Ratkes 3, 2003
Austria-born Ludvig Wittgenstein can be considered one of the
most central background figures of postmodern therapy theory.
He has had powerful influence on such people as Harry Goolishian,
Harlene Anderson, Kenneth Gergen, John Shotter, Fred Newman and
Lois Holzman. However, there haven't been very many references
to him in the solution-focused literature published in the last
twenty years, either in Finland or other countries. There is,
of course, one clear exception. This is Steve de Shazer, the most
notable theorist and founding father of the solution-focused method.
The Milwaukee-based sociologist Gale Miller has, since the 1990´s
when he joyned the Brief Family Therapy Center staff, studied
the meaning of Wittgenstein's ideas while developing a theory
for solution-focused psychotherapy together with de Shazer. (de
Shazer & Miller 2000; Miller 1997)
de Shazer's Wittgenstein references started with his third book
Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy (1988).
He reports (de Shazer & Miller 2000) reading Wittgenstein
earlier than this (as a science philosopher), but as he embarked
on teaching brief therapy, he became aware of how the different
thinking and practice of solution-focused psychotherapy were closely
connected to the so-called late Wittgensteinian thought and particularly
the book Philosophical Investigations.
I believe that it was specifically Philosophical Investigations,
with its pragmatic and action-focused idea of language, that piqued
de Shazer's interest in the connections between Wittgenstein and
Brief Therapy. While reading Wittgenstein, de Shazer noticed that
the structure of philosophical uncertainties is similar to that
of therapeutic uncertainties. ”Philosophy is a battle
against the bewitchment orf our intelligence by means of language”
(FT, 109). And we must use language to be freed from this bewischment.
”The picture held us captive. And we could not get outside
it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repaeat
it to us inexorably” (FT, 115). For Wittgenstein, the
goal of philosophy is to show a fly the way out of a bottle whose
mouth is open the whole time. The more the fly struggles inside
the bottle, the more it forgets that – the mouth of the
bottle is open the whole time!
According to Wittgenstein, the key to the solution of problems
is the therapeutic process, in which we examine and describe our
ways of using language. Language is a practical activity, with
the help of which we build social realities and relationships.
Wittgenstein might say that conversation is inevitable so that
language can work. Communication is inevitable so that language
can do its job.
”Language is an instrument. Its consepts are instruments.
I don´t ofer any philosophical theory, but instruments in
order for you to liberate from a need of such theory” (FT,
569). In other words, Wittgenstein offers us philosophical therapy
to clarify what is still unclear for us.
Solution-focused psychotherapy is a language community or discourse,
in which speech practices are organized so that they build beneficial
meanings instead of problem realities. There is no need for us
to seek hidden motives or subconscious meanings behind the words;
instead, we should simply remember that words are words and observe
how they work in therapy. Wittgenstein felt that it is not essential
for solutions to look ”behind” or ”deeper”,
because nothing is hidden, everything is present the whole time.
He laconically states: ”Don´t think! Look!”
(FT, 6 ) and ”Philosophy simply puts everything before
us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. Since everything
lies open to view thera is nothing to explain” (FT,
In a sense, we are completely at the mercy of our communication.
When a therapist participates in a conversation with a client,
he or she immediately becomes a part of a therapeutic system,
where interaction and meanings are constructed together. Meanings
are born out of dominant speech practices in a dialogical interaction
between people who look for them: the meaning of a word is its
any given usage at any given moment. Thinking in these terms,
language is both a curse and a blessing for us. As professionals,
we are always deeply responsible for the way in which we use language
as an instrument. On the other hand, silence is also a therapist's
friend, because in silence, explaining steps aside and is replaced
by seeing. In the words of Wittgenstein: ”It often happens
that we only become aware of the important facts if we suppress
the question “why” and then in the course of our investications
these facts lead us to the answer” (FT, 471).
