A Case Outlining How to Focus on Solutions
Michelle has come to counselling due to increasing feelings of hopelessness about the direction of her life. She is complaining that she is too “bogged down” in her problems to see where she should be going. This is Michelle’s second session with the Counsellor. She has spent her previous session discussing the areas of her life that she is unhappy with. Within this session, the Counsellor decides to trial a solution-focussed approach with Michelle.
The Counsellor hopes to move Michelle onto discussing ways she can overcome the problems that she has described by focussing more on solutions rather than problem descriptions. For ease of writing, the Professional Counsellor is abbreviated to “C”.
Essential Case Information
Michelle is twenty-one and has been studying Veterinary Science for the last 3 years. She would like to finish her degree in the next few years, but doesn’t think that this will ever happen. Currently, Michelle is deferred from her studies and is working two part-time jobs. She works at the local shopping centre on weekdays and waitresses in the evenings and on most weekends. She dislikes both of her jobs, mostly because they involve dealing with the public. Michelle has strong desires to move on with her career and is frustrated by spending all her time working at tedious jobs.
Michelle lives with her partner James, who is also a student. When they were both studying full-time, they were having difficulties supporting themselves financially. They made an arrangement where one of them would work to support the other, until their studies were completed.
As James is further along in his studies, Michelle has opted to work, and allow him to complete his studies. James will then work to support Michelle in her own studies. Michelle had planned to work for about one year, however, James has discovered that he will be required to do an extra year of study to qualify for the position he wants.
This means that Michelle will have to wait at least two years before she can continue her studies. She is currently feeling very trapped by the arrangement and she does not feel positive about her situation over the coming years. She has been reluctant to approach her partner about these feelings, and she can’t see any way around her predicament.
In the previous session, “C” did a Personality Need Type Profile for Michelle. She has moderate Type “D” needs, which means that Michelle’s studies and career goals are an important means for her to meet her achievement needs. “D” types are not particularly social, preferring to interact with those who have similar interests to them. This explained to Michelle why she does not enjoy the public contact involved in her part-time jobs.
Michelle was pleased to find that there were some valid reasons for her desires to continue study and for her discontentment with serving the public. However she was still experiencing difficulty in understanding how this would help her to change her circumstances.
In this, the second session, “C” asked Michelle if it would be okay to ask her some questions about her situation; in particular how she thought life would be when she didn’t have these problems. Michelle said she was happy to give it her best shot.
“C” asked Michelle if there had been any times during the past few months when she felt happier about the direction of her life. Michelle responded that she had been feeling good about her life when she attended a Veterinary seminar a few weeks ago. “C” questioned Michelle as to how she had organised this for herself. Michelle replied that “one of the girls I waitress with did the shift for me, so that I could attend. I’ve offered to take one of her shifts next week in return.”
“C” then asked her what it was about the seminar that made her feel better. Michelle replied “it was great to be with people who were interested in the same field as myself. The presenters inspired me to think about the areas that I would eventually like to work in. It was fantastic to meet other people who were practicing in those areas and they gave me some good advice. I even made some contacts with Vets in my state.”
“C” congratulated Michelle on her decision to attend the seminar, and providing herself with a situation that would gratify her need to pursue her studies. Michelle responded that the feelings of happiness did not last too long once she had to return to work. “Dealing with the public is so draining, and many of the people I work with find the work dull. I don’t feel like I have much in common with anyone there.”
Through the use of a ‘Miracle Question’, “C” asked Michelle to describe what her life would be like if she did not have this problem. “Michelle, imagine that you woke up tomorrow morning and found that your problems had disappeared. What would you notice to be different?”
“I’d be working, as a Vet, in my own surgery, in my field of speciality. I wouldn’t have to do any more waitressing or serving the public. I’d be working towards my own career.” “C” replied, “that sounds like a longer term goal to me, what do you think might happen in the meantime to move you towards that goal?”
“…I don’t know…, perhaps I’d have more time to do my studies. I could maybe leave one of my jobs and take on some more subjects… though I’d have to check this with James. One of us would still have to do the work, in order for us to survive.”
“C” complemented Michelle on her ideas, “talking with James and renegotiating your arrangements sounds like a good first step Michelle.” “C” went on further to ask how Michelle might approach James about her ideas. Michelle was uncertain about this, and she expressed her concern that James might not feel that she was supportive of his career direction by proposing change.
“C” asked Michelle to think of the times when she demonstrated her commitment to her partner’s goals. Michelle responded “there are many times I suppose. I agreed to work initially in order to allow him to finish his studies. I also help him out with his assignments.” “C” asked Michelle how James had responded to her commitment. “He has been pretty grateful actually, I don’t know why I think that he wouldn’t support my goals… and I have to consider that the arrangements have changed since we first made them.”
