Solution Focused

creative doing Aug 05, 2018

I was a designer before I became a psychotherapist, fields that are very different in some ways, similar in others. Design is all about solutions, and so is therapy. Both begin by identifying a problem that needs to be solved. And that’s where the challenges and opportunities begin.

Therapy uses diagnostic tools (symptom identification and classification) to define a client’s concerns according to a system, the DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association. Whatever the DSM-5 defines is the problem: depression, anxiety, psychosis. The therapist works collaboratively with the client to explore underlying causes, monitor symptoms, and work toward decreased distress.

Design explores problems too, but in a more open-ended way. In the absence of a single, encyclopedic classification system, designers are free to consider problems creatively. The designer works with the client to explore the identification of the problem as a problem in the first place, to propose a variety of prospective solutions (sampling, experimenting, and trying them out in the process), and to actively gather feedback every step of the way. The designer and client work and play as they hone in on the solution.

In design, the solution focus is always there, but not without the playful exploration.

Sometimes I worry that the play gets stripped out of therapy because therapists are a little too focused on fixed definitions of various problems and their supposed solutions. (After all, evidence-based practices encourage us to work and think this way.) Sometimes I wonder whether we unknowingly collude with our clients to fix what might not really need fixing, to reinforce a sense of crisis that might not necessarily be so. When we don’t take time to wonder, we jump too quickly to solutions, maybe the wrong ones.

I’m not suggesting that we abandon the methods and means available to us (the DSM-5, evidence based practices, etc.). I’m just suggesting that we step back long enough to question our premises, and to encourage our clients to do so.

Limiting beliefs are alive and well not just in the problems we grapple with, but in the solutions we propose, too.


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