Frequently Asked Questions
On the pages below, you will find the answers to common questions people ask Bill, about his work and his life. We put these up in hopes you will find the answer you are looking for, since it is often difficult for Bill to respond in a timely manner to the many emails, letters and phone calls he gets. You might even find yourself amused by reading some of them even if you don't have a question you want a frequent answer to.
Bill the Human Trampoline
Photo montage by Steffanie O'Hanlon
Questions about Bill and his work
I wrote Bill an email and haven't heard from him. Wassup with that?
Your email might have gotten lost in cyberspace, so you may want to write again. But more likely, because Bill gets hundreds of emails per week, he sometimes finds it hard to keep up and it may have slipped through the cracks or still be waiting on the flight deck to be answered. Again, please write again.
I called Bill or wrote him a letter and haven't heard back from him. Why not? Bill's personal time is precious, since he used to be crazy busy. He is also a little phone-avoidant. Email is way better. It can be responded to at any time and is more time-manageable than phone calls, which can take from a few seconds to much longer. Writing letters is a lost art and Bill hopes it stays lost. It takes much less time to write an email than write a letter, find the address, print out the letter, find an envelope, put a stamp on it, put it in the mailbox. Geez, it's exhausting just writing all that. Email is way better.
I would like Bill to:
a. read my dissertation
b. co-write a book with me
c. let me be his gardener
d. hang out with me when I am in Santa Fe
e. write a blurb for my forthcoming book
f. tell me all about solution-oriented therapy for a class paper I am writing
g. mentor me
h. etc., etc. a.-d. Sorry to disappoint, but Bill is very busy and guards his personal time fiercely. If he didn't he wouldn't have much of a personal life. Bill has been blessed with a fertile imagination and has outlines for many books on his computer and is not looking for collaborations. He doesn't have much time to read even very worthy dissertations.
e. Bill writes very few blurbs out of the hundreds of books he is sent each year, but he does a few. Contact him by sending an email to this address (PossiBillemail@example.com) to receive instructions for how to make it more likely he will give you a blurb.
f. That is why Bill has written 30+ books and 60+ articles/book chapters. Please do your research and look at those before you write to ask questions. You will probably find what you are looking for in one or more of those books or articles or on the Internet. It is even easier with the Internet and inter-library loans. After you have done your legwork, then you can write and ask some follow-up questions.
g. Mentoring is a mysterious process and does not usually result from deliberate applications for the position of protegé or mentee. If it happens, it happens, as it has only several times in the past, but Bill does not take applicants for this position.
h. Use your imagination for other requests/interests after reading these FAQs.
Wow, Bill has done a lot of things, travels a lot and has written a lot of books. He must never sleep.
Bill usually sleeps quite well, thank you. He likes to sleep a good 8 hours a night. He is just very energetic and stimulated by taking on new projects. He works fast when he works and is profoundly languid and lazy when he doesn't, often reading four or five books a week when he's on a tear.
He also plays guitar and piano, watches lots of movies, exercises regularly (except when he doesn't) and likes to nap daily. Bill participated in raising three step-children and one biological child, who are all grown and on their own and he didn't sleep as much during that era, but he is getting plenty of sleep now.
Can I see or call Bill O'Hanlon for therapy?
Sorry, Bill is not available to do therapy. He's trying very hard to have a life.
I was at a workshop Bill gave and I have a sense we could be great friends.
It may be so, but Bill's is barely able to keep up with the friends he has. Also, Bill wears his magic charisma power pack at workshops and seminars; he is much more dull and boring in everyday life, really. Truly, it's difficult to be charming and charismatic 24 hours a day. Bill has the same sense of enthusiasm and connection when he hears a good presenter, but he knows enough from the other side that it is probably an artifact of the magic of the moment. Give it some time and this sense will very likely fade. No offense intended.
How do I sign up for Bill's excellent, witty and informative email newsletter that might just change my life for the better?
Click below and you will be placed in the list almost instantly. You can unsubscribe at any time. -->Click here to sign up for Bill's Possibilities e-mail newsletter
Revisit the first (home) page of this website and scroll down to subscribe to other newsletters and topics.
How can I get in touch with Bill?
You can contact Bill through Possibilities/O'Hanlon and O'Hanlon,Inc., email him at Bill@BillOHanlon.com
Bill prefers you not call him. He's doing what he can to have a life outside his work. I want to hire Bill and pay him outrageous amounts of money to do a workshop, keynote address, training, consultation or talk for my group, my company, my association, my church group, my posse, my Ya-Ya Sisters and me, my book club, my [fill in the blank].
Click the tab for the page "How to hire Bill" to find out everything that needs knowing in this area. You might check the schedule to see if Bill is officially booked for your dates before you get all hot and bothered. Bill has cut back radically on his traveling teaching schedule and prefers to do mostly online teaching and coaching these days.