Steve de Shazer, the developer of solution-based therapy, relates
that he stopped trying to explain things over 30 years ago and
started to only describe what he and his clients found to work:
”Theories tell us what should happen. Descriptions tell
us what happened. Traditionally, we think that theory leads to
practice, but as Lyman Wynne said many years ago, practice is
always ahead of theory. Furthermore: when we have a theory, then
according to human experience, we also have a tendency to make
facts correspond to the theory – just like Sherlock Holmes
showed – even if facts should be able to change theories.
If solution-based therapy had a theory, it would be as complex
as any other Theory, and it could also easily blur people's minds”
(de Shazer & Miller, 2000, p. 24). It is not our job to create
new theories, but rather to remember what we already know. As
philosophers or therapists we are not, like scientists, building
a house or laying its foundation. We are simply ”cleaning
the room”. The problems are solved not by seeking a new
experience, but rather by fitting together what has always been
known. In this way, people's local knowledge about their lives
and the functioning practices of living become more important
than expert information.
For me, it has been important to examine the philosophy of my
work at times, and I have perceived that searching for the roots
of my thoughts and actions makes my action more flexible, aware
and ethical. Knowing and feeling that my work is part of a greater
whole, I can better make purposeful choices while consciously
participating in building realities that do people good.
What touches me the most about Wittgenstein's way of thinking
is that he does not intend to teach us anything new with his investigations
- the idea that you never have to add anything to or deduct anything
from a person. As therapists, we always have everything that is.
The only thing that matters is to understand and perceive what
has always been open before our eyes and what we, for whatever
reason, cannot see. ”The aspects of things that are
most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and
familiarity. (One is unable to notice something – bacause
it is always before one´s eye” (FT, 129). This
has been an important concept for me over the years, as I've worked
to change the process of power relations that is inevitably present
in a therapy situation, transforming it into an event of collecting
and recycling local knowledge, built on people's everyday experiences
and everyday wisdom.
Another strongly resonating Wittgenstein concept for my work
has been that the meanings of words are not found in dictionaries.
Different ways of using language are, according to Wittgeinstein,
like a network of different paths. They take us into different
directions, allow us to see different landscapes or new things
in old landscapes, whichever we choose. Problems and solutions
are socially built life forms maintained by different kinds of
language games. Wittgenstein argues that langauge games are formed
out of different ways of using language with which we create meanings
and build our relationships. For instance, the classical miracle
question of solution-focused therapy is a different language game
than so-called problem-focused language games, where the focus
is on people's flaws and the reasons for the problems. Steve de
Shazer argues that the miracle question is just like driving a
car: you don't have to think, except in the beginning when you're
learning how to drive. The car takes you forward, from point A
to point B.
The clients are not the problem; the problem is often the language
they must start using with their therapist to answer his or her
questions. In my opinion, even the solution-focused language game
is rather too one-dimensional in this respect. At the moment,
I am also very interested in methods where a person's intentionality,
meanings, values, dreams, sense of community, spirituality and
commitments become ever more heard. In these methods (narrative
and collaborative therapy), people are seen as creatures that
contain many stories. By opening alternative stories to the problem
in a rich and multi-faceted way we are not solving anything, but
simply creating space for understanding and beneficial actions.
1) Postmodern therapies are pracices, according to which knowledge
is as a discursive practice and its truthfulness is defined locally
and contextually. Among these practices, language is seen as a
generative tool creating different realities. The therapist's
power as an expert is alleviated by striving for an interaction
with the clients that is as respectful and cooperative as possible.
These approaches include, for example, solution-focused, narrative
and collaborative psychotherapy.
de Shazer, S.: (1988) Clues: Investicating Solutions in Brief
Therapy. New York: Norton.
de Shazer, S. & Miller, G. (1998) Wittgenstein for Therapists.
A Brief Therapy Center Audiotape.
de Shazer, s. & Miller, G. (2000) Wittgenstein for Therapist.
Malinen, T. (2001) From Think Thank to New Therapy: The Process
of Solution-Focused Theory
and Practice Development. Ratkes 2.
Miller, G. (1997) Becoming Miracle Workers. Language and Meaning
in Brief Therapy. Aldine De
Gruyter, New York.
Wittgenstein, L. (1968) Philosophical Investications. Oxford: