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Solution-Oriented and Possibility Therapy

Solution-oriented and possibility therapy was developed by Bill O'Hanlon and Michele Weiner-Davis and was influenced not only by the work of the Mental Research Institute and the Brief Family Treatment Center but also that of Milton Erikson and narrative therapists such as Michael White and David Epston. O'Hanlon included the word possibility to reduce the confusion that often exists between solution-focused and solution-oriented approaches. Solution-oriented and possibility therapy emphasizes clients' competence with counselors or therapists cocreating solvable problems. It has a future goal orientation and focuses on bringing about small but positive outcomes for clients. It emphasizes the clients' internal experiences and stresses that clients must be heard and understood if change is to occur.

Solution-oriented and possibility counselors or therapists view clients as being stuck not only by how they are doing the problem but also by how they are viewing the problem. Therefore, views, actions, and context become crucial, and practitioners are encouraged to attempt the following actions (O'Hanlon & Weiner-Davis, 1989): (a) Change what clients are doing as this relates to the situation seen as problematic; (b) change the clients' frame of reference and their view of the problem; and (c) bring resources, solutions, and strengths to bear on the problematic situation.

The solution-oriented and possibility approach begins the process by looking at clients' strengths, solutions, and competence and moves the process away from purist thinking toward diverse ideas found in literature using such terms as constructivist, narrative, postmodern, collaborative, competency-based, interactional, and more (Bertolino, 1999; Bertolino & O'Hanlon, 2002; Dejong & Berg, 2002). Solution-oriented and possibility therapy validates clients' emotional experiences, is flexible rather than formulaic, and takes into consideration the political, historical, and gender influences that impinge on the clients' problems. It is heuristic in nature and is open to using ideas and perspectives from differing approaches. O'Hanlon (1999) offered the following three principles to guide the work of the solution-oriented and possibility counselor or therapist: (a) Acknowledge and validate the clients' perceptions and experiences; (b) facilitate clients in changing how they view and/ or do things; and (c) acknowledge client resources, expertise, and experiences and collaborate with them about the direction counseling is going.

In solution-oriented and possibility therapy, assessment and intervention are not separated into distinct steps. Often, the initial interviewing process is seen as an intervention due to the fact that, through the use of solution-oriented and possibility techniques (i.e., presuppositional questioning), clients come to view their situations differently. In place of asking, "Did anything good come from the relationship?", one might ask, "What were the good things that came from the relationship?" This type of approach focuses on the way clients perceive and talk about their problems and aid the counselor or therapist in looking for exceptions to the problem in an attempt to normalize the problem, making it simply a natural response to life events. O'Hanlon and Weiner-Davis (1989) suggested the following eight techniques for changing the patterns of doing or viewing problems:

1. Change the frequency or rate of performance of the problem.

2. Change the time when the problem occurs.

3. Change the length of time the problem occurs.

4. Change where the problem takes place.

5. Change the pattern of the problem by adding something to it.

6. Change the sequence of events in the problem pattern.

7. Change the problem pattern by breaking it down into smaller parts or elements.

8. Change the problem pattern by linking it with some burdensome task.

In each of these change processes, interventions are negotiated collaboratively with clients in a relationship in which change is expected. The goal is to help clients identify possibilities rather than problems and involves using what is going right rather than focusing on what is going wrong. Solution-oriented and possibility counselors and therapists use stories, anecdotes, parables, and humor to help clients change. This is similar to what narrative therapists do in aiding clients to move from problem-saturated stories to more hope-filled alternative stories. Narrative therapists also believe that the client is never the problem, the problem is the problem. This problem externalization has been embraced by solution-oriented and possibility counselors and therapists and has been refined in such a way that the problem is placed outside the clients. For example, if the clients' presenting problem is feelings of inferiority, then the counselor or therapist might ask, "How long has this inferiority been controlling your life?" Thus, the presenting problem becomes a controllable entity outside of the client as opposed to an internalized entity within the client. Solutions and possibilities are sought to work effectively with this external visualization.

 
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