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Imagining a “More Beautiful World”

Solidarity in Strange Times

A Solution-Focused Collective Open Space Conference!

“… disaster often liberates solidarity. A more beautiful world shimmers just beneath the surface…”

Charles Eisenstein paraphrasing Rebecca Solnit’s book – A Paradise Built in Hell

You are all welcome to join this solution-focused community online, to focus on possibilities for a better world, on Saturday 9th May – at a time we hope might make your participation possible wherever you are in the world (see below)…

Get the date & time in your diary now – more details to follow, including the Zoom link.

In solidarity and fellowship
The Solution-Focused Collective

Times include –
1pm-4pm British Summer Time/West Africa Time
2pm-5pm Central European Summer Time/South African Standard Time/Central Africa Time
3pm-6pm Eastern European Time/Moscow Time/Arabia ST
5.30pm-8.30pm Indian Standard Time
8pm-11pm Singapore Time/Western ST/China Time
9.30pm -12.30am Australian Central Standard Time
10pm-1am Australian Eastern Standard Time
Midnight-3am New Zealand Standard Time 
9am-12am Brasilia Time
8am-11am Eastern Time/Bolivia Time/Amazon Time
7am-10am Central Time
6am-9am Mountain Time
5am-8am Pacific Time.

Welcome to the Solution-Focused Collective

This website is a new home for the Solution-Focused Collective, a loose and fluid grouping of solution-focused practitioners around the world who are all interested in and working towards social change. We’ve been working together to develop our Manifesto and share it with our colleagues, supporters and users.

It’s a new(ish) initiative although many of us have been quietly working on areas of social justice and social change individually or in groups. The Collective gives us a chance to work together, think together and to create collective actions. We hope also to create places for others to engage with our ideas such as the written word (articles and books), spaces for discussion (check out the Events page) and a focus for meetings or themes at conferences.

Please do take the time to read our Manifesto. Whether you are a practitioner, peer or supporter or just a curious member of the public, we hope you find inspiration and hope in our aspirations. Being together today we can make a difference tomorrow.

A Bold Ambition – Dismantling Racism

by Rayya Ghul and Jonas Wells

At the Solution-Focused Collective’s Action Space held in July 2020, it became clear that one of the issues uppermost in people’s minds was the social injustice of racism and white supremacy and a desire to ‘do something’.  At the Action Space event, our guest speaker, Elliott Connie challenged all of us to look at our role in maintaining the white privilege that we who are white or ‘pass-as-white’ might have and to begin to act to dismantle it within ourselves as a first step.

To this end we, Jonas Wells and Rayya Ghul, invited people engaging with the Solution-Focused Collective to participate in a series of four, fortnightly discussion groups where we could explore how to do this from a solution-focused perspective.  These took place from October – December 2020.

We called the group ‘Dismantling Racism’, a very bold title and one which some members thought overambitious.  However, we quickly filled the 12 spaces we had offered and afterwards one participant told us:

“The title of the invitation, ‘SF Dismantling Racism Discussion Group’, sounded very attractive to me, because it collects a few of my biggest passions: Solution Focus as an instrument to change the world (in the smallest and biggest meaning possible), ‘dismantling’ as a rebellious, activist battle call, appealing my furious anger when it comes to injustice, and racism especially, and a discussion group as an active, triggering use of a conversation. The challenge remains : how to make use of our SF mindset, tools, conversation attitude, … to brutally change the reality of racism? But since the start of this discussion group it does not seem that (alone) crazy anymore.”

Our participants included people from seven countries and five continents – pretty good for only 12 participants!  All were white or passed as white with two members whose spouses are black.  We had people who had done a considerable amount of anti-racism work and some for whom this was relatively new.  There were people from therapy, academia, social work, government agencies and solution-focused Associations. 

We decided to run the group on solution-focused principles.  Rather than an anti-racism ‘course’, we wanted to create a space for the participants to co-create the discussion.  As a starter for thinking about white privilege and how it might affect us as people and as solution-focused practitioners, we populated a Padlet with a variety of resources and invited the participants to engage with something before the first discussion and to be prepared to talk about it.  Participants were also encouraged to add to the Padlet and we used it to collect some of our reflections.  It enabled common reference point for learning but also options for self-exploration.  People could choose what spoke to them and go from there.

