Identify and make note of any details that contradict narratives dominated by problem-saturated descriptions.
These contradictory details are known as unique outcomes (Wolter, DiLollo, & Apel, 2006) or sparkling moments (Levy, 2004). These are times when the person has managed to get the upper hand against the problem, or deal satisfactorily with similar problems.
‘Unique outcome questions’ invite the client to recognise and acknowledge actions, intentions, and personal qualities that contradict the dominant story (Wolter, DiLollo, & Apel, 2006).
Also note any hopes, values or other positive beliefs that the client has held onto throughout their difficult experiences.
When a person offers a ‘unique outcome’ experience that seems to deny or contradict or modify her dominant problem-saturated story, the therapist invites her through questioning to expand upon the nature and circumstances of these unique outcomes, and to explore how these do not fit with the dominant story. This enrichment of the unique outcomes helps them to become firm and contributes to deconstruction of the dominant story. The unique outcomes then evolve into bases for preferred change (Payne, 2000; p14).
Externalising conversations are a good way to open up a space for unique outcomes to present themselves. For example talking about the history of how a problem developed reveals times when it was not present and these times can be explored. Naming and defining a problem in a way that fits very well for the person concerned enables the person’s own problem-solving strategies, ideas and skills to become more relevant to addressing their current predicament (Carey & Russell, 2004).
By way of contrast, if a problem is given a name such as ‘Anxiety Disorder’, as constructed by professionals, this leaves little room for the person’s own knowledges and skills to be harnessed. Disorders are for doctors to fix.
Avoid being too strongly positive about, or voicing your own conclusions about the value of unique outcomes or exceptions. This stance can become an effort to influence the person too actively according to your own point of view (i.e. excessively ‘centred’). This can have the effect of de-prioritising the clients’ own knowledges White, 2005).