point there, so if the paper war attacking eliminative reductionism in psychology and social science. I would agree completely.

The claims you make are stronger though: that these sciences actually propose internal or external "mechanism" that govern human behavior. I think there area few examples of this position, but I dare say that this is not the common view of most sciences. Certainly this is not the case in psychology as a whole. The problem with some science is foundationalism, the claim that this is "the real" view, and all others should be seen in the light of. There are some people in psychology that have made such claims. But from that, you cannot claim that psychology is build on the notion of eliminative reductionism and straight foward causality. The fact now is that behavioral and cognitive neuroscience is slowly replacing psychology by including it and redifining it as a part of a multi-disciplinary endevour. So my view on SFT is that the science that is resonant with it contains inside/inbetween and outside pespectives. Each has a decided influence on behavior of individuals or groups. (and that includes genes, mental-maps or representations, social factors, systems etc. as well as emergency and complexity).

So in summary, I think that positioning SFT as the new "inbetween" thing, resonant with other "inbetween" things is a much to narrow, and (dare I say) foundationalistic if not deterministic view. I've always seen the Karlstad -group as being able to take also inside/outside theories into account. I'm still convinced that suggestions of adding things like evolution, neuroscience, behavioral econonics, economics as central to the "reach-out" endevour should be taken into account. Beeing the sceptic naturalist that I am, I will champion this view whenever I can.






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