Remove the miraculous from the Miracle Question

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?

8 thoughts on “Remove the miraculous from the Miracle Question

  1. Bravo! A much more believable, usable, version. Thank you. Thank you, also for a simple straightforward web page.

  2. I read via the RSS feed so I don’t know if I appear in your statistics, but I really like the site too.

    As well as being interesting, your articles are actually helping to give me confidence in my current therapist, who is consistently professional and considerate.

    I’d had a couple of bad experiences with counsellors/servces before, but didn’t know enough at the time to be sure of what was reasonable to expect. It’s quite enlightening to read about the practicalities of seeing clients, and is helping to give me confidence in two hunches I have – that my previous bad experiences of therapy were not my fault, and that it’s going to be all right this time…

  3. Thanks, Alice. It’s tough to return to therapy after a bad experience (and harder still after multiple bad experiences). If all this site ever achieved was to give people the confidence to hold out for good therapy, that would be enough.

  4. Hi

    I would like to use your suggested alternative to the miracle question in a talk I am giving – is that okay with you as long as I reference the web page?

    Thanks

    Belinda

  5. There’s (now) a link to the Creative Commons licence covering the material on this website. It boils down to “you can do what you like as long as you give a reference and licence the resultant work the same way”. Best of luck with the talk.

  6. Hi
    I have just become aware of the miracle question and was researching it when I found your alternative. I am glad I did as I had not considered it as potentially offensive and difficult.
    I will mention this to the other students in my hypnotherapy group. Thanks

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