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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Delegate Debate: Which of your clients can spot positive change the easiest?

Have you ever wondered why some of your clients find it more difficult to spot improvement than others? They seem tied into a pathological model of themselves that fails to recognise their own resources, successes or potentials.

I had two new clients in July who illustrated this well. One, whom we’ll call Joe, had multiple problems ranging from obesity and emphysema through to OCD. He had been seen by a range of other professionals already. He also had a diagnosis of ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). His referral letter was perfunctory and I got the feeling that he’d been “sent” to get him off someone else’s back.

The other client was one whom we’ll call Carl. Carl is a lawyer. He’s bright, is able to grasp psychological principles easily and has problems relating to work stress triggered by his wife’s illness.

I’ve seen both of them three times now. Who do you think is turning out to be the easier to work with?

You probably think this is a trick question and so have said Joe. And you’d be right. When I asked Carl for examples of where he hadn’t failed in his life, he said there was no point because these were “miniscule”. Joe finds it easier to spot success than Carl does.

I mention this because our Brief Solution Focused Therapy (BSFT) training specialises in enhancing clients’ capacity to detect positive change in themselves and others. It does this in a variety of ways by using the client’s selective attention. By selectively attending to positive change clients begin to orientate towards it and automatically produce more of it. Get more details by clicking here:

Brief Solution is sometimes accused, however, of being overly optimistic or only useable with “easy clients”. This doesn’t fit with the evidence base, but you know how myths develop… Further more this belief doesn’t this fit the situation with Joe and Carl – it happens to be the exact opposite!

Recent research from the University of Edinburgh suggests a reason for it which also turns our client assumptions on their head.

Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson and her colleagues in Edinburgh* have a special interest in “change detection” and ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). The capacity (or otherwise) for “change detection” is, of course, a well-established psychological process – as is its converse “inattentional blindness” – the repeated failure to see self-evident things happening because we are not expecting them or attending to them. Dr Fletcher-Watson discovered that ASD children aged 11-16 are substantially more able to detect changes in visual scenes than both “normal” children AND adults.

This fits with many Brief Solutions Therapists empirical experience that ASD can be viewed as an ASSET in therapy rather than a deficit. Paradoxical as it sounds – this is one of the strength of BSFT amongst many others. Get more solution focused tools for your therapeutic toolkit with difficult and complex clients by signing up here:

It will be interesting to see how Joe and Carl work out. I’ll keep you updated. However, I’m sure this situation isn’t unique and I’m interested in YOUR thoughts on it.

What clients have YOU worked with where you’ve found that their therapeutic response challenged assumptions about their ability to change? WHY do you think this was?

Write to me and let me know. I’m genuinely interested…. as I’m sure others would be too. Your responses will be published anonymously in our blog:

Best Wishes and looking forward to seeing you soon on one of our training courses.


• *Fletcher-Watson, S., Leekam, S., Connolly, B., Collis, J., Findlay, J., McConachie, H., and Rodgers, J. (2011). Attenuation of change blindness in children with autism spectrum disorders. British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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