Solution Focused Brief Therapy

Solution-focused therapy – also known as solution-focused brief therapy or brief therapy – is an approach to psychotherapy based on solution-building rather than problem-solving. Although it acknowledges present problems and past causes, it predominantly explores an individual’s current resources and future hopes. This can help them to look forward and use their own strengths to achieve their goals.

As its name suggests, solution-focused brief therapy is considered a time-limited approach, however, the technique is often incorporated into other long-term therapy types and effects can be long-lasting.

What is solution-focused therapy?

Developed in America in the 1980s by husband and wife team Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, along with their team at the Brief Family Center, they founded solution-focused brief therapy on seven basic philosophies and assumptions.

These concepts are key building blocks in the formation of the solution-focused approach:

  1. Change is both constant and certain.
  2. Clients must want to change.
  3. Clients are the experts and outline their own goals.
  4. Clients have resources and their own strengths to solve and overcome their problems.
  5. Therapy is short-term.
  6. Emphasis is on what is changeable and possible.
  7. Focus on the future – history is not essential.

The solution-focused approach is a humanistic therapy, which focuses on self-development, growth and responsibility. It is goal-directed and focuses on building solutions, rather than on solving the problems that clients bring to therapy.

How does solution-focused therapy work?

Rather than dwelling on an individual’s weaknesses and limitations, Shazer and Berg’s solution-focused therapy concentrates solely on an individual’s strengths and possibilities to help them move forward. It works by helping them overcome problems without tackling them directly – using the solution-building concept to foster change and help individuals to develop a set of clear, concise and realistic goals. It is the role of a solution-focused therapist to help elicit and implement these solutions via a series of discussions.

In these discussions, the therapist will help individuals to envisage a clear and detailed picture of how they see their future – and how things will be better once changes are made. They will also encourage them to explore past experiences and times when they were as happy as they see themselves in their future vision. These processes aim to evoke a sense of hope and expectation and make a future solution seem possible.

It is essentially the future vision that drives the therapy process forward, ensuring that it is directional and, as a result, brief. Therapists can use this future solution to shape the techniques and questions that will comprise discussions. These aim to help the individual realise their potential and find the courage to move forward.

Who can benefit?

Solution-focused therapy has been found successful in helping a vast array of people, including couples, families and children. It is thought to work very effectively for those who are keen to embrace change and have a goal-orientated mindset, as these individuals are often more responsive to therapy techniques.

Due to the brief nature of the approach, solution-focused therapy can be particularly beneficial to those who lead fast-paced, modern lifestyles. On average, about five sessions of solution-focused therapy are needed and these typically last for around 45 minutes each. The therapy rarely extends beyond eight sessions, however further sessions and other integrated techniques can be introduced if necessary – in some cases, only one session is required.

The versatility of the approach extends to the variety of issues it can help with. These include communication difficulties, stress and anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, behavioural problems, eating disorders and relationship difficulties to name a few. As with all forms of therapy, in helping individuals to progress beyond these issues, solution-focused therapy may result in major life changes – for example, the beginning of a new relationship, or the ending of an old one.

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