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Frank Thomas, PhD LMFT-S

Professor, Counseling & Counselor Education Program
Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX USA
AAMFT Clinical Fellow & Approved Supervisor
Frank Thomas, PhD LMFT-S

with CHILDREN AND THEIR Most assumptions and techniques of the
FAMILIES that solution-focused (SF) approach were created
FIT WELL WITH SOLUTION- for individual adult or adolescent clients. This
interactive workshop will expose participants to
FOCUSED THERAPY SF assumptions necessary in working with
families, including collaborative goal-setting
and systemic interaction that includes children,
Frank Thomas, PhD LMFT-S plus multiple SF techniques for use with
Professor, Counseling & Counselor Education Program children and their families. Practical, hands-on
Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX USA learning will be our focus.
AAMFT Clinical Fellow & Approved Supervisor

A Solution-Building Stance A Solution-Building Stance

Nonjudgmental listening is essential. Assumption: if one part of a system changes,
other changes will occur.
The focus of attention is on what the child and
family are asking for in the therapeutic situation Eliciting information about the childs and
and what the role of the therapist is to be. parents competencies and resources is tied
closely to positively impacting their lives.
This involves the development of a positive
interaction which fosters an awareness of This approach is not impressed with symptoms
change, directed by the child & family and or troublesome behavior. Therapy is a time to
reinforced by the therapist. practice new behaviors, to create a theme of
competence, and be supported by a
The essential position of the therapist is
compassionate professional in this affirming

A Solution-Building Stance
A great deal of this approach is not so much
about changing anything but rather everyone CURIOSITY
everyone -- learning how to pay attention
differently. RESPECT
The greatest asset in being a solution-building
therapist is relentless optimism. TENTATIVENESS

AAMFT Portland, October 2013 1

Frank Thomas, PhD LMFT-S

WHAT MAKES IT Stages of Solution-Building

SOLUTION-FOCUSED? (De Jong & Berg, 2013)
Future focus -- Therapists have
goals are co-created expertise, too Describing the Problem
by therapist & Strengths &
client(s) resources matter Developing Well-Formed Goals
Focus on Do more of what (Future Focus)
exceptions works Exploring for Exceptions
Clients are Stop doing what
competent End-of-Session Feedback
does not work
Focus on the Doesnt work? Do Evaluating Client Progress
change-able something
Clients know their different(ly)

Ericksons Six Core Strategies

Tied to Solution-Focused Techniques Other Intervention Strategies
(Short et al., 2005)
Distraction: Presuppositional Q?s Reframing (Reorientation)
Partitioning: Goal-Setting, Miracle Q?s Pattern Interruption (Molnar & de Shazer,
Progression: Scaling Q?s 1987)
Suggestion: Presuppositional Q?s, Psychoeducation
Miracle Q?s
Social Networking
Reorientation: Miracle Q?s, Exception
Q?s, Externalization (Narrative)
Utilization: Exceptions, Strengths,
Resources, Cooperating with

(Reorientation, Suggestion) MIRACLE QUESTIONS (2)
a. SFT Miracle question:
Go for specifics the morning after
If a miracle were to happen tonight
Stay with what they would do and what while you were asleep and tomorrow
they would notice was different morning you awoke to find that this
Ask, and then, how would you respond problem were no longer a part of your life,
if she (he) did that? what would be different? What would be
the first SMALL thing that will indicate to
Frequently ask others, Would that be a you that this miracle had taken place?
good thing for you, if she (he) did that? How would other people be able to tell
and if you did that just a little bit without you telling them?

AAMFT Portland, October 2013 2

Frank Thomas, PhD LMFT-S


(Black, 2010)
b. Video description question: Progressive drawing of a family/child miracle
Let's say that we have two video tapes Ask the Miracle Question
of you, one is in the past when the Ask the child to draw a picture of the first
problem was really getting in the way for thing that would happen in the miracle day,
you and the other is sometime in the near then chronologically draw frame after frame
as s/he moves through the morning (or day)
future when things are better. What's
Curiosity centers on Tell me about this part
most noticeable in the tape of you in the of the miracle and Then what happens?
future that will tell us that things are better Keeps the Miracle Question concrete and
for you? specific
Helps with child expression, voice


(Partitioning) (Partitioning)
Creating goals should focus on the beginning of Ask: What do you WANT? (stay away from
what they do NOT want)
the therapy process rather than the end or result Ask: What are YOU willing to change to
With families: (say to one member), What would make this situation better?
be the first small step you would (not could) take Ask another family member: Would that
tomorrow, if this miracle were to happen? change make a positive difference for
Then ask another member, and what would
Ask: What would that change look like if I
you do then? (as a response to the first saw you doing that?
persons change) Ask: What would be the first small step you
Continue asking around would take?
Repeat with another family member Ask: Is this possible? Is this realistic, given
your situation?

Do Something Different
(Reorientation) (Pattern Interruption)
(de Shazer & Molnar, 1984)
(to Parent): What do you do to barely cope
each day?
How do you keep going every day? Do something different the next time
How did you manage to get up this morning? Jamie throws a tantrum, no matter how
So you thought seriously about giving up strange, or weird, or off-the-wall what
(Parent's words). How did you manage to
get to this appointment? you do might seem. The only important
So the problem isn't any better. Many times, thing is that whatever you decide to do,
problems get worse with time...What have you need to do something different.
you been doing to keep the problem from
getting any worse? (p. 301)

AAMFT Portland, October 2013 3

Frank Thomas, PhD LMFT-S

Techniques: Techniques:
Do Something Different (2) Do Something Different (3)
(de Shazer & Molnar, 1984) (de Shazer, 1985)

People often need permission to try Between now and next time we meet, we
something besides what they've would like each of you once to, do something
different, when you catch Mary watching TV
always tried (which always seems to instead of doing what she needs to be doing, no
result in the same outcome). As matter how strange or weird or off-the-wall what
simple as this seems, it can be a you do might seem. The only important thing is
that whatever you decide to do, you need to, do
powerful intervention. something different. (de Shazer, 1985, p. 123)

Techniques: Techniques:
Everything is an Experiment EXCEPTION-FINDING QUESTIONS
(Reorientation) (Thomas, 1999) (Reorientation)
Id like for you to do _______ (whatever you all
agree on) this week. But remember: this is
not permanent -- its just an experiment. If Enhancing existing and past
you like how it goes, we can talk about successes
continuing it. If you dont, you only have to
do it for a week. Identifying exceptions to problem-
When change isnt assigned or required, people dominated perceptions and behaviors
are more likely to try out a different way of
thinking, behaving, or interacting. To commit SFBT assumes exceptions happen all
to a weeks trial is very different than any the time!
from now on, to succeed, you must . . .
Also, failures (by your standards or theirs!)
are time-limited!

Techniques: Techniques:
There are times, I am sure, when you would
expect the problem to happen, but it Who else noticed that change?
doesn't. How do you get that to happen? In what way could you tell that s/he
(ALWAYS assuming that the Parent(s) and noticed?
Child have some element of CONTROL over When is it less frequent (intense,
the change that has taken place.)
What is different when the problem could
have gotten the best of you, but you did When is it different in any way?
something to prevent it? What did you How did you figure out that doing
do? __________ helps?

AAMFT Portland, October 2013 4

Frank Thomas, PhD LMFT-S

Techniques: Techniques:
(see Thomas, 2010) EXCEPTIONS
Making exceptions meaningful
Exceptions can relate to part of
ones experience Unique account questions =
You are special!
What percentage do you have some
control over? How do you account for your ability to do
Only work on experiences within the
Is this something that surprised you about
controllable portion yourself...the fact that you were able to stand
Connecting contexts up to the problem in this way?
school home

Techniques: Techniques:

What about you helped you to be able to do Did this escape from the problem come easily
this? to you, or was it something you found difficult?
Did you know before you did _________ that a. (if response is that it was easy):
you would be able to do it? How did you How do you account for your ability to
make something other people find very
know that about yourself? difficult seem easy?
What was different about this situation b. (if response is that it was difficult):
compared with one when the problem was How do you account for your ability to
more in charge? What was different do something like this even though it
about you? was hard to do?

Techniques (Pattern Interruption): Techniques:

Fool Your Parent(s) (2)
Fool Your Parent(s)
(to Sarah, the IP): I need your help this week. This, like the pretend task, can upset several
I think your parent can't tell the difference patterns. First, if the Parent feels she has
between when you are REALLY out-of-control superior knowledge of Sarah's motives, then
and when you are doing it on purpose. I'd like (more than likely) Sarah will provide an event
for you to pick one time this week and act a that breaks the Parents stranglehold by fooling
LITTLE out-of-control on purpose. Don't tell her. Also, this puts Sarah in a position of
Mom/Dad when that is, but be sure to be ready controlling her behavior, albeit negatively (for the
to tell me when you did it, OK? moment!), which makes her impulsive behavior
Mom, I'd like for you to keep track of the times controllable. Finally, this may interrupt the
you think Sarah is getting out-of-control on Parents normal procedures around trying to
purpose. Note the situation on a sheet of paper control Sarah / get Sarah under control, which
you know, day, time, what happened and haven't been successful and have led to
bring it with you next time. counseling.

