Miracle question

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The miracle question is a method of questioning that a coach, therapist, or counselor uses to aid the client to envision how the future will be different when the problem is no longer present. Also, this may help to establish goals.

A traditional version of the miracle question would go like this:

"Suppose our meeting is over, you go home, do whatever you planned to do for the rest of the day. And then, some time in the evening, you get tired and go to sleep. And in the middle of the night, when you are fast asleep, a miracle happens and all the problems that brought you here today are solved just like that. But since the miracle happened over night nobody is telling you that the miracle happened. When you wake up the next morning, how are you going to start discovering that the miracle happened? ... What else are you going to notice? What else?"

Whilst relatively easy to state, the miracle question requires considerable skill to ask well. The question must be asked slowly with close attention to the person's non-verbal communication to ensure that the pace matches the person's ability to follow the question. Initial responses frequently include a sense of "I don't know." To ask the question well this should be met with respectful silence to give the person time to fully absorb the question.

Once the miracle day has been thoroughly explored the worker can follow this with scales, on a scale where 0 = worst things have ever been and 10 = the miracle day where are you now? Where would it need to be for you to know that you didn't need to see me any more? What will be the first things that will let you know you are 1 point higher. In this way the miracle question is not so much a question as a series of questions.

There are many different versions of the miracle question depending on the context and the client.

In a specific situation, the counselor may ask,

"If you woke up tomorrow, and a miracle happened so that you no longer easily lost your temper, what would you see differently?" What would the first signs be that the miracle occurred?"

The client (a child) may respond by saying,

"I would not get upset when somebody calls me names."

The counselor wants the client to develop positive goals, or what they will do, rather than what they will not do--to better ensure success. So, the counselor may ask the client, "What will you be doing instead when someone calls you names?"

Scaling Questions

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Scaling questions are tools that are used to identify useful differences for the client and may help to establish goals as well. The poles of a scale can be defined in a bespoke way each time the question is asked, but typically range from "the worst the problem has ever been" (zero or one) to "the best things could ever possibly be" (ten). The client is asked to rate their current position on the scale, and questions are then used to help the client identify resources (e.g. "what's stopping you from slipping one point lower down the scale?"), exceptions (e.g. "on a day when you are one point higher on the scale, what would tell you that it was a 'one point higher' day?") and to describe a preferred future (e.g. "where on the scale would be good enough? What would a day at that point on the scale look like?")

Exception Seeking Questions

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Proponents of SFBT insist that there are always times when the problem is less severe or absent for the client. The counselor seeks to encourage the client to describe what different circumstances exist in that case, or what the client did differently. The goal is for the client to repeat what has worked in the past, and to help them gain confidence in making improvements for the future.

Coping Questions

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Coping questions are designed to elicit information about client resources that will have gone unnoticed by them. Even the most hopeless story has within it examples of coping that can be drawn out: "I can see that things have been really difficult for you, yet I am struck by the fact that, even so, you manage to get up each morning and do everything necessary to get the kids off to school. How do you do that?" Genuine curiosity and admiration can help to highlight strengths without appearing to contradict the clients view of reality. The initial summary "I can see that things have been really difficult for you" is for them true and validates their story. The second part "you manage to get up each morning etc.", is also a truism, but one that counters the problem focused narrative. Undeniably, they cope and coping questions start to gently and supportively challenge the problem-focused narrative.

Problem Free Talk

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Problem free talk is often over looked as a technique. In Solution focused therapy it is thought to be a useful technique for eliciting resources. Many people do leisure activities that relax them, or have experiences of being assertive, and many other useful resources that can help within the therapy. Solution focused therapists will talk about seemingly irrelevant life experiences; like leisure activities, meeting with friends, relaxing and managing conflict. The therapist can also gather information on the clients values and beliefs and their strengths. From this discussion during the therapy session the therapist can use these strengths and resources to move the therapy forward. For example; if a client wants to be more assertive it may turn out that under certain life situations they are assertive. This strength from one part of their life can then be transferred to the area with the current problem. Or if a client is struggling with their child because the child gets aggressive and calls the parent names and the parent continually retaliates and also gets angry, then perhaps they have an area of their life where they remain calm even under pressure; or maybe they have trained a dog successfully that now behaves and can identify that it was the way they spoke to the dog that made the difference and if they put boundaries in place using the same firm tonality the child might listen.