Frequently Asked Questions
About Possibility Therapy, Solution-Oriented Therapy and Solution-Focused Therapy
I get a fair amount of email about my therapy work and what relation my ideas and method have to similar models, such as Solution-Focused Therapy (for the record, I have never practiced Solution-Focused Therapy, and as you will see below, disagree with some of it). So, I thought I would answer some frequent questions and clear up some misunderstandings about this work.
What is Possibility Therapy? Possibility Therapy is a method and philosophy of psychotherapy, usually brief, which stresses respect and collaboration as well as effectiveness and results. Combining the best of Carl Rogers' use of acknowledgment and validation, as well as the directive approaches of Milton Erickson and strategic therapies, Solution-Oriented Therapy considers clients experts on their concerns, problems, goals and responses to therapy. Therapists using this method work to evoke (not merely to convince clients of) solutions, spiritual and personal resources, strengths, competence, and exceptions to the usual rule of the problem. Akin to solution-focused (or solution-focussed) therapy, co-developed by the late Steve de Shazer of the Brief Therapy Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, Possibility Therapy is different in its emphasis on the importance of validation of felt experience and points of view and a flexible rather than formulaic method.
What does a Possibility Therapist do? The three principles guide the work of a Possibility Therapist: 1. Acknowledge and validate clients' reality and experience; 2. Guide clients to shift how they view things (perceptions of the problem) and/or do things (patterns that support or create the problem); 3. Tap their resources, expertise, and experiences for solutions and consult them on their preferences on the process and direction of therapy.
How do you decide the focus of treatment? Most therapeutic approaches and theories have what is called a "normative model"- prescribed ideas about what is normal and healthy and what is abnormal and deviant. Treatment then is based on what the theory says is wrong with you (even if you have a different idea about it) and of course, the therapist's subjective interpretation of that normative model. So you may go to a family therapist for help in dealing with your child's temper tantrums and he or she may tell you that you the problem is really that you need to work on your marriage. Possibility Therapy generally eschews prescribed ideas about normalcy as they are most often subjective (your idea about what works for you is different than my idea about what works for me), dated (one decade homosexuality is an illness, the next homophobia is the problem instead), and ethnocentric (culturally biased). In Possibility Therapy (and solution-focused, solution-oriented, solution-based and other related approaches) when a client says they want to work on preventing their child's temper tantrums, we work on that. If upon observation we have an idea that marital conflict may be a contributing factor, we may offer that to a client as a possibility. We view ourselves as cab drivers. Yes, we have a vast knowledge of the city, traffic patterns and various routes to reach any given destination, but the client provides us with the destination and we negotiate the route.
Are you the only Possibility Therapist? Many therapists who call themselves brief, solution-oriented, solution-focused, narrative or collaborative use many similar ideas and methods. Others have adopted the term Possibility Therapy for their work. The labels are not as essential as the approach and philosophy.
Does Possibility Therapy work? As far as research is concerned, this is a tough question, because measuring psychotherapy is a bit like nailing Jell-O to a tree. Because psychotherapy variables are so subjective, no one agrees on what constitutes a problem or a successful outcome. We do know that Possibility Therapy is usually brief, lasting 4 sessions on average. But meta-analyses (studies that compile statistics from many smaller individual studies to get a bigger and better picture) indicate that all therapies are relatively brief (about 4-7 sessions on average).
Consumers report very high satisfaction with Possibility Therapy, as they feel they are partners in directing the treatment. We work on their concerns in a way that is comfortable and productive to them and end when they are satisfied. Follow-up surveys have indicated continued satisfaction after the treatment has ended. Are you always collaborative in Possibility Therapy? No! If someone is destructive to themselves or someone else, we intervene. This includes if unhelpful and hurtful interchanges erupt in our office (we don't stop to ask how the parties feel, we break it up and cool things down). What is your stance regarding self-help groups and medications as adjuncts to your therapy? If clients find self-help groups helpful, I'm all for them. I think there are potential dangers in them, of course, and I warn clients to be on the lookout for those dangers. A danger with self-help groups is that you can fall under the influence of group beliefs, which may be helpful and may be limiting or create new problems you didn't even know you had. Most of the groups provide good validation ("You mean there are other people out there like me? I'm not weird or different? You've had these kinds of feelings and experiences too?") but sometimes also give the impression that you can never be okay if you don't continue to attend the group or live by their principles.
Medications are also a double-edged sword. I have had clients who have been greatly helped by medication, when what I was doing was only moderately helpful for them. I have also seen people get worse or be hurt by medication. I have also seen some people who were told they would have to live their lives on medications find other solutions and some who despite their best efforts and desire could not.
