Yvonne Dolan's Article
The relationships between team members early on (1983 or thereabouts) impressed me at the time as respectful, egalitarian, friendly, and informal. The discussions I heard taking place at BFTC seemed rather extraordinary, quite unlike what I would have expected to hear among the staff at other outpatient mental health clinics or social service agencies at the time.
The topics could range from team members’ straight forward observations of the live sessions they had seen that week; to arguments about the relevance of philosophy, linguistics, strategic therapy, or Batesonian theory; to their ongoing work with clients; to the comparative virtues of various research designs; to the cultural, social, and therapeutic relevance of anthropology and social rituals! The atmosphere between team members seemed extremely non-judgmental, and people managed to be playful at times despite the intellectual rigor of the discussions and the hard work involved in working with such a large and varied clientele.
For example, I remember hearing about the male BFTC team members’ chili making competition organized by Steve. They had blind tastings. I remember seeing a box of imported licorice in the viewing room and was told that Steve de Shazer, Wally Gingerich, and Michele Weiner-Davis shared a special affinity for imported licorice. Team members often took walks together while discussing ideas, and they shared an occasional pizza and beer.
Most significantly (it seemed to me) everyone working on the BFTC team at that time shared a genuine interest in finding out what others thought, and this included the clients whose views were treated with great respect. The clients were considered to possess genuine expertise and knowledge about their lives and what would be necessary to dissolve the problems that brought them in. I remember saying at the time that the atmosphere at BFTC seemed to me to be an “ego free” zone and in retrospect I believe this was largely true.
BFTC was essentially an inner city outpatient clinic, and they saw a very wide range of clients including homeless heroin addicts, severe alcoholics, chronically mentally ill people, multi-problem families who had previously exhausted all the local county social services, highly educated upper income people struggling to make high level career decisions, couples experiencing domestic abuse, children with school problems, parents of children exhibiting problematic behaviors like bed wetting, defiance, etc. They had a policy of working with whoever showed up rather than for example, requesting that the extended whole family come in or that a couple be seen alone. This was considered rather unusual, even radical at the time.
In what ways has the SFBT approach affected your work with clients and colleagues, and what impact (if any) has it had on your personal life?
Clients who have experienced other therapy approaches --- most notably court mandated, often tell me they appreciate that I do not tell them what to do and that I take the time to listen to their perspective before offering practical questions that help them identify what will be needed in order to get the results they want. Just last week one of my clients said, “I really appreciate that you did not try to give me advice!”
My personal life history includes episodes of violent sexual assault, repeated physical and emotional abuse, early childhood loss of a parent, and episodes of elective mutism during grade school. If I had been exposed to only the psychodynamic literature and not had access early on to a collaborative, hope instilling approach like Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, given my early life events, it would have been hard NOT to think of myself as a collection of debilitating symptoms that might appear at any time as a result of those long ago experiences ---- pretty depressing, to say the least! I probably would have thought of myself as “damaged goods” and not felt much hope about living a good life, much less a satisfying, rewarding one like the one I have now enjoyed for many years. Looking at my life from the perspective of SFBT has afforded me the opportunity to forge a self identity based not only on the sum total of painful life experiences but upon the good ones as well as cherished aspirations, goals, longings, and dreams. For me this has been invaluable, and I have never stopped being grateful for the quality of life that developed as a result.