The Padlet is private to the group, but here is a flavour of some of the resources. Click on the titles for direct links to the resource (unless the text colour is black).

Articles:

Psychology Today – How Therapists Drive Away Minority Clients

Family Therapy Magazine – Dismantling systemic racism (p10)

Blogs:

Why I Left My White Therapist

Black Lives Really Do Matter: Reflections on Our Work in the Time of Protests

Podcasts: 

Very Bad Therapy 4. Race, Rupture and Repair

The Details with Elliott and Adam 3. Cancel Culture or Accountability Culture

Videos:

Black Psychoanalysts Speak

Improving Cultural Responsiveness in Therapy

Books:

Me and White Supremacy, Layla F Saad

So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo

Anti-Racist reading list

Music:

SF Collective Dismantling Racism Playlist

Black Lives Matter Playlist

Other Resources:

Rochester Racial Justice Toolkit

We started the first session by exploring our best hopes and then co-created the subsequent three sessions from then on.  Two of the participants from the Zebra Collective (add link) who run anti-racism training offered to share some of their training with the group, and this was incorporated into the second session and was much appreciated.  The people who responded to our request for post-group feedback all spoke of how the loose structure really worked for them.

One said: “the expectation that I would have to contribute to an intelligent conversation caused me to think harder about how to prepare for the group – a fixed structure would have let me to ‘just do what was needed and no more’.”

Another said: “the Dismantling Racism group was excellent to be part of because of the enthusiastic discussion, the genuineness of those in the group, the effective running of the time and organisation of each session and that Jonas and Rayya regularly checked in with the rest of the group to ensure the discussion were going in a direction all participants were happy with.”

Running a group as a co-participant in this democratic way is not as easy as it sounds.  It requires a lot of trust – of the process, of the participants, of ourselves.  We embraced the idea of ‘hosting’; creating space, trusting everyone to bring what was needed and accepting that once the guests arrive there is an emergent process, and our role as hosts was to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort and that they had enough to sustain their participation.  The discussion group was not a diversity training group – it explored something else, a safe space for white SF practitioners who seriously wanted to explore issues of racism in new way with practitioners from different places in the world, working in different contexts and with different prior knowledge of the issue.

One of the truly remarkable aspects of the group was how rapidly people began to identify actions and projects they wanted to do in order to further their own anti-racism work.  This began in the third session and was consolidated in the fourth.  For some people this was manifested in conversations at home and in the workplace, and for others it was actions or projects within their sphere/s of influence.  Some of the group have decided to undertake joint actions such as writing articles. 

The original four sessions ended in December but some of the participants agreed to continue to meet and will be working together on projects and encouraging each other in our individual actions.  We will be sharing these as they manifest.

We hope to start a new cycle of Dismantling Racism discussion soon, so look out for that notification on the Facebook group and Twitter or subscribe to this blog.

How to get involved with the SF Collective

The organising meetings of the Solution-Focused Collective are open to anyone who shares the aims of the Collective’s solution-focused manifesto for social change.

What is the Solution-Focused Collective and what does it do?

The Collective is not a membership organisation – so what is it?

It is a loose and fluid grouping of anyone who shares its aims and wants to be involved.

It is a manifesto.

It is an idea.

It is a developer, a catalyst, an encourager and a chronicler of actions.

These actions could include anything that further the aims of the manifesto.

There are actions by the Solution-Focused Collective and actions inspired by the Solution-Focused Collective and we ask people who take action to respect this distinction.

All actions by the Solution Focused Collective are agreed at its regular organising meetings.

And… the organising meetings of the Solution-Focused Collective are open to anyone who shares the aims of the Collective’s solution-focused manifesto for social change…

Please visit the Events page for details of the next organising meeting

First We Read, Then We Act*

by Guy Shennan and Marc Gardiner

The Solution-Focused Collective Reading Group first met early this year and got off to a radical start. Actually, it had been conceived in a radical fashion the previous September, when we presented at an event in Dublin called ‘Advocates and Allies’, organised by the Irish Association of Social Workers. Marc talked about Hilary Cottam’s book, Radical Help, while Guy called his presentation A Radical Focus on Hope. One of the pieces of reading that Guy drew on was ‘Towards a Paradigm for Radical Practice’, a chapter by Peter Leonard in the classic 1975 text, Radical Social Work.