Can you do Possibility Therapy with mandated clients? Yes and no. Possibility Therapists work with clients who are pressured into treatment by maintaining a delicate balance between acknowledging that the client doesn't want to be there and trying to find a goal the client would be motivated to work on. It's important to first listen to the clients experience of being mandated into treatment and any complaints they may have about by whom and how they were mandated. While we hold clients accountable for their actions, often they have suffered some injustices along the way and it is important to include this. We then try to see if there is a goal that they do want to pursue. For example, a teenager who has been hospitalized or court ordered to treatment maybe interested in getting out of the hospital or out of legal services. We would talk to them pragmatically about what they need to do to get out of the hospital or out of juvenile service, including what the challenges will be and what they will have to do to demonstrate that the change is lasting ("The hospital staff sees lots of kids who want to get out. What can you do to show them you are ready to handle the stresses that put you here?"). We then make a plan of action and act as coach. We use this approach successfully with a wide variety of mandated clients. Here’s “a motto for you: Don't be the most motivated person in the room." If in the end a client doesn't want to be there, we respectfully explain the consequences of that decision and what we will say when Social Services or the court calls. If we can't find something they are motivated to work on (which rarely happens), ultimately we don't do therapy with them.
Is Possibility Therapy for everyone or just certain problems and people? Possibility Therapy is done with a wide range of people and problems. Because it focuses on clients' problems, it can be used whether your problem is hearing voices, asking your boss for a raise, sexual problems with your spouse or a past trauma. As we have a wide variety of ways to help people find solutions, we can work with a wide variety of problems. Some problems are solved in one session and others take years. Some people experience big changes; others small successes. The only people we don't do Solution-Oriented Therapy with are people who can't find a reason to be in therapy.
What is the difference between solution-focused and solution-oriented therapy? In the early 1980s, I began a correspondence with Steve de Shazer, who had moved from California, where he had written a number of papers on Erickson's work, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he and some colleagues had begun what came to be called the Brief Family Therapy Center (BFTC). de Shazer and I shared a common view that mainstream therapies that saw clients as pathological and resistant were wrong and could be damaging. People were naturally cooperative if approached in the right way and treated as resourceful and competent. de Shazer's work began to take shape and has turned into "solution-focused therapy." My work took shape and I called it "solution-oriented therapy." There is some disagreement on who came up with the approach (it was actually first proposed by a therapist named Don Norum from Milwaukee in a talk/paper called, "The Family Has The Solution," in 1978, long before deShazer and I articulated our models). The most generous view is that there were a lot of mutual influences. While I see much of value in the BFTC emphasis on client strengths and solutions, there are some areas of clear difference.
It became clear to me that because the Milwaukee approach put such a value on focusing on solutions, it had left out several elements that I found crucial in my therapeutic work. First, there was no significant discussion of the importance of validation of emotions (this has begun to shift very recently). Because the emphasis is so much on "solution talk," sometimes clients have the sense that the therapist is minimizing or not attending to the problem and feel "forced" or "rushed" to come to a solution. In contrast, hearing, acknowledging and validating the client's experience is a major first step in Solution-Oriented Therapy, laying the foundation for subsequent work. I learned this long ago from Carl Rogers' work, and never forgot its importance.
Another difficulty I see with the Milwaukee approach is its tendency to be formulaic. One invariably asks certain questions (like "The Miracle Question") and follows certain sequences. There are flow charts providing procedures for various client responses. While this may be a fine way to learn a new approach, the ultimate effect is sometimes one of rigidity and imposition. While the proponents of the Milwaukee approach may protest that this is evidence of the approach being done incorrectly, my experience is that a formulaic approach has this built-in risk.
Another concern I have about the Milwaukee approach is that it often ignores political, historical and gender influences on the problem (as well as the inner worlds of physiology and biochemistry) as being irrelevant to the process of therapy (since the focus is to develop solutions and solution-focused conversations). Because of its minimalist approach, in its strictest version, one gets the sense that if a couple came in for therapy and the man was drunk or the woman had a black eye, the purest solution-focused therapist would be constrained from mentioning or inquiring about the potential evidence of alcohol problems or domestic abuse unless the couple mentioned it themselves or violence was what they were referred for. In contrast, in Solution-Oriented Therapy, while we take care not to bring in extraneous material and inquiries, at times these areas are crucial for both the therapist's understanding of the issues and of the felt experience of the client and for the development of solutions. Solution-Oriented Therapy maintains that it is inappropriate for the therapist to impose ideas about the problem or to push topics for discussions unless there is a suspicion of dangerousness (such as suicidality, homicidality, sexual abuse of children, or seriously self-harming behaviors) of if blatantly socially oppressive issues (such as racism, sexism, ideals of gender or weight, sexual orientation biases) are present. In these situations, it is then incumbent on the therapist, regardless of whether the clients think it is relevant or whether or not they brought up the topic, to pursue these lines of inquiry and to do his or her best to ensure physical safety or to explore the social context of the problem.
In the end, I decided to call my approach Possibility Therapy, to avoid confusion and to help differentiate the approaches. -BIll O'Hanlon, August 2015