Northwest Brief Therapy Training Center
Solution-Focused Management: Miracle Questions
In 1984 Steve deShazer and Insoo Kim Berg invented a way to set a frame for goal setting called “the miracle question” (deShazer, 1988) in the context of psychotherapy. This question, it turns out, it useful in many other settings as well.
“Suppose one night there is a miracle (or suppose a fairy godmother came with a magic wand) and while you are sleeping the problem is solved: What will you notice different the next morning that will tell you that there has been a miracle?”
Getting people to imagine that the miracle has happened has powerful implications about their need to do something different. Since the responses to the miracle question frequently describe the solution in rather detailed, behavioral terms, one natural task is to get people to initiate those behaviors.
Some people may initially talk about winning the lottery or “pie in the sky” dreams, but the most common reaction is to start becoming more hopeful about their situation. After the initial jocular comments, they can begin to describe the goals for treatment in detail.
Someone’s response to the “miracle question” can be followed with:
How often does that happen now? How do you do it? (Implication clearly here is that the person is making it happen already.)
What would you have to do so that it would happen more often?
If you were to take those steps, what would you notice different at work (around your house)?
If you were to pretend the miracle had happened, what would be the first thing you would do? (A strong suggestion that the person will have to do something to solve problems.)
What would it take to pretend that the miracle has happened?
The same “miracle question” can also be used to help clients explore the possibilities of changes in their relationships with others, thus increasing the possibility of a ripple effect in response to their initial changes.
What would your co-workers (boss, people working for you) say would be the first sign that the miracle has happened?
The day after the miracle, what would they say they would notice you do differently?
What do you suppose they would do differently then?
What would your husband (mother) say would be the first sign that the miracle has happened?
What would your children (parent) be doing differently then?
What else would be different in you household?
What would your husband say it would take to make it happen?
Answers to these questions can be a clue as to whether someone is in a customer relationship with you or not and who is more invested in change—the client or someone else in his/her life, thus giving further clues on who needs to do what in order to solve the problem.
Notice that these questions emphasize “differences”, a powerful implication again that the person has to DO something in order to solve problems.
These questions can also be applied to the organization or parts of an organization. The answers can break down seemingly insurmountable obstacles into more doable pieces, especially since most of the time, changes are made in small steps and those steps can have a ripple effect on the rest of the organization and the problem at hand.
Reference: deShazer, S. (1988). Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy. New York: Norton & Co.
(copyright: Brief Family Therapy Center, NWBTTC, 2007)