‘Joining’ is a term that O’Connell (2005) uses to refer to a set of techniques that characterise the process of engagement in SFT. This includes techniques of engagement shared with other models, as well as additional features that are very specific to SFT. We use the term ‘joining’ as the name of this Practice Element in order to highlight the particular nuances that SFT brings to the engagement process.
“Joining with the client involves matching the client’s language, offering positive feedback, and a willingness to adapt one’s interviewing style to suit the client. The therapist treats the client as the expert in his own life, while the therapist has expertise in creating a therapeutic environment” (O'Connell, 2005; p25).
In common with other models, SFT seeks to establish a respectful, cooperative, warm, positive, accepting relationship with the client. Engaging as practiced in SFT includes ‘active listening’ as in Motivational Interviewing, and ‘attentive listening’ as in Narrative Therapy. As with other therapeutic approaches, providing affirmation and reinforcement, particularly for the solutions that the client is already attempting to implement is critical to engagement.The concept of ‘joining’ points to several ways in which the practitioner seeks to reduce the social distance between herself and the client, and to prepare the ground for a collaborative working relationship. Solution Focused Therapists talk in terms of the practitioner adopting an ‘egalitarian stance’ and positioning themselves as a ‘helper’ rather than an ‘expert’ (O'Connell, 2003; p2).
The egalitarian helping position is viewed as more positive and respectful than the traditional expert. The client is viewed as a problem-solver rather than as ‘damaged’, ‘ill’, inadequate’ or ‘dysfunctional’.
Demonstration of curiosity by the practitioner is emphasised strongly. Engagement is a process of inviting the person to teach the practitioner about his/her view of the world and how the practitioner could co-operate with him/her. Demonstration of curiosity goes hand in hand with the non-expert stance of the practitioner. Solution Focused Therapists “want to learn from clients because clients have so much to offer” (Nelson & Thomas, 2007; p5).
Curiosity is essential to elicit the clients’ experiences, insights, and ideas. Respect is another quality of engagement that is elaborated carefully within SFT. “Although many approaches state a commitment to being non-judgemental and focusing on unconditional positive regard, SFT purposefully yields to clients’ descriptions of experiences, and what those experiences represent. This respect – a belief that people know themselves better than therapists or other experts ever could – permeates the approach (Nelson & Thomas, 2007; p6).
See O’Connell (2005; p118) for more information about matching the client’s language and adapting the interview style using the TFA (Thinking, Feeling, Acting) model.