From a solution-focused perspective, it is assumed that whatever problem the client is facing did not always exist at every point in the client’s life or has at least been less severe or intense at certain times.
In the context of SFBT, exceptions are those instances in the client’s life when they would have reasonably expected their problem to occur; however, for some reason, it did not, or the problem was less intense than anticipated.
Exception Questions are designed to draw the client’s attention to those exceptions and to assist the client in relating their current situation to other times in life when they have achieved goals similar to those they are presently seeking to accomplish.
For example, “Can you think of a time in the past when you did not have this problem?”
In one of the few domains when SFBT is not exclusively forward-looking, Exception Questions facilitate an exploration of strengths and experiences that have proven effective in the past. Exception Questions also help to remind clients that current problems are not permanent or all-powerful.
After identifying and investigating relevant exceptions, follow-up questions ask the client what they need to do to make the exception happen more frequently or for a more sustained period.
Take the next several minutes to practice articulating some Exception-Seeking Questions, keeping in mind the population you serve, the most common issues you encounter in practice, and how your clients might respond to being asked Exception-Seeking Questions.
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