The miracle question is often asked by the SFBT group leader. What applications do you see of this technique? What are some potential barriers to asking this kind of question?

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The miracle question is often asked by the SFBT group leader. What applications do you see of this technique? What are some potential barriers to asking this kind of question?

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The miracle question is often asked by the SFBT group leader. What applications do you see of this technique? What are some potential barriers to asking this kind of question?

Answer & Explanation (1)

Explanation
What applications do you see of this technique?

The miracle question is a questioning technique used by a coach, therapist, or counselor to help the client imagine how the future will be different when the problem is no longer present. This may also aid in goal-setting. While the miracle question is relatively simple to state, it takes considerable skill to ask well. To ensure that the pace matches the person's ability to follow the question, the question must be asked slowly and with close attention to the person's nonverbal communication. Initial responses frequently include a sense of "I don't know." To ask the question properly, it should be accompanied by respectful silence to allow the person time to fully absorb the question. Once the miracle day has been thoroughly explored, the worker can proceed with scales, where 0 represents the worst things have ever been and 10 represents the miracle day where are you now.

Using the miracle question to find out more
You can use the miracle question to learn not only about what this person truly desires in the future, but also about how their problem manifests itself right now.

Using the miracle question carefully

No therapeutic technique is appropriate in all situations. And, if we do decide to use a specific technique, we should be able to modify it to fit the personality and circumstances of individual clients.

Using the miracle question imaginatively

We want people to feel the answer to the miracle question rather than just think about it. This helps them to see the imagined future as more than just a theoretical construct. So, instead of asking someone to respond right away, ask them to go inside for a few moments and truly see and feel the miracle. Instead of telling you the answer in words, ask them to imagine it.

What are some potential barriers to asking this kind of question?

In my experience, the first major obstacle to effective use of the miracle question was the manner in which it was introduced. The primary issues that were identified as subcategories to the introduction of the miracle question may have a poor transition from the session's content into the miracle question and an insufficient allocation of time to the miracle question within the session.

My coworkers have a habit of introducing the miracle question abruptly, with little or no transition from the previous conversation, and/or at the end of the session, when there is no time to follow up on the question. While most new counselors are nervous when they first begin practicing therapeutic skills, I noticed that they seemed to use the miracle question to alleviate the anxiety that was produced during the session, regardless of what the client had just said or how little time was left in the session. When they seemed stuck, it appeared as if the counselor asked the miracle question to change the subject. Another possibility was that the counselor was unsure of the proper time to ask the miracle question, so they were concerned about using the skill correctly.

Furthermore, the tone used when asking the miracle question is critical to effectively delivering it. According to de Shazer and colleagues (2007), the miracle question is most effectively delivered when the counselor appears relaxed while remaining focused on the client at all times. The counselor should induce a hypnotic state because the act of answering appears to cause a significant shift in the state of consciousness in many people. The clients should achieve a state of calm in which they are ready to answer the miracle question. Thus, it is critical for counselors to learn how to use this technique comfortably.

Timing is another important aspect of the miracle question. To be effective, the miracle question must be asked with enough time remaining in the session to accomplish the miracle question's goals. In my experience, I occasionally do not allow enough time for the miracle question to develop. The amount of time we devote to an intervention in therapy may indicate to the client how important the intervention is to us. If a counselor only devotes a few moments to the miracle question, the client may conclude that having the miracle occur is not critical. If the counselor devotes more time and thought to the miracle question, the client may sense the power that the question can have when given adequate time and consideration in therapy.

Another hindrance to the effective use of the miracle question was the tendency of counselors to create the miracle for their clients rather than allowing the clients to create their own miracle. The practitioner refrains from making suggestions to clients about what they need or for what they should strive in solution-focused interviewing, which includes the miracle question. Counselors should avoid defining the miracle because when clients set their own goals or create their own miracle, they brighten up and become more hopeful. Clients are also more likely to pay attention to the process. I noticed that most counselors I know do not refrain from sharing their own suggestions, and as a result, clients lost focus on the miracle, pursued the less hopeful course of discussing their problems, and were less likely to venture out from the counselor's miracle to share their own miracle.

Finally, the phrasing of the miracle question is critical to its effectiveness. When counselors asked the miracle question in an awkward manner, asking unrelated questions back-to-back, and when the counselors appeared confused about what they were asking of the clients, the phrasing was confusing. The miracle question can be asked in a variety of ways, but it is best asked deliberately and dramatically. The majority of the new counselors asked the question in a jumbled, choppy manner. Following an awkward delivery of the miracle question, the miracle question tended to fall flat because clients appeared perplexed and unsure how to respond.

References:

De Jong, P. & Berg, I. K. (2002). Interviewing for Solutions. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole.
de Shazer, S., Dolan, Y., Korman, H., McCollum, E., Trepper, T. & I.K. Berg (2007). More than miracles: The State of the Art of Solutions-Focused Brief Therapy. New York: Haworth
Nau, D. S., & Shilts, L. (2000). When to use the miracle question: Clues from a qualitative study of four SFBT practitioners. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 19, 129-135
Answer
Insoo Kim Berg developed the miracle question as a foundational Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) intervention (De Jong & Berg, 2002). The miracle question is typically asked early in therapy in order to establish concrete therapeutic goals (de Shazer, 1988; De Jong & Berg, 2002). The miracle question helps clients develop a specific and elaborated vision of what their lives would be like in the absence of the problem by asking them to imagine the minute and day-to-day details that would let them know that change has occurred in their lives, in addition to lifting them out of their constraint saturated view that nothing can change. In addition to goal setting, there are three other reasons to ask the miracle question (de Shazer, Dolan, Korman, McCollum, Trepper, & Berg, 2007). The first step is to create a virtual simulation of what life would be like if the miracle happened. Another strategy is to train clients to recognize exceptions to the problem, demonstrating that the problem does not always exist (de Shazer, 1988). Finally, the miracle question contributes to the development of a progressive story in which the client's life is perceived to be improving rather than deteriorating. According to Nau and Shilts, the miracle that clients are asked to imagine is more than just a wish. Rather, it may be the common ground upon which the client and therapist agree to build new foundations" (2000, p. 135).

Despite its apparent simplicity, effectively asking the miracle question can pose difficulties for therapists. In my experience as a Guidance Associate, students learning to use the miracle question frequently struggle with making the question interactive when asking it to couples and families, as well as with knowing how to expand the question to allow clients to create a vision of a life after the miracle. Although several SFBT therapists have written about how to use the miracle question effectively in session, no one has investigated the difficulties that student therapists face when learning to use the question. While pointing out problems creates a dilemma from a solution-focused standpoint, it was noted that when students can recognize pitfalls, it is easier for them to avoid them in the future.

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