AAMFT Portland, October 2013 5

Frank Thomas, PhD LMFT-S

Techniques: HIGHLIGHTING Techniques:

PRE-SESSION CHANGE Observing Differently
(de Shazer & Molnar, 1984)
Many people experience changes around their
problem between the time they call for the first Between now and the next time we meet, I
appointment and the first session, often for the want you to observe, so that you can tell me
better. Have you experienced any positive next time, what happens in your _______
changes since you first called? (life, family, school, or relationship) that you
What positive thing do you think ______ want to continue to have happen.
(partners name) would say about you, now that
you've gained more control of your depression? People tend to be problem-saturated in their
So you've noticed less anxiety in your life since descriptions, explanations, and (therefore)
your first called. How did you do that? experience. Bringing focus to other, less
So things have changed a bit for you. What dominant experiences and themes allows them
have you been doing the past week that brought to notice WHEN other events and experiences
this about? are happening, creating hope and future vision.

Techniques: Techniques:
Are A Little Better
(de Shazer & Molnar, 1984)
Many people experience changes around their
problem between the time they call for the
Pay attention to what you do when you
overcome the temptation or urge to . . . first appointment and the first session, often
(perform the symptom or some behavior for the better. What positive changes have
associated with the complaint), and come you experienced since you first called?
back and tell me about it next time. What would ______ (Child, Mother) say about
Nothing happens all the time (M. Durrant) you now that you've gained more control of
The results of this noticing task can be very your situation?
powerful, and everyone can participate

Pride Round
In groups of children or with families
So you've noticed less fighting among I often tell them that I am really proud of them.
your children since your first called, Instead of me telling them all the time, I often
ask them to choose something they have
Father. How did you do that? done well in (the problem context) and are
So things have changed a bit for you. proud of and to tell the group/family.
Im proud I got a sticker (for well-done
What have you been doing the past homework)
week that brought this about? Im proud of how I held my temper this past
I think Ive really done well showing my
appreciation for my son this week

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Frank Thomas, PhD LMFT-S

Techniques: Techniques:
RATE THE OTHERS EXPERIENCE Rate The Other's Experience (2)
I would like for you to keep a journal / diary of
I would like for you to rate your tantrums your Sons 'acting-out' this week. On a scale
(Child's word) each day. Mom, I would like from '1' to '10,' with '1' being totally out-of-
for you to rate his tantrums each day, also. control and '10' being totally in-control, I'd
Don't tell each other what your rating is, but like for you (one or both Parents) to rate his
keep track of it on these note cards and we'll behavior -- morning, afternoon, and evening.
talk about it next time. Pay particular attention to what's going on
This often highlights the Child as expert of her when you do not rate his behavior as a '1,'
or his own problem, since Parent will be and bring in your notes next time for
wrong on her/his rating of the actual rating assessment.
number of the Child nearly every time. Parent version!

Techniques: SCALING
Rate The Other's Experience (3) (Progression)
Given: There will be differences in #s!
Do not try to resolve the differences!
Since most people dichotomize (He's awful /
He's perfect), this scaling or rating exercise Why would that be a ____ (number) for
introduces difference into the equation. you and not higher?
Assuming Son will not be a 1 all the time (note What would have to happen for that
the word when), the parent will have number to increase by one?
evidence around Son's better moments to
discuss the next time you meet. What would you notice when that number
increased from x to x+1?

Techniques: Techniques:

Change is easier when it is removed from On a scale from one to ten, with one
the dichotomy of all / nothing being 'pretty bad' and ten being 'pretty
Moving away from setting an unattainable good', how would you rate how you're
goal of 10 (or perfection) allows both doing now? Follow with, And when
the therapist and the client(s) to you're able to say (the client's response
experience success before the plus one or two), what will be happening
problem is completely eliminated differently?
(assuming it can be eliminated) (Ask each family member part of goal-ing

AAMFT Portland, October 2013 7

Frank Thomas, PhD LMFT-S

On a scale from one to ten, how bad CHILDREN
is your anger (Child's word) right
now? What would it take for it to
get better, say, one or two
So your childs laziness (Parent's
word) has improved from a '2' to from
a '4'. What did you do to move up Tolksdorf,
from 2 to 4 in such a short time? in Nelson
What would it take to get the & Thomas,
problem from a '5' to a '6'? 2007

Techniques for SCALING: Techniques:

