Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: Techniques, Goals, and Benefits

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If you prefer to focus on creating solutions to your current challenges rather than understanding them, solution-focused brief therapy may be for you.

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented therapeutic approach that works with your strengths to help you create the future you desire.

In SFBT, you will discuss with a therapist what is important to you, how you think your life would be if your current challenges were resolved, and what strengths you have to get there.

SFBT is a form of short-term psychotherapy that focuses on solutions rather than understanding challenges and concerns. The approach was developed by mental health professionals Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg in the 1970s and 1980s.

SFBT is considered a constructive therapy, according to research 2005. Constructivism is a theory of learning that humans create meaning and develop knowledge as they experience the world.

In other words, you actively participate in the creation of your life.

SFBT does not address your past experiences or aim to uncover the root cause of your challenges. Instead, it focuses on your current and future needs.

SFBT’s goal is to help you develop tools and skills, based on your current strengths, that you can use to move forward. These tools and skills can help you change harmful behaviors, achieve your life goals, and deal with difficult situations.

In SFBT, therapists ask a series of questions that prompt you to identify your strengths and needs, and to focus on possibilities and solutions.

For example, instead of discussing your current concern in detail, a therapist will focus on exploring how you think your life will be once that concern is resolved. Then they’ll work with you to determine the tools you need to quickly solve the challenge and lead you to the life you want to create.

SFBT usually lasts around five sessions and can sometimes be effective in just one meeting with the therapist. It rarely lasts more than eight sessions.

The principles of SFBT can be summarized as “listen, select and build”. More precisely:

  • The focus is on building solutions rather than solving problems.
  • The therapist assumes that you already possess solution-building abilities and listens carefully to try to identify clues in your discussion to support this.
  • You and the therapist find solutions and create meaning together.
  • Solutions do not have to be tied or applied to specific problems and can be used at any time.
  • You and the therapist do this work assuming that a problem may or may not arise.
  • Therapists focus on encouraging helpful behaviors that help you cope with present and future challenges.
  • Therapists help you find alternative ways of interacting, thinking, and behaving that differ from current patterns.
  • Small changes will lead to larger, permanent changes.

An SFBT therapist will repeatedly assume that you are capable, strong, and wise. It will help you both focus on your existing resources and potential in order to make changes and work towards the life you want.

In this sense, each SFBT technique is centered on your strengths and resources.

wonder question

Miracle questioning is a common technique in solution-focused therapy, according to a study 2021. It is designed to help you identify your goals while leading you to create manageable steps to achieve those goals.

The miracle question may also involve a mental rehearsal of your desired future by asking you for detailed descriptions of what your life would be like once you achieve your goals.

Here are some ways your therapist might approach the miracle question:

  • Imagine tonight, while you sleep, a miracle happens and that challenge you described is solved. What would be different in your life tomorrow?
  • How will you notice that the miracle happened?
  • How would the miracle affect you and others?
  • How would others notice that something is different?
  • How would you achieve this result? Is there anything you can do now to make it happen?

Scaling issues

The scaling questions usually follow the miracle question and are used to assess your current situation against the desired goal.

The therapist may ask you to rate something from 0 to 10. This “something” may be:

  • your motivation to take concrete actions to achieve your goal
  • how confident you feel about finding a solution to the challenge or achieving your goal
  • how much your life would change or improve if the miracle happened
  • how bad you feel the current challenge is
  • how often you encounter the challenge

A scaling framework can help you track your progress. It also focuses on your assessment of the situation instead of relying on what your therapist says.

Exceptions

Focusing on times when a challenge or concern could have happened, but didn’t, can help you stay focused on the solutions rather than the challenge or concern itself. Identifying these exceptions is essential to the practice of SFBT.

Finding the exception to the challenge helps you regain control of the situation and keep perspective. It reminds you that the challenge does not always occur or does not occur in all situations.

You and your therapist can use scaling questions to identify, observe, and detail exceptions.

SFBT is an evidence-based approach. This means that it has been studied in clinical and scientific settings, and the results of research support its effectiveness.

In fact, according to a 2019 research review, it has consistently been shown to be effective as a therapeutic tool for managing emotional, behavioral, and interpersonal issues.

A 2021 literature review that examined the effectiveness of SFBT techniques globally also confirmed its high relevance in psychosocial interventions.

A 2017 systematic review of 33 studies found that strength- and resource-focused SFBT techniques were effective for the various challenges for which they were used. The review also suggests that its effectiveness is partly attributed to both its deliberate use of language and the co-construction of meaning between you and your therapist.

In fact, it was proposed by researchers in 2021 that this solution-based language can be effective in mental health crises and suicide interventions, even in teletherapy settings.

Results from a 2016 study of Iranian women also show that SFBT may be effective in reducing symptoms of depression.

Results of research of 2018 also found that SFBT interventions reduced symptoms of depression and perceived stress in breast cancer patients.

Additionally, a 2020 study suggested that people with cardiovascular disease who focused on a solution rather than their condition felt more empowered and reported more hope.

SFBT focuses on building solutions rather than discussing concerns.

By identifying resources, strengths, and exceptions, you and your therapist work together to help create the future you want.

SFBT is an evidence-based approach that typically lasts up to eight sessions. Common techniques involve the miracle question, scaling questions, and identifying exceptions to a challenge or concern.

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