I was on a course this last weekend that talked about the philosophy of language – it was very interesting and was in the context of a therapy I’m studying for work. I’m not a philosopher by any means, and much was over my head, but the concepts are fascinating when you can understand them!
It made me think of my children a lot and the challenges for us all to try and speak to ourselves, and each other, in ways that inspire and encourage growth, instead of feeling more guilty and useless.
What am I talking about?
Well, typically when we are with someone that we know is struggling we tend to focus on the problem. We’ll ask how they are feeling? Where did the problem come from? How does the problem impact their life? Etc etc. All valid questions of course but it does tend to concentrate on the problem more than what the solutions might be, or the good things that are happening in someone’s life as well. I know this scenario all too well. Within the adoption world facilitating support groups can be difficult. The balance between allowing the space for parents to vent and feel understood, and focusing on positive ways of seeing things can be near impossible sometimes.
As we went through this weekend and talked about how to focus on solutions, I had a niggling feeling about ignoring the problems for people and how that might feel for them. I don’t think that is what this therapy is saying (Solutions Focused Brief Therapy – if you were wondering), that you don’t acknowledge the pain people are in or the seriousness of some of their mental health challenges. What it does do though is takes the focus off the problem and onto the resilience in a person and how they might craft a preferred way of living with those issues.
I can see how helpful this would be for my children and indeed for others in the adoption world. As adoptive parents we know that many of our families ‘problems’ won’t go away but learning to find ways to manage them and to live a better life despite those challenges is a healthy thing to think about.
So, what are some of the subtle language changes I’m talking about? For my daughter right now, she feels overwhelmed with stress, depression, and anxiety and, having an assessment from a psychologist to support that diagnosis is helpful, but there’s more to it than that. Yes, I think it’s important to know what you might be dealing with and focusing on what helps her right now. But focusing on that as the problem can make my daughter feel hopeless and that she IS depression, stress, and anxiety.
So, for example instead of asking how her anxiety makes her feel, I might ask – what is making her less anxious today than yesterday? Or when did she last feel no anxiety and what was happening then? I might ask her on a scale of 1-10 how she feels she is managing her anxiety? If she says a 4, I might then ask what makes that a 4 and not a 3? This will tell us what is helping her to cope right now. She might say – my friends or my family or being able to take a walk once a day. This means she HAS some resources to help her right now. Then we might talk about how she could use those resources to move to a 5 tomorrow. You get the idea?
For those who know anything about Solutions Focused Brief Therapy might be thinking – that’s a very simplistic view of it and maybe it is. I’m only saying what I’m learning from my course right now and how it relates to vulnerable young people like mine.
I do know that language is incredibly important and there are a few books out there that help with this for vulnerable children and young people. Conversations that make a difference for children and young people by Lisa Cherry and Conversations that Matter by Margot Sunderland are two great books that look at the subject of language and how to connect with vulnerable children and young people.
In the meantime, throughout this week just notice the amount of problem talk you hear around you and in conversations you have. How might you flip that to be more solutions focused and encouraging the person to acknowledge those good things in their life too. I’m not talking about dismissing the pain, but within the pain pointing to hope and things within the person that can help them. Concentrating on problem free language instead of problem saturated, for example. Looking for things that are going well for the person, and how to increase those experiences more can help someone to feel more fulfilled in their lives.