What is Solution-focused Therapy?
Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), also called Solution-Focused Therapy, Solution-Building Practice therapy was developed by Steve de Shazer (1940-2005), and Insoo Kim Berg (1934-2007) and their colleagues beginning in the late 1970’s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As the name suggests, SFBT is future-focused, goal-directed, and focuses on solutions, rather than on the problems that brought clients to seek therapy.
The entire solution-focused approach was developed inductively in an inner city outpatient mental health service setting in which clients were accepted without previous screening. The developers of SFBT spent hundreds of hours observing therapy sessions over the course several years, carefully noting the therapists’ questions, behaviors, and emotions that occurred during the session and how the various activities of the therapists affected the clients and the therapeutic outcome of the sessions. Questions and activities related to clients’ report of progress were preserved and incorporated into the SFBT approach.
Since that early development, SFBT has not only become one of the leading schools of brief therapy, it has become a major influence in such diverse fields as business, social policy, education, and criminal justice services, child welfare, domestic violence offenders treatment. Described as a practical, goal-driven model, a hallmark of SFBT is its emphasis on clear, concise, realistic goal negotiations. The SFBT approach assumes that all clients have some knowledge of what would make their life better, even though they may need some (at times, considerable) help describing the details of their better life and that everyone who seeks help already possesses at least the minimal skills necessary to create solutions.
Key Concepts and Tools
All therapy is a form of specialized conversations. With SFBT, the conversation is directed toward developing and achieving the client’s vision of solutions. The following techniques and questions help clarify those solutions and the means of achieving them.
Looking for previous solutions
SF therapists have learned that most people have previously solved many, many problems and probably have some ideas of how to solve the current problem. To help clients see these potential solutions they may ask, “Are there times when this has been less of a problem?” or “What did you (or others) do that was helpful?”
Looking for exceptions
Even when a client does not have a previous solution that can be repeated, most have recent examples of exceptions to their problem. These are times when a problem could occur, but does not. The difference between a previous solution and an exception is small, but significant. A previous solution is something that the family has tried on their own that has worked, but later discontinued. An exception is something that happens instead of the problem, often spontaneously and without conscious intention. SF therapists may help clients identify these exceptions by asking, “What is different about the times when this is less of a problem?”
Present and future-focused questions vs. past-oriented focus
The questions asked by SF therapists are usually focused on the present or on the future. This reflects the basic belief that problems are best solved by focusing on what is already working, and how a client would like their life to be, rather than focusing on the past and the origin of problems. For example, they may ask, “What will you be doing in the next week that would indicate to you that you are continuing to make progress?”