In Therapy

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Cool Intervention #10: The Miracle Question

10CTI: Finding a miracle in therapy

The Ten Coolest Therapy Interventions series kicks off with supernatural power. Many clients come to therapy looking for a miracle. Here's a technique built on miracles. I'm honored to speak with Dr. Linda Metcalf, expert on the Miracle Question and Solution Focused Therapy. 

The therapeutic intervention is a critical element in most forms of psychotherapy. In this series I survey ten diverse techniques that are, in my opinion, cool. For more information on the series take a look at the introduction

Solution Focused Therapy (aka Brief Therapy) emerged in the 1980's as an branch of the systems therapies. A married therapist couple from Milwaukee, Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg are credited with the name and basic practice of SFT. The theory focuses not on the past, but on what the client wants to achieve today. By making conscious all the ways the client is creating their ideal future and encouraging forward progress, clinicians point clients toward their goals rather than the problems that drove them to therapy. 

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The Miracle Question fits perfectly with this model. Imagining an ideal future and connecting it to the present immediately actualizes the work. Clients are challenged to look past their obstacles and hopelessness and focus on the possibilities.

It's cool because it's a relatively simple intervention that can have a powerful impact. Just take a look at the question (response #2). You're probably crafting your response already. It's creative, bold, healing, a bit mysterious and definitely has a cool name. The Top Ten designation is well deserved. 

Don't just listen to me, hear it from an expert. Linda Metcalf, Ph.D. is founder of the Solution Focused Institute of Fort Worth, Texas and author of ten books including The Miracle Question: Answer It and Change Your Life. Beyond writing and therapy, she speaks internationally to schools, agencies and universities. She was kind enough to share her wisdom with us today. 

1. When would a clinician use the Miracle Question?

The Miracle Question is a goal setting question that is useful when a client simply does not know what a preferred future would look like. It can be used with individuals to set the course for therapy, with couples, to clarify what each person needs from each other and with families, who too often see one person as the culprit. By using the Miracle Question and asking each person what a better life would look like, the system sees perhaps for the first time, what others need from each other.

2. What does it look like?

"Suppose tonight, while you slept, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you would notice that would tell you life had suddenly gotten better?"

The therapist stays with the question even if the client describes an "impossible" solution, such as a deceased person being alive, and acknowledges that wish and then asks "how would that make a difference in your life?"  Then as the client describes that he/she might feel as if they have their companion back, again, the therapist asks "how would that make a difference?"  With that, the client may say, "I would have someone to confide in and support me."  From there, the therapist would ask the client to think of others in the client's life who could begin to be a confidant in a very small manner.

3. How does it help the client?

It catapults the client from a problem saturated context into a visionary context where he/she has a moment of freedom, to step out of the problem story and into a story where they are more problem free. But, more importantly, it helps the therapist to know exactly what the client wants from therapy...and this is what makes Solution Focused Therapy so efficient and brief.

4. In your opinion, what makes the Miracle Question a cool intervention?

It helps the therapist see where the client wants to go. Too often, therapists assume that a client needs to grieve, leave their spouse, quit their job, after the client describes why he/she has come to therapy. The Miracle Question helps the client and therapist to address exactly what the client wants, not what the therapist thinks is best.

Ryan Howes, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, writer, musician and professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, California.

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