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The Miracle Question can elicit negative responses from some clients. These negative reactions can be avoided by rephrasing the question without the miraculous element.

The Miracle Question is used by Solution-Oriented Therapists to elicit the conditions which would lead the client to consider their problem solved:

Suppose that one night, while you were asleep, there was a miracle and this problem was solved. How would you know? What would be different?

The client’s answer generally contains the seeds of their own solution and can be used to set treatment goals and propose strategies. Used properly, the Miracle Question can be a powerful therapeutic technique, but it has several liabilities inherent in the phrasing of the question.

To hypothesise a miracle is a feat of abstraction which is beyond many clients (eg: people with learning disabilities) and offensive to some (whether religious or atheist). The problems clients bring to therapy are usually well grounded in harsh reality and to introduce the fantastic into the conversation can seem frivolous.

More seriously, people who have suffered major injuries and loss of function, are suffering progressively degenerating illnesses or who are terminally ill are often praying for a miracle. To ask the Miracle Question of people in such circumstances is to invite a withering look and a reply along the lines of “How would I know: I’d be fit / cured / no longer dying, wouldn’t I?”

The hopes, however unrealistic, of clients are an important issue and should be addressed but in a more controlled and sensitive way than inadvertently raising the matter through the Miracle Question. I’ve found it more useful to replace the Miracle Question with an equally forward looking question that is more grounded in reality:

Suppose that, in six months time, I’m walking down the street and bump into you: I ask how you are and you say “much better”. What will have had to change in order for you to be able to say that and mean it?