By Mike McMahan, LPC
As noted on Blabbermouth.net, legendary Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott gave an interview with WRIF radio, which is based in Detroit, Michigan. He talked about how the band survived a drought in the early 90s and their attitude provides a great example of how Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) can be effective.
If you’re of a certain age (ahem), you no doubt remember the “grunge” explosion of the early 90s, in which Nirvana, Pearl Jam and their contemporaries turned the “hair metal” bands that had dominated late 80s hard rock into something slightly more radioactive than disco in the late 70s. Despite filling arenas years or even months before, bands like Poison, Warrant and Motley Crue found themselves facing declining record sales and empty venues. Bands took different approaches to this problem—most regrettably, bands like Motley Crue attempted to make personnel changes and “modernize” their sound, to decidedly mixed results.
Joe Elliot notes (correctly, in my opinion) that the change began with Guns ‘N’ Roses: “When Guns kicked it in '92, we were still selling three nights out in every arena in the States with an album that was No. 1 for six weeks on the Billboard charts. And then in the mid-90s, it got tough.” Tough may be an understatement for many of the 80s superstars.
One of the key principles of SFBT is the idea that problems are formed when a person neglects to apply strengths or skills that have worked for them in the past. Def Leppard carefully avoided this trap, by not attempting to record a “grunge” album. They were smart and recognized that they were a pop band, with huge pop hooks. In fact, their entire philosophy may have even been inadvertently summed up by the title “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” As Elliot notes: “you had bands like Sugar Ray coming along that were kind of grungy, but they were happy-sounding stuff, and the Goo Goo Dolls. They were going, like, Top 40. [And I was] like, 'This is a pop song [packaged] as grunge.' And then people started re-accepting us, and we realized, 'There's a lot of hard work gonna be involved here. We can't take it for granted. We can't expect to be lifted up like the Pope and carried around in a box. We've gotta get back up there and do this ourselves.”
I respect his work ethic as well as his insight into the band’s strengths. While many bands blamed the media or record companies for their demise, Def Leppard took it in stride. In fact, they had already observed that the popularity of music styles shifts as time passes and each generation rejects what came before it. So, in effect, they used the coping strategy of playing to their key strength (strong pop songs) and hard work to climb back. Though they are not as successful now as they were in their heyday, they are remarkably successful given where many of their 80s peers have ended up.
You can apply a similar strategy to your own life. Take a look around you, and ask yourself, “what challenges can I predict looming in my life?” And more importantly, identify key strengths have gotten you through problems before. If you mastered a certain computer application at a previous job, ask yourself how you can use that skill at a new job. Or perhaps being able to learn new things is the skill itself? It’s hard to say, but the premise of SFBT is that you do have strengths that you have applied in the past. And if you’ve survived long enough in this world to be reading this, I’d say this is undeniably true.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture