There are exceptions to many rules in life. Whether it is a fashion decree about wearing black and brown or the parking law in various neighborhoods, there are many instances where the “rule” does not actually apply.
These sorts of exceptions to behaviors, habits, and thoughts are a core part of the process in solution-focused therapy. And this is one of the many topics that Jeffrey T. Guterman covers in the updated version of Mastering the Art of Solution-Focused Counseling. Guterman has years of training and experience as a practitioner, and as former associate editor of the Journal of Mental Health Counseling. Not only does he bring his personal methods into his description of solution-focused therapy, he pulls also from the training, research, and work of others who practice this method. And he delivers an excellent book.
As Guterman writes, “Solution-focused counseling holds that people have existing strengths, resources, and problem-solving skills — in effect, the natural resources that are needed to solve the problems that bring them to counseling.” The approach is to “focus on what is working in clients’ lives, rather than on what is not working,” and to help them “identify and build on exceptions.” He posits that too many methods focus instead on the problem.
Guterman opens by explaining the theory and research that has gone into developing solution-focused counseling. While this first part of the book may be overwhelming to those unfamiliar with counseling theory, it is interesting and will assist the reader in better understanding the roots of the method. Guterman then moves to the implementation of the theory and the research, describing how the process looks before the first session even begins and how each session after that will progress. He rounds out the book with a section full of applications for different situations that clients may be facing.
The book is well written, organized, and superbly researched. Some technical texts may come across as the perfect antidote to insomnia. However, Guterman’s writing flows well, carrying the reader through even the most technical and minute details without droning them into a state of sleep. His use of the abundant research is on-point and incredibly useful in elaborating and supporting his positions.
The examples are instrumental for those who may struggle with applying solution-focused counseling to specific scenarios. For instance, there is a chapter that focuses on how to implement the method when dealing with addiction. I myself struggled with this particular chapter, as I’ve always been a proponent of 12-step programs and the like. However, once I read through the first few case studies, I began to see how the method really could be effective in treating substance abuse problems.
Guterman also describes his own career. He explains the various methods and practices that he studied, and gives examples of how he now uses an “eclectic” method with solution-focused therapy. By “eclectic,” Guterman means a disciplined approach to using other methods in his practice in lieu of or along with solution-focused counseling. He comments on this approach: “Remember that no single model, including solution-focused counseling, can account for all client problems.”
Though I myself am not a practitioner, what seems wonderful about this aspect of Mastering the Art of Solution-Focused Counseling is that it allows the practitioner freedom in implementing Guterman’s method and in including it with other methods. He encourages his readers to use creativity in developing their practice.
The section I found most helpful was when Guterman shows applications for a wide variety of issues: anxiety, eating disorders, suicide, trichotillomania, spiritual problems, and more. Here, he not only shows how useful the main method can be, but gives examples of his “eclectic” approaches.
While this book is aimed at clinicians, I wonder if Guterman will write a self-help book for the masses with a solution-focused counseling approach. He encourages practitioners to stay abreast of current self-help bestsellers. Why not throw his own work into the mix and provide the lay person with guidelines that could help them solve problems on their own?
For now, we will just have to attempt to apply the method ourselves based on Mastering the Art of Solution-Focused Counseling, or find a therapist well-versed and experienced in this method.
Mastering the Art of Solution-Focused Counseling
American Counseling Association, 2nd edition, 2013
Paperback, 336 pages