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Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), or Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT) as it’s known for short, is a therapeutic model born of the humanistic approach.
As the name states, it’s a short-term counselling model that puts the solution at the heart of the process. The approach is goal-directed, focusing less on the why of the problem and more on the resolutions.
In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of solution-focused therapy, including the history of the approach, the underlying therapeutic principles and how it can benefit the client.
Solution-focused therapy was developed in the 1970s by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg at the Brief Family Centre¹. The husband-and-wife duo played a leading role in the development of the model and its increasing presence around the globe.
The approach was born from the humanistic school of therapy, which focuses on self-actualisation, growth, and responsibility. Their goal was to find out what worked best in a therapeutic setting. So they identified different therapeutic techniques and considered the most effective tools to help clients achieve outcomes. Analysing problems or issues that clients have been facing could be removed from the counselling process, with focus on solutions and coping tools, without leading to negative consequences.
Instead, the researchers found that positive interventions aimed at helping clients find steps forward towards their goals left them more hopeful, optimistic, and energetic.
The researchers behind the approach focused heavily on change, particularly on how change is inevitable and how creating an expectation of change in therapy can be beneficial. Based on the research, seven principles were developed that still underlie the approach today.
The seven principles of solution-focused therapy were born from the data and observations of the researchers as outlined above. These principles guide solution-focused therapists to this day.
Evident from the principles, we find the key underlying theme of this pragmatic, hope-friendly approach—focusing on solutions rather than problems.
Practitioners using the approach are tasked with asking questions in a way that leads the client to come to their own conclusions and answers. At the start of the process, the client's goals for the sessions must be determined. The remainder of the sessions will aim to work towards reaching this goal, relying upon several techniques well known in solution-focused therapy such as:
The miracle question asks the client to imagine that a miracle has happened overnight that solved the problems they brought to therapy. The client is to imagine that they are unaware that the miracle has taken place, and the practitioner will ask them what it is that happened that day that will make them realise that the problem has gone.
This process encourages the client to closely examine what their life would be like without the problem and opens them up to future possibilities.
There are other forms of questioning that are used in solution-focused therapy like the two examples mentioned below.
Solution-focused practitioners may also use coping questions to understand the strategies the client already has in place that are supporting their move towards their goals. Clients may well already have mechanisms they use to help them in the moment; they might just be unaware of them. Using coping questions empowers clients to recognise their resources and call upon them as needed.
Scaling questions are also used throughout the therapeutic process to ask clients to rate their problems in terms of difficulty. An example could be ‘on a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your current level of happiness?’
Rating problems on a scale allows both client and practitioner to observe the progress and direction of the session. It also helps to identify problem areas and methods that might improve the scale scores.
Solution-focused therapy works with a broad range of issues. The approach works best with people who already have some awareness of their issue—and how they might be able to overcome it. The solution-focused approach has proven effective for individuals, couples and families with issues such as:
There are many reasons that clients find solution-focused therapy so effective. Some of the main factors include:
Because spent time in therapy focuses on solutions rather than analysing problems, there is more time to realise these solutions; therefore, they tend to occur more quickly. This goal-oriented way of working is time efficient, and the therapeutic process takes around 6 sessions. But many clients find benefits in one session, with some even leaving therapy content after this point.
The solution-focus approach is non-judgemental and client-led. This client-centred perspective can often encourage the person to open up and feel safe throughout the therapeutic process, enhancing positive results. This approach reinforces client autonomy and builds confidence in a client’s resilience and ability to cope with difficult experiences following the sessions.
Over 150 clinical trials have shown solution-focused brief therapy to be as effective, or more effective than other evidence-based approaches like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Interpersonal Psychotherapy. The effects observed are similar to alternative evidenced-based approaches, but these effects occur in fewer sessions.
Here at Health Assured we offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which is an essential tool in helping employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance, health and wellbeing.
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