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Weekly articles for school counselors with ideas on how to resolve typical school situations with students, teachers and parents using the solution focused approach.

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Unlocking Success: The Power of Solution-Focused Check-Ins

September 22, 20233 min read

During my doctoral studies, I conducted research at Brief Therapy Practice in Milwaukee, where I had the privilege of working alongside the founders of Solution-Focused Therapy, Steve deShazer and Insoo Kim Berg.

My primary focus was not just understanding how Solution-Focused Therapy operates but, more importantly, discerning what clients believed was effective.

Consequently, I engaged with both clients who had completed their therapy and their dedicated counselors separately, to explore this crucial question.

“What did you do in therapy with _______ that you found helpful, if anything?”

The insights I gained were truly eye-opening.

While there were some commonalities in the answers of both clients and therapists, there were also intriguing differences that emerged from each of their perspectives. I found those differences so helpful, I began asking that question at the end of my classes, my client sessions, my on-site school team meetings with teachers, parents, and anytime I did a presentation.

It gave me insight into what to keep doing or not doing.

In school counseling, we often encounter what we affectionately refer to as "frequent flyers" – those students who frequent our offices seeking guidance and support, a lot! It's important to recognize that these students genuinely appreciate your assistance, but you may find yourself wondering what it is about these interactions that proves to be so beneficial.

After all, most of you are asked to do so much, wouldn’t it be great if you could see those frequent flyers a little less?

This is where the Solution-Focused Check-In Question can help.

The process is simple: engage in a conversation with the student about any topic they wish to discuss, focusing on their "best hopes" and envisioning what success might look like in the next day or two ("preferred future").

Upon concluding the conversation, pose the question:

"So, [student's name], could you share with me what was helpful, if anything, while we talked today?”

The responses you receive can be remarkably insightful, honest, and even surprising. These answers are like gold because they provide you with valuable feedback on what truly works and, in turn, enhance your effectiveness.

Over the years, as I've asked this question, I've received responses such as:

"We did good."

"You listened and didn’t get on me like others do."

"I liked the list we made."

“You were nice to me.”

And, here’s another tidbit.

If you hear from the student that “I like talking to you a lot,” you can thank them and say:

I like talking to you too. Who ELSE do you like talking to? Sometimes, if you need to talk at home or when I am not available, who might you chat with?

That opens an opportunity to help the student begin to build a support system that includes you, but is not just you. That helps students to identify their needs and expand how to get them met.

So, as you navigate your responsibilities this week, remember to review the solution focused approach that you can use to engage with your "frequent flyers" using just three powerful questions.

“What are your best hopes/wishes for our time today?”

If a miracle happened, (or I waved a magic wand) and your best hopes came true today, what would be going on? What would you be doing? What would your friends/teacher see you doing? What else?" X5

“Tell me times when this has happened just a little bit.”

Then, end with the SF Check-In Question:

“So, tell me, what did we do today that was helpful to you?”

Then, enjoy the answers.

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Dr Linda Metcalf

Linda Metcalf is the best-selling author of Counseling Toward Solutions and 10 other books. Linda is a former middle school teacher, all-level certified school counselor, licensed professional counselor supervisor, and licensed marriage and family therapist in the State of Texas. She is a Professor at Texas Wesleyan University.

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