Collaborating is another major dimension or element involved in the process of engagement that continues throughout the working relationship. Consistent with the principles of curiosity and respect, the practitioner adopts a collaborative stance at all times, working with the client to clarify the issues or problems that have brought the client to the service, to identify and define the goals that the client wants to achieve, and to work out solutions or strategies to achieve those goals (Kim, 2008).
A key principle is to stay as close as possible to the client’s agenda (O'Connell, 2005; p7).
Wherever possible the practitioner follows the lead of the client or seeks to adjust his or her behaviour in response to the clients’ expectations. Consistent with the notion of ‘joining’ a useful axiom is “If they don’t change the way you help them, then help them the way they change” (O'Connell, 2005; p37).
Following from the ‘non-expert’ stance, the solution-focused approach asks the practitioner to put aside his or her expert knowledge or professional views, and focus on eliciting information, ideas, and suggestions from the client. This orientation is sometimes called a position of ‘not knowing’. This is not the same as ignorance, rather it means that the practitioner is always in “a state of being informed by the other, and always needing to learn more about what has been said or may not have been said” (Anderson, 1997; cited in Nelson & Thomas, 2007; p7).
Nelson and Thomas (2007) prefer to call this orientation ‘being tentative’. In order to maintain this attitude a practitioner “should always view his or her conclusions as hypotheses, as temporary rather than complete” (Nelson & Thomas, 2007; p8).
Nothing should be taken for granted, and assumptions should be held lightly. ‘Checking-in’ with the client to see where they are at is part of collaboration. “It is common to ask the client at the end of the first session whether or not he felt it had been helpful to talk, if he would like to meet the therapist again, and if so when” (O'Connell, 2005; p25).
In SFT professional knowledge and experience do not take precedence. Most therapeutic models tend to place strong emphasis on particular theories about underlying problems and interpret problems in terms of constructs from those theories (e.g. cognitive distortions in Cognitive Therapy and problem-saturated stories in Narrative Therapy). Professional knowledge comes to dominate the agenda. In contrast the solution-focused approach does not put clients or problems into pre-defined categories. Rather, the therapist listens to the way that the client describes the difficulty, and explores possibilities that are relevant to the client rather than to any particular theoretical approach (Nelson & Thomas, 2007; p15). In this way SFT is highly client-focused.
A challenge or tension for the collaborative stance of SBT is that clients vary in the amount of directiveness that they want from the practitioner. When a client wants the therapist to be highly directive and provide answers and explanations, this demands high levels of creativity if the solution-focused approach is to be pursued.
Similarly, some clients may have an expectation that a lot of time will be spent exploring the development of problems.