It was actually that chapter that Guy first envisaged reading and discussing together with collective-minded colleagues – searching together for a paradigm for radical solution-focused practice perhaps? – but we decided we would start with something a bit more up-to-date, and a whole book too. That’s what found about ten of us in a (pre-Covid) collective Zoom meeting one winter evening, discussing Radical Help. It wasn’t evening for everyone, as we had an international gathering, with colleagues from Canada, Germany and Ireland, as well as from the UK. We’ve maintained this international flavour ever since, and have had people join from the US, Ghana and probably more countries besides.

We have met six times so far, with one more meeting to organise in 2020 (we meet roughly once every 6 weeks). We usually meet for about an hour and a half, and the discussion is sometimes structured by one or more questions that the person who suggested the reading poses – and sometimes it’s a bit more free-flowing (we hope it always flows to some extent!). Here are the questions Marc gave us for the first meeting, as one of the examples of more structured discussion:

  1. Radical Help/SF – fit, re principles & approach?
  2. How might SF enhance RH; RH enhance SF?
  3. What do you like best? What resonates most for you?
  4. Implications – especially for the SF Collective/SF for social action ideas & initiatives?

These led to such a great discussion that we were later inspired to offer a book review of Radical Help for the revamped Journal of Solution-Focused Practices, and were delighted when this was accepted. So if you are interested in some of our responses to these questions, you could read our review (given that this wonderful journal is now online with open access).

Since then we have discussed collective narrative practice, possibilities for adding ‘problem talk’ into or alongside solution-focused practice, solution-focused work with migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, asset-based community development, and a chapter from Richard Rorty’s book, Philosophy and Social Hope. While we have usually focused on texts – as the name ‘reading group’ suggests – we have also watched videos, for example the one of David Denborough on the webpage of the Dulwich Centre website setting out his project, Can narrative practices contribute to ‘social movement’?

The shortest read so far has been four paragraphs from Psychotherapy and Society, a 1997 book by the English clinical psychologist, David Pilgrim. These begin with the provocative observation that therapists “may ignore the non-therapeutic value of talk”. Pilgrim illustrates this somewhat caustically with the example that “when and if psychotherapists get around to seeing poor non-fee-paying clients they are in a position to bear witness to narratives of oppression”. However, others, for example TV documentary makers, tend to do this job better. This was a rich discussion, which took place before the explosion of protest after the murder of George Floyd. As solution-focused practitioners wonder how best to respond to and engage with Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist action, this suggests one line to explore, as nothing about “bearing witness” to racism suggests it would be incongruent with a solution-focused approach working in parallel.

Two texts were considered in the discussion on SF work with immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, ‘Tasteful Solutions: Solution-focused work with groups of immigrants’, by Arild Aambo, and ‘Seeking Asylums and Finding Miracles’ by Sarah Wilshaw and SF Collective founder-member, Steve Freeman. Given Arild Aambo’s use of Paulo Freire, and Steve’s skills at creating acronyms to follow the EARS of Insoo Kim Berg, Brian Jennings posed some wonderful questions that connected the two papers, the first being:

  • In what ways might EARS and Noticing GEMS constitute a ‘liberating’ dialogue’?

Another discussion was on a very accessible introduction to Asset-Based Community Development, written by John McKnight and Cormac Russell. This lays out the core principles and elements of the ABCD approach, which we believed has a lot to offer to SF practitioners looking to develop a community orientation – and we think that our skills in asking questions and developing conversations have much to offer to ABCD people too.

This is something we think the reading group has been great in doing; finding texts and other material that lead to discussions about how SF can be enhanced by other approaches and traditions, and how we as SF practitioners can add to what others are doing too. Reading and talking can be a way of finding connections, and connecting to a wider world beyond SF practice is one thing that the SF Collective is about.

