The InterAction Collection

The Brain and the Impact of Solution Focus Questions

Apr 29, 2022

Dr. Rachel Gillibrand & Dr. Adam S. Froerer & Mia Lunde

Introduced by Paut Kromkamp

As enthusiasts of the solution-focused approach, therapy or otherwise, we know it works. Our clients often tell us it works. But do we understand how it works; really understand?

We know quite a bit about what works; we constantly look for that adage, ‘When something works, do more of it.’ And we know quite a bit about with whom it works; that is, with almost anyone and in virtually any situation - though people unfamiliar with Solution Focus (SF) often find that hard to grasp. But hard evidence about the how is tougher to find. Especially about what happens in the brain as people answer questions in a solution-focused session.

This evidence is precisely what Dr Rachel Gillibrand (UK), Dr Adam Froerer (USA) and SF practitioner Mia Hjorth Lunde (Denmark), have been looking for, even with the challenges of the limited face to face contact that was possible during the pandemic. In this video, they tell us how they very carefully set up their research involving headsets and EEG readings, the findings they are already making, and the follow-up questions this project evokes.

Their initial questions were, “When does the idea that change is possible, become visible in the brain?” “Are people who consider themselves creative better suited to SF conversations?” And “Would the findings be different in an actual conversation, compared to what we already know happens in the brain of people under hypnosis?”

In the video, they carefully take us through the meaning of the different waves that show up on the EEG, the patterns of movement they expected and what happened. They describe the setup of the research conversations and the differences in the actual method in the US and the UK part of the project.

And then comes the magic of this story. As it turned out, they witnessed a lot of activity in the brain even before people answered the question. They noticed how the person’s search for an answer follows a pattern in the brain; generating an idea, checking, trying something else, checking again, until at some point, the activity goes to the ‘Eureka’ part of the brain (just above the right ear), and the person voices an answer. They repeatedly noticed this, even to the point where researchers watching the brainwaves during the conversation could predict when people would answer—mind-blowing stuff.

The researchers noted this phenomenon, especially during the familiar ‘I don’t know’ series of answers. The unvoiced answer would already be visible in the wave patterns, but the therapist needed to prompt the response by repeating the question. Sometimes too, it was visible that the answerer was internally checking if this was information they were willing to share.

It was a stark reminder for me that we should never give up on our clients or our questions. And that there is no need to hear the answer for the conversation to be helpful. ‘Trust the process’ takes on a whole new level of meaning for me after hearing the account of this wonderful research project. It’s made me wonder also if people in micro-analysis research could say something about how some of the goings-on in the brain might be reflected by those micro facial expressions.

We are in enormous debt to the researchers and those who worked with them, the people willing to answer different questionnaires, then have a conversation in a strange hospital environment wearing a headset of electrodes. We are in debt, too, to the research centres who volunteered their laboratory time and space and the independent researchers currently reviewing the work. That this work is non-funded puts us even more in their debt.

Of course, the researchers have more questions to answer, a rule of thumb in any research. Still, this alone will prove immensely valuable to all who are curious to know how this amazing approach works. I can’t wait for the papers to be published. In the meantime, watch this video. Again and again.

If you wish to help sponsor this research in 2022 with SFiO:

Make more possible!

Dr. Rachel Gillibrand
Dr. Rachel Gillibrand
InterAction Contributor

Rachel is the Director of Center for Solution Focus Research and brings 20 years experience as a researcher, academic and practitioner in psychology. Her work using EEG to explore the role of solution focused therapy in creative thinking has been widely reported and was the inspiration for this research programme.

Dr. Adam S. Froerer
Dr. Adam S. Froerer
InterAction Contributor

Adam is Senior Researcher at the Center for Solution Focus Research and has published several process and outcome studies related to solution focused brief therapy. Adam has clinical, academic, and research background that has culminated in being appointed the Director of Research and Training for the Solution Focused University and a Senior Researcher for the Center of Solution Focused Research.

Mia Lunde
Mia Lunde
InterAction Contributor

Mia is a senior consultant at the Center for Solution Focused Research and brings 20 years experience of youth and family support work in the UK and Denmark. The last 6 years Mia has been specialising in solution focused work with children and families at risk, as well as delivering and developing solution focused training to professionals in Denmark.