In the past few decades, a strength-based movement has emerged in the field of mental health. It offers an alternative to problem-focused approaches that have organized prevailing treatments. In particular, solution-focused counseling highlights what is working in people’s lives rather than emphasizing their deficits, limitations, and weaknesses. In this article, I describe some of the main principles of a solution-focused approach to problem-solving.
There are Always Exceptions to the Problem
One of the key assumptions informing solution-focused counseling is that people have existing resources, strengths, and problem-solving skills. If these resources — called exceptions — are identified and amplified, then problem resolution and change can be brought about in an effective and efficient manner.
An exception refers to times when a person is able to effectively resolve a problem or when a problem is not happening. From my experience, there are always exceptions to problems. Addicts resist using drugs. Depressives have up days. Oppositional adolescents comply with the rules.
The problem is that sometimes people do not recognize these exceptions. By looking for and identifying exceptions, one can begin the process of working toward effective solutions.
People are sort of like bicycle chains. They typically work just fine. Sometimes, however, they get a bit stuck or off track. In such cases, one may need a minor adjustment to get back on a natural course.
If we get too involved in defining the problem and how to change it, there is often a risk of exacerbating the issue. The key to change from a solution-focused perspective is to identify one’s natural resources and use these as a basis for problem-solving and growth.
Small Changes Can Lead to Big Results
Frequently, a small change is all that is needed to resolve a problem. And a small change can also result in a snowball effect which, in turn, leads to bigger changes and the resolution of even bigger problems. This idea is related to the principle of inertia, which holds that an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion.
Consider how difficult it is when procrastinating at doing a tedious task such as doing laundry or paying bills. Inertia principles suggest it takes an extra force of energy to initially propel the body into motion to start the task. When a person initiates the activity, this often leads to progress and one often finds it easier to stay in motion and proceed with the activity.