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Solution-Focused Brief Therapy and How It May Help You

Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT), is a form of talk therapy that focuses on solution-building rather than problem-solving approaches. It was developed throughout the 1970s and 1980s by husband-and-wife team Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg out of the Brief Family Therapy Center in Wisconsin.

The Theory Behind the Solution-Focused Approach

The interesting thing about solution-focused brief therapy is that there is no single theory behind it. Unlike more traditional forms of psychiatric treatment that rely on the past to foster healing, SFBT avoids looking for insights but rather focuses on building solutions. It is known as one of the forms of constructive therapy. Constructivism is a theory that argues that individuals are the creators of their own reality. If we create our own reality, SFBT posits, why not change it for the better?

What Can SFBT Help With?

Solution-focused brief therapy is often used alongside other types of therapy (although it can be used as a standalone as well) to help with reaching goals or trying to work around specific problems. It may be used for treatment of:

Solution-focused brief therapy is not recommended for treating major psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia or psychosis, where the patient may have breaks from reality.

Benefits of SFBT

Solution-focused brief therapy offers short-term, fast-paced therapy sessions. Sessions typically go on for around 5-8 weeks, which makes them more affordable than other types of therapy sessions.

It can be ideal for those who are not interested in looking deep into their pasts but instead are looking to resolve a problem or reach a goal and simply need a boost.

Popular Solution-Focused Therapy Techniques and Interventions

Therapists who practice solution-focused brief therapy are skilled facilitators. They take on the role of someone who doesn't know and use skilled questioning to allow the client to demonstrate their own strengths, abilities, and goals. The focus is not at all on the problems but on the solutions.

Miracle Questions

A miracle question is a technique designed to help the client look at things from a different perspective. The therapist asks the client what their life would look like if, by some miracle, their problem were suddenly gone from their life without a trace. The miracle question is meant to help the client focus and learn to be open to future possibilities.

Scaling Questions

Scaling questions are used in solution-focused brief therapy to help the client see their problems on a continuum. They also help to monitor change and track progress toward a goal or solution. Some examples of scaling questions include:

  • With 1 as the most anxious and 10 as the most relaxed, where would you put yourself right now?
  • With 1 as the most depressed you've ever been and 10 as the happiest, where would you say you are now?
  • If 1 is the most pain you've ever felt and 10 is the most blissfully comfortable, where are you right now?

Once the solution-focused therapist gets the number their clients identify, it's time to facilitate positive change. SFBT practitioners next ask open-ended questions to get the client's perspective, such as "What is keeping you from being a 6?" if they said that they were a 5 on the depression scale. Or if the client is trying to quit smoking and puts their motivation at an 8, an SFBT therapist could ask, "What would need to change or be different to get you to a 9?" They can then use these answers to guide further treatment.

Exceptions to the Problems

Exception questions help the solution-focused brief therapy mental health professionals have their clients identify times when things have been different when their problems weren't really problems. Some sample exception questions include:

  • "Can you think of a time when (insert problem) was not present in your life?"
  • "Tell me about some times in your life when you felt most at peace."
  • "What were some things about that time that made it better for you?"

What Does the Research Say About Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)?

Solution-focused therapists work with clients to manage trauma, go through addiction, and deal with relationship challenges. But what does the research say?

Solution-focused brief therapy has been found to:

  • Improve classroom behavioral problems in children
  • Assist in decreasing addiction severity
  • Help decrease trauma symptoms
  • Improve marital problems
  • Reduce internalizing behavioral problems
  • Reduce external behavioral problems

Research shows that solution-focused brief therapy can be as effective as other evidence-based practice therapeutic interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy.

Present and Future-Focused Questions vs. Past-Oriented Focus

Solution-Focused Brief therapy is solution-oriented, rather than focused on the past. Some people who seek therapy are forward-thinkers and appreciate a therapeutic process that doesn't spend time in detailed descriptions of their past successes and failures but instead goes into how to address the client's problems at that moment.

Get Solution-Based Brief Therapy

If previous solutions haven't helped, and you are interested in looking toward a new way to improve mental health, solution focused brief therapy may be what you're looking for.

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