The School Social Work Department of the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency utilizes a solution-focused process. This process focuses on the positive attributes of the person or system, on identifying solutions and setting realistic goals. The conversation in this process is on solution-oriented talk rather than on problem-oriented talk.
The assumptions of the solution-focused process are the following:
- Change is occurring all the time and systems are self-renewing and go through a process of chaos and order. In chaos is order and in order is chaos. This pattern is repetitive and last through-out the life span of the system.
- The client is viewed as always being cooperative and not resistive. As the practitioner understands the message of the client, cooperation is inevitable.
- People have the resources to solve their problems. The client is the expert.
- Meaning and experience are interactionally constructed and people inform the world of their meaning through their interactions with others.
- Small change is all that is necessary, a change in one part of the system has a ripple effect on the larger systems.
- You don't need to have a lot of information about the problem to solve it. The emphasis is on constructing solutions, not on admiring the problem.
In the solution-focused process, the school social worker focuses on helping the client find exceptions to the problem, identifying helpful resources and identifying the attributes of the client. The client for the school social worker can be the individual or the system (i.e. classroom, school building etc.).
Constructing solutions is an important part of the solution-focused process. Solution construction is based on the premise that problems have multiple solutions, the client and helper can do the constructing, and they construct or invent solutions rather than discover them through extensive evaluation regarding the cause of the problem. A key to understanding this concept is that solutions often are not directly related to the presenting problem and solutions are most often systemic (those things the system can change to benefit the individual).
Goal setting is another important part of the solution-focused process. This part of the process starts by the school social worker asking the client, "What are you hoping to change?" The goals are action oriented and described in behavioral terms. For example, the school social worker may ask, "When ________ happens, what will the person be doing."
Taking the first step toward attaining the goal is also critical to this process. The school social worker may ask, "What will be the first sign that things are starting to get on track." If the client has difficulty identifying goals, the miracle question sometimes is helpful, "If you went to sleep tonight and miracle happened so that when you woke up tomorrow your problem disappeared, what would be different?" The miracle question helps the client focus on the future, which people often cannot see clearly because of the present day stressors being experienced.
The solutions to people's problems generally fall within five powerful interest areas: financial (economic), security (emotional and physical), sense of belonging, recognition, and control over one's life. Scaling questions can be helpful in assisting the person in looking at the degree of distress experience as a result of a powerful interest not being met.
The school social worker may ask the person the following question:
"On a scale of 1 to 10, and 1 is when the situation was at its worst and a 10 at its best, where were you say you are today?" Change can be measured by the person as he/she assesses their functioning relative to the 1 to 10 scale.
In the solution-focused process the helper does not determine the goals to be achieved or the solutions. The person with the issue is the expert in this regard. The school social worker facilitates the process by which the person decides the interests not being met and the solutions he/she wishes to try. The school social worker works the process not the person. The school social worker may assist the person when systemic change is necessary by advocating for the needed changes in the school system, family or community agency.