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At the start of last year’s European Brief Therapy Association conference the organisers had us all up dancing in the first few minutes. At the end of it, Peter Sundman led a workshop on ‘Solutions Gestures’ in which he asked the questions, ‘What happens if we get rid of language in solutions focused work?’ and ‘How much can be done with a minimal use of language and maximal use of gestures and other signs?’. Wow! This seems like pretty radical stuff for a language-based approach in which we focus so intently on the words of our clients and on our words in response. And yet… our words are only one part of us – perhaps only a minor part? Are we missing out on possibilities of connecting with more of the people we are working with? After all, we spend a part of our time in talking, and all of our time in our bodies, so there is at least a possibility that paying attention to the latter would be a sensible and useful move. This thought has been occurring to me more and more in the past couple of years and I would like to share here a couple of the ideas that I have been trying out, at conferences, on courses and with my solution-focused ‘co-coach’, Rob Rave.

Two activities have been particular helpful in suggesting possibilities for integration the physical into solution-focused practice: the dance movement practice, 5 Rhythms (www.gabrielleroth.com), and Focusing (www.focusing.org), in which we are helped to make changes by paying attention to what we feel in our bodies and to shifts in these ‘felt senses’. I have devised exercises that have tentatively begun some integration, and tried them out in a variety of places: Preston, England; Torun, Poland; and Malmo, Sweden. Reactions have been positive.

Embodying your hopes

This exercise, inspired by my attendance at a 5 Rhythms-based workshop in Scotland at the beginning of 2012, works well in a group, small or large – I have done it with 20 people in Preston and 150 people in Torun. You can do it with just two of you though, so have a go! The participants pair up, and take it in turns to interview each other about their hopes for themselves in some upcoming activity or for a specified period of time ahead. People are encouraged to feel free to wander around while doing these interviews (why do we have all our therapy or coaching sitting still?). Then each person has to devise a movement that represents their hopes, and show it to their partner, two or three times. The partner, acting as a witness to the movement, then reflects it back, in an analogous way to a therapist summarising a client’s words at the end of a session. Language then returns, with each person choosing a word or a phrase to accompany their movement, so that the activity can end with a bang, everyone int the group simultaneously performing their movement while calling out their word in unison! This was described by one participant as a ‘very powerful SF movement exercise’ and I can attest to its power from my own experience.

Preferred futures with focusing

Focusing has a fascinating history with parallels to solution-focused practice, the latter being developed by therapists paying attention to what they were doing that ‘worked’ in therapy, while the former’s development came from researchers looking at what clients did that was associated with good outcomes. They observed that successful clients were doing what came to be called ‘Focusing’. This involves paying attention to one’s physical experiencing, noticing what is going on in one’s body when one is thinking about something – which is known as its felt sense. The felt sense is a sort of overall, often vague and elusive feeling, and the sort of question that is asked to help someone focus on their felt sense is ‘What does all of that feel like?’ When someone is focusing they will notice physical shifts, which often accompany or presage shifts concerning whatever it is they are focusing on. The idea is to learn from messages from the body that have yet to find an expression in words.

I devised an experimental exercise for a workshop in Malmo, designed to bring focusing into the future aspect of solution-focused practice. In solution-focused work we help our clients to describe in words what would be different about them in some hoped-for future. Can we not help our clients to focus on what might be different too? To experience the felt sense of a hoped-for future? The participants paired up, and the interviewer first helped the interviewee to focus there and then, to find the felt sense of whatever they were experiencing at that moment:

I’d like to invite you to pay attention to what you are experiencing in your body…you might or might not yet be able to put words to it…just stay with whatever it is you are feeling at the moment…have you got a sense of that?..

The interviewer next invited the interviewee to think of a quality they wanted to have more of, and helped them to describe themselves tomorrow -in words – if a miracle had happened overnight that led to them having more of that quality.

Thirdly, the interviewer helped the interviewee to focus again:

Now, having described these signs of this quality increasing tomorrow, pay attention to what you are noticing in your body now. What is your sense of all of that? Can you find some word or words for what you are noticing? And it’s fine if no words fits as well…just stay with that for a few moments..

Participants reported that the focusing accentuated the impact of their future-focused description, some comparing it favourably with mindfulness or Ericksonian hypnosis.

My felt sense of these ideas is good, and I shall be taking them further! I would be fascinated to hear from anyone else interested in bringing physical movement and a focus on the body into solutions-focused practice. I know I’m not the only one: ‘Call out the instigators, because there’s something in the air!’

Guy Shennan