Our most recent discussion was more theoretical, and had perhaps the largest attendance yet, as we discussed ‘Truth without Correspondence to Reality’, a chapter in Richard Rorty’s collection of essays, Philosophy and Social Hope. This was one of three chapters in a section of the book called ‘Hope in Place of Knowledge: a version of pragmatism’. It was a vigorous discussion, as Rorty’s views on truth were not to the taste of all, but there was support for the view that pragmatism has some-thing to offer solution-focused practitioners. Another question to consider is whether it has something to offer solution-focused social action too. We suspect it does, and will be investigating further.

The meetings are open to anyone with an interest in SF and in the aims of the SF Collective’s manifesto. If you are interested, drop us a line, making sure to put Reading Group in the subject header of your email. We would love to have you join us!

* A paraphrase of a comment by Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘First we read, then we write’

Recordings from the Action Space

On the 4th July 2020, the Solution Focused Collective hosted an Action Space event online. The event gave space to think together about actions that we can take to explore the use of the Solution-Focused approach in collective social actions for social change. Around 40 people attended from around the world and some important conversations took place and connections were made.

Two speakers provided insight into their own work and inspiration for the attendees.

Elliott Connie of the Solution Focused Universe (previously, Solution Focused University) talked passionately about his actions to improve diversity and, particularly racial equality within the Solution-Focused Community and some actions that allies could take to promote this important work.

You can view his talk on YouTube here: Elliott Connie

Ellie Williams, Director of Operations at Take Off, talked about how the organisation grew from a mental health service user forum into an independent charity commissioned to provide mental health services to the local populations of East and West Kent. TakeOff is unique in that everyone who works there is a mental health service user, making it the only fully service-user led mental health service in the UK.

Hear what Ellie had to say here: Ellie Williams

The Action Space event was completely free so were not able to pay the speakers, but we agreed to promote their choice for donations as a thank you to giving us their time and valued thoughts.

Even if you weren’t at the event, please consider donating to:

TakeOff – the UK’s only fully service-user led mental health service

Black Lives Matter – a global organisation to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities.

Action Space July 4th

The Solution-Focused Collective invites you to join us at our Action Space event on July 4th 2020, 13:30-15:30 BST (other time zones available).

Click here to register and get your Zoom link!

The Action Space will be a solution-focused opportunity to share and develop actions for social change and social justice, wherever you are.  Based on open space principles, you will be able to create themed spaces for intensive dialogue on social issues you are passionate about.  Our best hope is that strong collective actions will emerge and make their way into the world.

You can prepare for the conversations by reading the Solution-Focused Manifesto.

Elliott Connie and Ellie Williams will share actions they have taken for social justice before we break into the Action Spaces.  Elliott is a leader in the field of Solution Focused Brief Therapy and founder of the Solution Focused University.  He is notable for also being the only black leader in the field right now.  Ellie is Director of Operations at TakeOff, the only mental health charity in the UK run entirely by service users and offering a huge programme of services across Kent, as well as paid employment opportunities for peer support workers

Please click here to register for the Action Space event

In solidarity – statement on George Floyd

The Solution-Focused Collective stand in solidarity with people who are oppressed, disenfranchised and excluded and many of us work actively with clients to reduce the effect of these social ills.

We are appalled by the recent killing of George Floyd, a death that adds to many other black Americans who have met their death in police custody or police action. We believe the disproportionate use of force and lethal violence against the black and indigenous communities in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and many other places in the world are a result of systemic racism and the legacy of colonialism and slavery.

We will continue to work in any way that we can to reduce and reverse the effects of racism both in society and within ourselves and the Solution-Focused community.

Please join us on July 4th at our Action Space event where you can discuss actions you have taken, individually and collectively and what more we can do collectively to address this and other forms of social injustice. Please return for details of how to register which will be in a separate post.

Boys in Mind

We are delighted to have a post on the Solution-Focused Collective blog from Boys in Mind, an organisation based in Bath, which provides a wonderful example of how the solution-focused approach can be used in collective and community-oriented ways.

Kate Murphy and Henry Bullock from Boys in Mind talk about the organisation, how and why it came about, how it operates and how it strives to be a model of a caring and compassionate  community, with equality at its heart. They want to nurture the growth of similar communities in schools and other settings. They also show how a solution-focused approach has been a key ingredient in the organisation’s development and work with young people, in particular boys and young men.

