A Signal In The Distance, To Whom It May Concern*



I’m trying something a little different this time around; a short video blog (or ‘vlog’). There’s a transcript and further discussion below. This also marks the launch of my new YouTube channel, here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCI_dwh-vpxOznEI5IvVFH6Q/featured

It is intended as an introductory piece beginning to explain the solution focused approach, or at least my personal take on it. It seems to me as good a place to start as any!

It is primarily aimed at anyone with an interest in using the solution focused approach in their work. This includes coaches, therapists, counsellors, nurses, social workers, doctors, youth workers, business consultants, tutors, supervisors, mentors and probably many more professionals and volunteers I haven’t thought of in the moment whilst writing this!

There’s an application for this approach in the context of any conversation between people in which talking leading to hopes becoming reality is sought, and particularly where a practitioner wishes to ensure they are working in an ethical, compassionate, respectful, empowering and efficient way.


“Over my shoulder you might be able to see there’s a radio telescope.

It’s on top of a space centre, and inside that building scientists are trying to make new discoveries about the universe.

When they analyse the data that’s collected by that radio telescope, sometimes they’ll see things which look familiar.

In order to make new discoveries it’s very important that they don’t know, that they try very hard not to know what it is they’re looking at, and just take it for what it is.

And when we’re talking to people, in our conversations, in the course of our work, it’s very important that we do the same thing. That we just listen to people, listen to the words they’re using.

Even though we might have some interpretation, even though they might sound familiar, it’s very important that we decide not to know, and we just listen.

And that’s how new discoveries are made.”

Further discussion:

I would like to add something about those discoveries.

The only discoveries we need to pay attention to are the specific words used by the person we’re talking with, which they provide in their answers to our questions, and which they use to describe the version of themselves they are hoping to realise.

Whatever meaning or significance any of those words has for us is important to put aside. We simply listen out for them, note them, and collect them. Even if they sound familiar, or remind us of things we’ve heard or experienced ourselves before, the best way for us to remain on a direct course in providing a useful interaction is to choose to stay in the moment, remaining aware of the context of listening, collecting and conversing with the person in front of us.

We are simply using discovered words to carefully construct useful questions.

To be conversing in a solution focused way, this is what we must choose to do instead of taking perhaps enjoyable but not particularly relevant or useful detours through our own interpretations, theories, philosophies, memories and other imaginings. It takes discipline and charity, but it is also often enjoyable for all participants in the conversation, and perhaps most important of all, it works!

The reason we stick to using as many of the other persons words as we can, regardless of any irrelevant interpretation we might feel tempted to entertain, is so that whatever meaning and significance that person attaches to their words in that moment echoes, reverberates and becomes amplified for them.

Our intention is that through this process the preferred version of themselves they are realising in their mind comes closer to their noticed reality through definition, through being talked about out loud using specific defining words. They increasingly hear themselves being referred to as that version of themselves, and referring to themselves in the same way. This often seems to build confidence in the existence of that version of themselves, so that their gaze shifts towards noticing the evidence that they are that version of themselves, leading to their consistent identifying as that version of themselves, and eventually realising that they truly are that person.


*(taken from the line “Your signal in the distance, to whom it may concern” from ‘Walk’ by Foo Fighters – a particularly solution focused song!)

1 in 4 (All You Need Is Love)

silhouette photo of man doing heart sign during golden hour

There’s this popular idea that 1 in 4 people suffer with ‘mental health problems’, which has led to the instinct to try to identify which amongst us is that 1, so that we might help them.

Looking for signs of ‘mental health problems’, then, has become the go to starting point in ‘mental health awareness’, and ‘mental health first aid’. So much so that if you ask attendees at the outset of an awareness course or training, “what do you need?” they usually answer with replies about information on “what to look out for”.

This is a perfectly fine and natural response, especially given the cultural context.

Even though it typically refers primarily to looking for problems, because the prevailing cultural norm has been to assume that doing so is constructive, it can easily lead to an even more constructive discussion about what we might all notice about ourselves and each other than can be useful for us all to continue forwards in the direction of ‘mental health’.

This is what would happen if the facilitator of the course or training were using a solution focused approach anyway, otherwise it would typically lead to something more along the lines of instruction in a crude interpretation of psychiatric diagnostic technique, with the intention of equipping all present to accurately spot ‘symptoms’ so that they might go on to accurately signpost to ‘experts’ who can administer effective ‘treatment’, and hopefully, along the way, prevent harm and provide some support and reassurance.

There is a very nice intention behind such ‘mental health awareness’ campaigning, but often an unfortunately flawed approach.

The ‘1 in 4’ statistic most likely reflects the proportion of people identifying or being identified with the theoretical construct of ‘suffering with mental health problems’ and willing to disclose this when asked to in surveys.

In reality, because the one constant in life is change, everyone experiences the elements of any construct to varying extents at various times throughout their lives. Whether it defines who they are is a choice, and that too is subject to change.

Therefore either 4 in 4 or 0 in 4 is probably more accurate, depending largely on whether the construct is taken as a fixed and/or accurate interpretation of human experience.

Recognising that everyone is potentially suffering in some way in any given moment, so simply being as compassionate and respectful towards everyone around us as we feel able to be in the moment makes sense as the best mitigation. Looking for signs of managing to find ways to at least stop things getting worse, perhaps signs of turning things round for the better, or even of thriving, despite inevitably suffering at times, is a useful starting point in building confidence that ‘mental health’ is ahead.

Instead of trying to identify the 1 in 4 people to target for support, help or even for ‘treatment’, it is far simpler and more reliable for each of us to simply make a pragmatic choice to believe in everyone we meet’s capacity for change and usefully support each other by acknowledging each other’s strengths, resources and achievements as well as problems, no matter what statistical demographic any of us might appear to fit into.

Crazy as it might seem, we don’t actually need to try to find out who amongst us has something wrong with them, who has the problems, and how they might be fixed.

I once witnessed a person open up to their friends about suffering to such an extent that they were seriously considering suicide. Their friends instinctively hugged them and told them that they loved them.

A short while later they told me a lot had changed, they were no longer suffering to the same extent, and even when they were still suffering they remained determined to live.

I asked them what had made the biggest difference, and their reply was “realising that I am loved”.

This is just one example. In fact I’ve seen the same thing happen countless times with countless people.

We can’t always, for reasons including cultural appropriateness, hug people and tell them we love them. But we can always talk with everyone in the way we talk with someone we love.

So, back to that question of “what do you need?” Well in terms of awareness, and ‘first response’, there’s one answer I long to hear above all others, because the question of addressing ‘mental health’ only really requires us all to remember one thing.

As The Beatles reminded the world half a century ago, in an epiphanel moment as we all stood at various socio political and mass cultural crossroads, as we all do again today; “all you need is love”.