I wonder sometimes if we are living in such a problem-saturated environment, that we can’t always find words for the problem-free opposites.
If we are talking to a client who describes themself as ‘depressed' or ‘anxious', we know that ‘depressed' or ‘anxious' is what they don’t want, but it’s far from clear that they are seeking ‘ecstasy’ or ‘at total peace with the world’ as their goal. I might guess they are aiming for something a bit more day-to-day OK. Perhaps a touch more dynamic than 'not depressed’ or even - a fateful word that brings its own troubles about judgement - 'normal’. 'Functioning well' may be better, but still seems dully inadequate.
Part of our work as coaches is to expand our clients’ world, in part by expanding their vocabulary. Our conversation co-constructs their sense of preferable possibilities and – given the vocabulary challenge - it may be quite a struggle for both parties. Generating worthwhile descriptions of the preferred alternative to the unwanted current situation can be painstaking and slow. But the struggle is OK: as long as the client sticks with the conversation, then they still want to work with you.
People are fluent in ‘problem'. And not so fluent in ‘instead’. Our questions in the Solutions Focus repertoire are mostly in the language of ‘instead’, and we are encouraging clients to answer as best they can - during this whole process of building up their ‘instead’ vocabulary. They might say, 'I’ve never thought of it like that before’. If you were to give up before that point, you’ve mislaid your belief in that client and their capacity to change. And it’s our professional duty to stick with this faith in the client’s competence to describe and thus start to inhabit a more positive world.