Kate Murphy is the Co-ordinator

What is Boys in Mind?

We are a broad alliance of young people, professionals and parents, aiming to reduce stigma around mental health, challenge stereotypes and ultimately reduce suicide, with a particular focus on boys and young men. Our film projects successfully engage boys, young men and others to talk and listen.

Why and how was Boys in Mind established ?

My previous role involved supporting schools in Bath & North East Somerset following the suicide of a young person. In the last eight years I worked there I supported seven schools and six out of the seven suicides were of were young men between the ages of 11-18. 

Looking at suicide and other data such as school exclusions and fewer boys and young men accessing services, we decided to do something more specific to address their needs.

Boys in Mind has evolved into an organisation in which young people, particularly young men, take the lead and decide what we do, how we do it and how to get other young people involved. We also work with parents and have recently involved young people and parents from a socially deprived area of Bath in making a film about the importance of community.

Following the 2019 UKASFP Conference at Bath Spa University, attended by ten of our team, we revamped our Vision, Mission and Values to express what we wanted our organisation to be, rather than what we didn’t want. So, for example, our values are now:-

Work in a compassionate and solution focused way. Promote positive images of boys and young men. Embrace and celebrate diversity.

The Boys in Mind Team

We have 24 team members with a range of ages, qualifications and experiences. 60% are male, eight are Youth Advisors (six young men, one young woman, and one non-binary young person) and many of the team have had challenging “lived experience” which they have coped with (or are coping with) in a variety of ways.

Tara Gretton, an experienced solution-focused (SF) practitioner and trainer, is a member of our team and other members of the team are – or are training to be – accredited SF practitioners.

Our team meetings are lively, inclusive and enjoyable. We usually start with a fun activity of some sort and then the usual format is along these SF lines:-

  • What have been your sparkling moments since the last meeting? (having  unashamedly stolen this idea from the UKASFP Conference opening plenary!)
  • Have there been any challenges and how have you coped with them ?
  • Anything team members want to share or have feedback on?
  • What are your hopes for the next few months for Boys in Mind?

Our SF Approach

All our team members have had solution-focused training, either from Tara Gretton or Guy Shennan, who is a long-term friend of Bath & North East Somerset, having delivered training for teachers and other professionals.

Staff from our 14 lead schools have also had a day’s SF training. We are encouraging schools to train their staff and students in SF approaches. At Beechen Cliff School, around 70 staff have had SF training from Tara  and wear special lanyards identifying that they are there to listen. She has also trained the student wellbeing team, and students across the school are being taught in PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) how to have SF conversations to support their friends and family members. We hope to promote this model across all our lead schools.

Our way of challenging stereotypes is to promote positive images of boys and young men. So, instead of railing against “toxic masculinity“, we prefer to champion  qualities like care and compassion and provide examples of these via positive role models. This is illustrated in our “Men who Care” films and the Q and A section of our website. Our Youth Advisors and the children and young people in our films are all role models, of course.

Our film projects are also run along SF lines. Groups of students explore a theme and are then supported to develop questions. In a recent film project at one school, called “What helps?”, six Year 11 boys asked five friends and two members of staff (chosen because of their empathy) the following questions:-

  • What gets you stressed?
  • What do you do when you get stressed? How do you cope?
  • Who can you talk to?
  • How can you help others?

We try to apply an SF approach in all our interactions with individuals, schools and partner organisations. A phrase that Steve Wilkinson, who used to work at an excellent local organisation, Mentoring Plus, often used was “Catch ‘em being good”, and I think that sums up well what we try to do.

Henry Bullock is a Youth Advisor for the organisation

My name is Henry Bullock, and I have been given an opportunity, redemption, a purpose and hope.

I am lead Youth Advisor for Boys in Mind.  My purpose here is not to explain my role, but to build a picture.

Imagine for a moment that the lights are too bright; sound echoes around you and forms phrases and words that shout and bully. Imagine the temperature being 100 degrees too hot. Now imagine being told to work, to concentrate and be productive. Think of a world where this was normal, where society insists that in order for you to be in any way successful, you must stop feeling these sensations and hearing these words. You must ignore the biggest and most influential parts of your soul and how you make sense of them!

