Another meaning of “Solution Focused” Coaching

I am currently co-teaching a course on “narrative coaching” and was re-reading Gene Coombs and Jill Freedman’s wonderful introduction: “Narrative Therapy: the Social Construction of Preferred Realities” which I can wholeheartedly recommend for the more philosophically minded coaches.

In their second chapter, they talk about “reificiation” (also a pet peeve of mine) — “Reifi-WHAT?” I can hear you think, “is she completely going out of her mind now?”. Hang in there :-). A “reification” is “making something a thing (latin: re) that is not a thing. For example “depression” or “motivation” or “sadness” or “success”. These words actually describe something fluid, something moving and impermanent rather than a solid “thing”.

As you know as coaches, descriptions matter and make a difference. How we invite our clients to speak about what they want to achieve can help or hinder change. Compare:

“I really want to overcome this frustration — when I think about work, I really just want to run away!”

“I am currently feeling frustrated about work and would rather do something else.”

The second sentence makes the situation seem much more changeable: I added “currently” and there is not a thing, “frustration” to be overcome but a change to make which will ease how the person feels or allow the person to feel something else.

When we rephrase what the client said or ask questions which nudge into the direction of “impermanence” and “fluidity” rather than “reification” and “thingness”, we help create descriptions that allow us to see the situation as changeable:

“I really want to overcome this frustration — when I think about work, I really just want to run away!”

“I am sorry to hear that you are feeling frustrated at the moment – it sounds like you would really like doing something different?”

or

“Ah — that does sound like you are feeling frustrated just now. What would you like to be feeling instead?”

In a sense we are helping the static thing “frustration” become a fluid emotion as if we were pouring salt into water and stirring it to help it dissolve. Many researchers of emotion and mindfulness experts would agree: our feelings and emotions come and go, wax and wane — they are not “things” or “states”. It is much more helpful to look at them this way.

So forgive my pun: Sometimes solution focus has a different meaning. We not only help create solutions but we also dissolve artificially crystallized concepts.

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