(Hackett, 2010) (Furman & Ahola, 1992)
On 3, everyone uses both hands to show Also in Bertolino & OHanlon (2002)
where you think the family is on a scale from
0 to 10, 0 = 2 closed hands and 10 = all 10 Who taught you how to overcome this?
fingers showing. Who helped you to make the progress so
Practice before creating an interventive quickly?
scale x 2 or 3! If you were to thank someone for your help
Example: On 3, everyone show where you on this problem, who would it be? (follow
are, 0 to 10, on how well you got along on with), How might we do that?
your best day, which you all agreed was last
Saturday, OK? Ready? 1..2..3! (Mom=7, How did your parents help you change?
Dad=8, Son=9) OK, Son, 9 is really high!
What made it a 9 for you?

Techniques: Techniques:
Tapping into Social Support Systems Tapping into Social Support Systems (2)
(Bertolino & OHanlon, 2002) (Bertolino & OHanlon, 2002)
Also called Unconditional Who do you feel you can count on?
When youre struggling, who knows just
Who helps you in your day-to-day what to say or do to help you to get
life? back on track?
What do these people do to be a help Who has helped you through tough
to you? times? How did (do) they help?
Who has been helpful to you in the Who would be willing to help out and
past in facing daily challenges? would be helpful?
How has s/he been helpful to you?

AAMFT Portland, October 2013 8

Frank Thomas, PhD LMFT-S

Techniques: Techniques:
Transfer Competence Transfer Competence (2)
(OHanlon & Beadle, 1999) (OHanlon & Beadle, 1999)

Child: I just hang out at school -- nobody We can help clients draw upon the
thinks I do much of anything right.
confidence and ease they feel in situations
Therapist: Didnt you tell me you are in the
band? How did you get good enough to where they are competent and effective
become a member of the band? and apply it in new areas. They can also
Adolescent: My mother and my brother draw useful metaphors and practical help
squabble constantly. from these areas and apply them to
Therapist: You work at a daycare -- when you current areas of difficulty.
see two kids fighting, how do you help them
get along better?

Hudgins, Maryann (2001) Trenhaile, Jay (2006). CREATING SOLUTIONS and
Now you can help students The format of the game draws childrens natural
understand respectful behavior interest and encourages them to share information. Both
while having fun. Each bingo card versions are focused on childrens strengths. They are
gives students the opportunity to cooperative the counselor plays with the child or
look for actions that show caring for children to attempt to win the game jointly. Everyone is
self, working with others, on the same team.
responsibility at home, fairness in
play, and trustworthy actions.
Included are 30 bingo cards, calling
cards, and reproducible activity
GRADES 2-5 UP TO 30 PLAYERS $23.95 from


1. If you want A to speak with B, the 4. When A states his/her opinion of an event,
therapist should avoid drawing eye gaze, ask B: Is your experience similar or different?
being sensitive to cultural. 5. About the amount of time each person
2. When A speaks for B, check it out with speaks: Division of time spent talking must fit
B (Is that your experience, B? Is your that counseling situation. Ask, Is it necessary
experience similar to what A is saying?) that we divide the speaking time equally?
3. Alternative to #2: When A speaks for B, 6. When people interrupt and speak for the
other, answering a question meant for the other:
politely ask A to speak for self (Is that
Ask, If I ask one of you a question, and the
your experience, A? Ill get to B in a
other responds, how do I stop the interruption
moment to get his/her view of this.)
without offending you?

AAMFT Portland, October 2013 9

Frank Thomas, PhD LMFT-S


7. Ask, How can I make this helpful to you 10. If all agree that doing _______ would
(individually and collectively)? make a significant positive difference in
8. Not asking about goals for therapy may lead their relationship or problem, find a way to
a person to assume you agree with his/her make ________ happen!
unspoken goals. Ask, What do you expect from
counseling? early on and expect to hear 11. STAY TENTATIVE!
different and (seemingly) contradictory things. 12. Normalize but dont diminish or
9. Disagree respectfully (especially with disqualify someones experience.
peoples conclusions). Example: If I disagree
with you on that, what would you say?


13. Start Old Good Behaviors Again -- 16. Interactive Miracle Questions (Berg)
Only change (initially) what the others say Ask one (example, W), What would be
is meaningful change 1st thing you would do?
14. Keep nonverbal cues you pick up to Ask H, If she did that, how would you
yourself (if client made aware control it). respond?
15. Learn to say, I cant do that and Switch ask H about his Miracle, what
I wont do that, when appropriate. he would do first; then ask W how she
would respond to Hs 1st miracle action

AAMFT Portland, October 2013 10


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