Tag Archives: Solution-focused

How Parents Can Use Problem-Solving Power

Problem-solving power refers to a group of parent influence strategies designed to activate, within children or teenagers, a problem-solving or solution-focused mental state. This strategy is best illustrated with an example:

Sonya is busy at her laptop reading an online newspaper while her 6-year-old son plays in the living room. She notices her son working hard on a small puzzle and after he gets a piece into place, she says: “How did you figure out where that piece went?” Her son looks up and replies, “I don’t know. It just fit there.”

This interaction may seem trivial, but the mother, whether she knows it or not, is using problem-solving power to encourage her son to reflect on how he’s getting his puzzle together. This particular approach is based on constructive or solution-focused principles. The underlying belief is that the more we can get our children thinking about how to solve problems, the better they’ll become at problem-solving.  Further we are helping them become more optimistic, focusing on solutions and successes instead of pessimistically focusing on failures and problems.

The polar opposite of problem-solving power occurs when parents, in frustration, ask their child something like, “What’s wrong with you?” or after a sequence of misbehavior, “What were you thinking!?” When parents ask these problem-oriented questions, it encourages children to focus on their failures, what’s wrong with them, or on their negative thoughts and behaviors.

Just like solution-focused therapy, problem-solving power is indirect and leading (Murphy, 2008; Steenbarger, 2004). It’s also something we have to train ourselves to do.  For some reason, it seems more natural to ignore our children when they are behaving, and to give them attention when they are not.  Many parents remain silent and even detached while children play quietly (savoring the silence). This, of course, is the equivalent of ignoring good behavior, which we know from our basic behavioral principles is a great way to extinguish behavior.

The most common forms of problem-solving power are listed in the “How to Listen so Parents will Talk book (see: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=la_B0030LK6NM_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1351053762&sr=1-5)

Here’s one example of a problem-solving power strategy.

Child-Generated Rules

As noted in the “How to Listen. . .” book, parent-generated family rules are an example of direct power. In contrast, when using problem-solving power, parents try to hook their children into generating rules themselves. Interestingly, as family members discuss what they want for themselves and for the family, children often become motivated to contribute to very positive and reasonable family rules. Many authors have written about family meetings or the family council (Croake, 1983; Dreikurs, Gould, & Corsini, 1974).

Problem-solving power is an excellent way to help children reflect on and contribute to family solutions. It’s a method for helping children learn solutions and rules from the inside out—instead of the external or outside-in behavioral approach. Problem-solving power can be used liberally but sometimes parents need to take charge and solve family problems themselves. This is especially true with younger children. As family therapist Carl Whitaker once said (we’re paraphrasing), “Two-year-olds cannot take over leadership within a family unless they’re standing on the shoulders of a parent.” In the end, things go better if parents are the primary leaders in the home who not only allow their children to voice opinions, but also engage their children in the family problem-solving process.

Is Solution-Focused Therapy as Powerfully Effective as Solution-Focused Therapists Would Have Us Believe?

[This Blog is adapted from a previous blog posted on psychotherapy.net]

Solution-focused therapy is very popular. But is it effective?

Beginning in the 1980s, solution-focused therapy hit the mainstream and many mental health providers (and third-party payers) continue to sing the praises of its brevity and effectiveness. For example, in a 2009 book chapter Sara Smock claimed, “. . . there are numerous studies, several reviews of the research, and a few meta-analyses completed that showcase [solution-focused therapy’s] effectiveness.”

Really?

Solution-focused counseling and psychotherapy has deep roots in post-modern constructive theory. As Michael Hoyt once famously articulated, this perspective is based on “the construction that we are constructive.” In other words, solution-focused therapists believe clients and therapists build their own realities.

Ever since 2003, my personal construction of reality has been laced with skepticism. That was the year President George W. Bush included 63 references to “weapons of mass destruction” in his State of the Union address (I’m estimating here, using my own particular spin, but that’s the nature of a constructive perspective). As it turned out, there were no weapons of mass destruction, but President Bush’s “If I say it enough, it will become reality” message had a powerful effect on public perception.

From the constructive or solution-focused perspective, perception IS reality. Remember that. It applies to the solution-focused therapist’s view of solution-focused therapy effectiveness.

I recall hearing many presenters tell me that solution-focused therapy is powerful and effective. Or maybe it was powerfully effective. And I recall reading books and articles that similarly referred to the power and effectiveness of solution-focused therapy. Now we could just take their word for it, but I still can’t help but wonder: “What does the scientific research say about the efficacy of solution-focused therapy anyway?”

Here’s a quick historical tour of scientific reality.

  • In 1996, Scott Miller and colleagues noted: “In spite of having been around for ten years, no well-controlled, scientifically sound outcome studies on solution-focused therapy have ever been conducted or published in any peer-reviewed professional journal.”
  • In 2000, Gingerich & Eisengart identified 15 studies and after analyzing the research, they stated: “. . . we cannot conclude that [solution-focused brief therapy] has been shown to be efficacious.”
  • In 2008, Johnny Kim reported on 22 solution-focused outcomes studies. He noted that the only studies to show statistical significance were 12 studies focusing on internalizing disorders. Kim reported an effect size of d = .26 for these 12 studies [this is a rather small effect size].
  • In 2009, Jacqueline Corcoran and Vijayan Pillai concluded: “. . . practitioners should understand there is not a strong evidence basis for solution-focused therapy at this point in time.”

Now don’t get me wrong. As a mental health professional and professor, I believe solution-focused techniques and approaches can be very helpful . . . sometimes. However, my scientific training stops me from claiming that solution-focused approaches are highly effective. Although solution-focused techniques can be useful, psychotherapy often requires long term work that focuses not only on strengths, but problems as well.

So what’s the bottom line?

While in a heated argument with an umpire, Yogi Berra once said: “I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it!” This is, of course, an apt description of the powerful confirmation bias that affects everyone. We can’t help but look for evidence to support our pre-existing beliefs . . . which is one of the reasons why even modernist scientific research can’t always be trusted.  But this is why we bother doing the research. We need to step back from our constructed and enthusiastic realities and try to see things as objectively as possible, recognizing that absolute objectivity is impossible.

Despite strong beliefs to the contrary, there were no weapons of mass destruction. And currently, the evidence indicates that solution-focused therapy is NOT powerfully effective.

 

The Efficacy of Solution-Focused Therapy

The Efficacy of Solution-Focused Therapy

For years I’ve wondered about what the research says about the efficacy of solution-focused therapy. While revising our theories text, I reviewed some of the literature. If you’re interested, I published a short blog about it on psychotherapy.net. Check it out. http://www.psychotherapy.net/blog/title/the-miraculous-or-not-efficacy-of-solution-focused-therapy