“C” praised Michelle for giving some supportive reasons to negotiate changes for herself. “How would you approach James about your ideas now, Michelle?” Michelle went on to think about how she could approach James about her feelings and negotiate some changes to occur in their agreement.
In particular she thought of alternative means of financing herself and James, by seeking loans, or reducing their cost of living. In the past, Michelle’s parents had assisted her with sorting out her finances, so she thought to discuss these possibilities with them. She considered that James may also have some ideas to contribute.
Both “C” and Michelle were feeling positive about the solutions that Michelle had developed for herself. “C” asked Michelle if she could rate how hopeful she felt about her ability to change her circumstances. Michelle responded that on a scale of 1 to 10, she was at about a ‘6’. “Okay,” said “C”, what else might have to happen for you to increase that score?” “Well, I’d like to be more focussed on my study at the moment,” replied Michelle.
As Michelle had already stated this goal, “C” responded with, “you mentioned before how happy you felt after attending that seminar. It seemed like such a good strategy for yourself. I am wondering if you can organise to attend some further seminars?”
“Yes I can, however, they only happen every now and then. Though several of the students were hoping to form a study group and meet on a regular basis. There were plans to invite some of the local seminar presenters along, to give us some feedback on our work I guess that I could try to attend some of these.”
“C” asked Michelle how she might organise this for herself.
“I could probably change some shifts with the girls that I work with, some of them are pretty keen for more money. I might have to lose a shift every now and then, to get to the study group.”
“C” affirmed this goal of Michelle’s, as a pro-active step towards meeting her needs and maintaining her enthusiasm for her studies. Michelle responded positively to the feedback and went on further to say that ideally, she would like to be able to begin her practical experience and assessment next year. “C” inquired further into this area of her work, and Michelle became more animated as she discussed her plans for her career and future.
“C” questioned Michelle about the ways in which she could achieve her goal to commence practical work. At all times, “C” acted as the interested listener, and asked questions to increase his understanding of Michelle’s goals, rather than assuming that he knew what Michelle would want. Michelle was able to determine some ways in which she might go about starting practical work, whilst still balancing her financial requirements. She also thought more about the agreement that she and James had made, and ways in which it might be modified.
Nearing the end of the session, “C” requested that they take a short break before summarising the goals and outcomes for Michelle. “C” prepared some feedback to offer Michelle in this time.
In summary, “C” discussed how Michelle had initially been feeling that her goals were out of reach. Michelle obviously had dreams and goals that she had wanted to pursue, and “C” had noticed how inspired Michelle seemed when she discussed these in detail.
“C” felt that Michelle already had the skills that she needed to solve her problems, and she had demonstrated this by organising time to attend seminars and student work groups. “C” also complemented Michelle’s shift in attitude about approaching James with her issues and solutions. “C” validated Michelle’s goal to assert her own needs, in a considerate way, with her partner.
From Michelle’s discussion, it seemed to “C” that her solutions consisted of:
Renegotiating an agreement with James where she could reduce her work. Maintain her support of James’ goals to finish his study, whilst still meeting her own career goals.
Organise some time off from work to attend study groups or seminars. Look into other financial arrangements for herself and James, such as student loans, parental assistance, reducing rent and other expenses. Organise to start Practical placement with a Veterinary Surgery next year.
“C” also suggested that Michelle might use some of her contacts from the seminar to assist her with finding placements, and possibly some part-time work.
“C” mentioned that they had focussed mostly on meeting Michelle’s goals for study and career, rather than other issues such as work. “C” explained to Michelle that focussing on a few main issues, was easier than dealing with several issues at once. As Michelle’s main goal appeared to be her career, they had focussed on that area. “C” suggested that her issues regarding work would likely be reduced, once she was meeting her priority needs to study and work in Veterinary Science.
“C” asked Michelle how she would rate her control over her future, upon reaching the end of the session. Michelle described herself as an 8. She was feeling particularly positive after revisiting her goals for a career.
It had been sometime since she had the opportunity to discuss them, and this session had helped her to focus on what she could do to change her situation. She reinforced for herself again the benefit of attending seminars or study groups on a regular basis to keep her enthusiasm going for her career goals.
End of Session
Some points to consider with Solution-Focused Counselling:
This style of counselling, focuses on discussing what the client can do to change their situations, rather than focussing on the problems the clients present with. This does not mean that problems are ignored, rather that the emphasis is on building solutions.
The client will usually be able to describe the who, what, where and why of their problems however, the role of the counsellor will be to encourage the client to inquire into the who, what, where and why of their solutions.
The counsellor assumes that the client has the skills required to solve their own problems and assists the client to do this by:
- Asking the client about how they have solved problems before
- Asking the client about exception situations, when the problem was not evident
- Asking the client about what they did to make the exception situations occur
- Asking the client how they would like their situation to change for the better and what it would take for this to occur (the miracle question)
- Asking the client to prioritise their goals and solve them one at a time
Author: Jane Barry