I must stop being me, and start being more them or I will never succeed.

Using a Solution-Focused Approach

Imagine now a language, one full of hope, strength and compassion. One that makes this hyper-sensitive world just a little more tolerable, a language that has been adopted with such enthusiasm that it has changed every part of my life. Allowed me to grow and flourish. 

I am a paranoid schizophrenic, with autism and ADHD, so for mere words to have changed my life – is that nothing short of a miracle? Well yes, it would have been, but, as with much of my life, nothing is that simple. The language I am talking about has rarely been used on me. Instead I use it on others, my friends, my family.

To my surprise, my friends started to open up. People were talking to me! (Aargh!). It was during these impromptu conversations that I noticed something. I noticed that my friends were smiling. They were speaking about their day, their partners, their work, their children. Young men with whom I had grown up were disclosing more about their lives in a 15-minute conversation than they had during 20 years of friendship. It was at this point that I concluded: these young men were being asked questions about complex emotional and social interactions and they felt relieved. For the first time in so long, someone was listening to them, but not only listening, was asking them questions directly related to what they had just said. It’s that’s simple, ask a question and listen. A friend mentioned that after one of our conversations, he felt momentum in his life, he felt like the future was achievable again, and not one question had been asked about how he felt. There was no need to dig and carve away at some fragile disassociated emotion or thought, no advice giving, just simply listening and asking the right questions.

It is this simplicity and momentum that we at Boys in Mind are fuelled with; instead of raising awareness, we are being proactive, engaging with schools, communities  and individuals. 

I am incredibly proud to be a part of this “loose and fluid collective” of individuals and organisations. It is my hope that we all continue to notice the momentum we can bring to people’s lives. Including our own. 

UKASFP Conference 2020

Reflections from Steve Freeman

June is looming on the horizon and it’s all set fair for the 2020 UK Association for Solution Focused Practice (UKASFP) Conference on 25th and 26th in Stoke-on-Trent.  This year’s theme is Working with disenfranchised, disadvantaged and disconnected people, which looks like it was designed especially for the SF Collective although it wasn’t.  As with previous conferences there will be workshops on a range of topics. However, it does reflect the way that the social justice strand of previous conferences (which gave rise to the SF Collective) has been embraced by practitioners.

The Solution Focused Collective hope to be hosting a workshop to discuss our progress since last year’s conference in Bath. There have been significant developments in membership, presence and discussion. We will be inviting delegates to share their views on the Collective and our next steps.

I’ve noticed for a while that most attempts to discuss social equality and social justice are based in problem-focused, expertise-based, trauma-obsessed and generally well-meaning thinking. The conference will provide alternatives which view people as inherently competent, are resource-informed and evidence-based.

The UKASFP Conference will have contributors and delegates working with established models such as Housing First. We are hoping to have delegates from organisations, groups and individuals involved in and with experience of homelessness and its related social complexities. Meaningfully adopting Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) by taking a solution-focused approach. Accepting and working with all available expertise.

Research in, and an evidence base for, the solution-focused approach are building. This research often involves the usual suspects in terms of commissioners, participants, methodologies and results. One of the exciting developments which will be presented at the conference is research involving people with lived experience who have specified a solution-focused methodology.

While the conference hasn’t been planned with the SF Collective in mind per se, the themes and delegates suggest that it will be a great forum for the direct action that the Collective is keen to pursue. We hope to create an environment in which the Collective has an opportunity to develop and its themes to coalesce during the conference and to promote and influence practice and thinking.

I’m looking forward to seeing in Stoke the next steps of a Collective whose genesis and development are entwined with UKASFP conferences.

And now in Bulgarian…

It’s really exciting to be able to announce yet another translation of the Solution Focused Manifesto – this time in Bulgarian. It does look really impressive in the cyrillic script.

The momentum with which the Manifesto is spreading is very heartening for those of us who believe that Solution Focused approaches can be used in the service of social change and activities to promote social justice. It seems to have inspired the imagination and hope at a time when the world needs it most (though when has it not?).

If you want to provide a translation in your language, please get in touch at solfocollective@gmail.com and we will add it to this growing list.