This post, written by Joseph Kim Paxton, originally was published on December 15, 2015, on our previous website.
Weekends can be tough for ministers. Think back on your past week, whether you were preaching, teaching, or assisting in the organization for weekend service. Every weekend requires a lot of effort and carries a lot of responsibilities. After the sermon or teaching a religious lesson, the minister often will need to meet with the congregants, and some may be in crisis. In these situations, a minister can feel “stuck” between her or his expectation to meet with other congregants and her or his perception that this individual requires personal attention and care. Solution-focused brief therapy offers two tools that can help a minister offer efficient and empathic care and avoid getting stuck in time-consuming “problem talk” or “venting” and transition the struggling congregant from being problem-focused to solution-oriented. Consider this as a “mini-session” of pastoral care.
Problem talk is venting. When a person is engaged in problem talk, they are not concerned with solutions or insights that might help them to cope with their struggle. Instead, they are more concerned with expressing their frustrations and talking about “how bad” the problem is. Empathy and concern should be used to show concern and care for the difficulty or crisis the congregant may be experiencing. However, it is very easy to “feel stuck” listening to a congregant vent.
A solution-focused approach, taken from solution-focused brief therapy, offers two solutions that can help a minister efficiently and empathically provide time-sensitive care: empathy and scaling. First, the minister or care-provider should offer empathy. An example of this might be a statement like, “Wow, it sounds like you are really struggling; that must be so hard!” Empathy facilitates the expression of care, concern, and compassion. Next, a scaling question helps the care-seeker avoid or escape problem talk and transition to a solution-focused approach.
A scaling question asks the care-seeker to determine their wellness on a scale of 1-10. For example, a care-provider may ask, “On a scale of 1-10, 1 being terrible and 10 being excellent, how are you doing today?” Next, the care-provider will ask the congregant what they would need to do to move 1 number up from their current location. For example, a care-provider might ask, “If you were to move from a 4 to a 5 this week, how would you know? What are some things that would need to change, or what would you be doing differently?”
A scaling question helps the care-seeker shift from a problem-oriented outlook to a solution-focused position. This can be a very efficient process that does not lack empathy or compassion. These solution-focused tools equip the minister to be efficient and empathic in the practice of care, enable the care-seeker to schedule an additional meeting for pastoral care, and empower the congregant to efficiently transition from being “stuck” in problem talk and move towards a solution-focused orientation.
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