Stay in the Solution: My Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Guterman

Posted on by jafremow

Jeffrey Guterman, Ph.D., is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Florida, a former associate editor of the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, and the author of over 125 publications, including the best-selling book Mastering the Art of Solution-Focused Counseling published by the American Counseling Association. Solution-focused counseling is an approach that focuses on solutions, strengths, resources and abilities. That is, identify exceptions to problems and do more of what works. I asked Dr. Guterman to share how a sports coach can use a solution-focused, strength-based approach with his or her team. Here’s his response:

book2013smallOne of my first assumptions is that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There is no a prior reason to think that an athletic coach or his or her players necessarily have problems that require solution-focused intervention. I view people like bicycle chains, Basically, they work very simply and well. But sometimes they get a bit stuck. In such cases they might need a minor adjustment. If I become too involved in my interventions, then I run the risk of exacerbating the problem or becoming part of it. So, my task, as I see it, is to get in and out quickly and let the client be on his or her way. As I see it, counseling ought to be sort of like brain surgery. The counselor should get in and out quickly without the client hardly knowing that the counselor was ever there. This way, the client can more easily get back on track. When you understand solution-focused principles in this way, a strength-based perspective becomes a logical consequence. If an athletic coach did happen to present a problem, my solution-focused, strength-based approach would be similar to, yet different from the solution-focused model that I use with most clients. Let me explain.

In some respects, each case in solution-focused counseling is different. In other respects, every case is the same. Each case is different because each client offers a unique story about the problem. It follows that the solution-focused counselor needs to gain a thorough understanding of the problem and goals from the point of view of the coach and players. Each case is similar, however, insofar as the unique story is understood within solution-focused counseling’s theory that for every problem there are exceptions. In solution-focused counseling, an exception refers to times when the problem isn’t happening and when the goal has been reached. In solution-focused counseling, it is presumed that there are always exceptions to the problem, but clients do not notice these events or dismiss them as trivial. The main goal in solution-focused counseling is to help clients identify and amplify exceptions.

Specific to athletics, I suggest that the coach adopt a positive, solution-focused approach themselves in how he or she approaches their role with the players. In most cases, I eventually assume a supervisory role with the coach as he or she learns and implements solution-focused principles with their players.

Rather than focusing on the negative by, for example, reviewing game videos of what a slumping player has been doing wrong, a solution-focused approach highlights videos of times when the player performed well. These latter instances, which solution-focused counseling refers to as exceptions, are identified and efforts are made to note precisely what the player did to succeed.

Dr. Guterman on the Internet:

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Dr. Jim Afremow is a leading mental coach, a licensed professional counselor, and the author of The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive (Rodale, January 2014.) Though his private practice is located in Phoenix, Arizona, Dr. Afremow provides individual and group mental training services across the globe to athletes in all sports, as well as to parents, business professionals, and all others engaged in highly-demanding endeavors. His website is