What Is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy? (2023)

What Is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy?

Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is a strength-based approach to psychotherapy based on solution-building rather than problem-solving. Unlike other forms of psychotherapy that focus on present problems and past causes, SFBT concentrates on how your current circumstances and future hopes.

SFBT was developed in the 1970s and 1980s by husband and wife Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Unlike many traditional forms of psychotherapy, SFBT is not based on any single theory. It's not focused on the past (such as a client's childhood) or insight into your problems.

Techniques

SFBT is an approach that falls under the umbrella of constructive therapies. Constructivism posits that people are meaning makers and are ultimately the creators of their own realities. The SFBT therapist believes that change in life is inevitable. Because someone creates their own reality, they may as well change for the better.

In SFBT, the therapist is a skilled conversation facilitator. They do not present themselves as an expert but instead comes from a "not-knowing" point of view.

Drawingupon the client's expertise in themselves, the therapist uses a variety of techniques and questionsto demonstrate their strengths, resources, and desires. With the focus shifted to what is already working in a client's life, and how things will look when they are better, more room opens up for the solutions to arrive.

SFBT doesn't stress about the problems but instead spotlights possible solutions.

Miracle Questions

The miracle question is a technique that therapists use to assist clients to think "outside the square." It asks the client to consider life without the problem by setting up a scene where a miracle happens and the problem is gone. The exact language may vary, but the basic wording is this:

"Suppose that while you are sleeping tonight and the entire house is quiet, a miracle happens. The miracle is that the problem which brought you here is solved. But because you are sleeping, you don’t know that the miracle has happened. So, when you wake up tomorrow morning, what might be the small change that will make you say to yourself, 'Wow, something must have happened—the problem is gone!'"

Asked this way, miracle questions help clients open up to future possibilities.

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Exception Questions

Exception questions allow clients to identify times when things have been different for them. Finding times when the problem wasn’t so much of a problem.

Examples of exception questions include:

  • "Tell me about times when you felt happiest."
  • "What was it about that day that made it a better day?"
  • "Can you think of a time when the problem was not present in your life?"

By exploring how these exceptions happened, a therapist can empower clients to find a solution.

Scaling Questions

Scaling questions invite clients to perceive their problems on a continuum. They're also a helpful way to track progress toward goals and monitor change.

Generally, scales are from 1 to 10. When working with a client who is dealing with anxiety, for example, a therapist might say:

"If 10 is the most anxious and 1 is the most relaxed, what number would you put yourself on right now?"

Questions like these are usually followed with questions related to scaling, such as asking the client to explain why they chose the number they did and why their number is not one lower. They'll likely also ask the client how they will know they are moving up the scale.

What SFBT Can Help With?

SFBT is best when a client is trying to reach a goal or overcome a particular problem. It can stand alone as a therapeutic intervention, or it can be used along with other therapy styles. It's used to treat people of all ages and a wide range of issues including addiction, child behavioral problems, and relationship problems.

This form of therapy is typically not used to treat major psychiatric conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia.

Benefits of SFBT

The major advantage of SFBT is its brevity. SFBT is a form of "brief therapy," typically lasting between 5–8 sessions. Because of this, it is often less costly than other forms of therapy.

Instead of digging into old wounds, more time is spent focusing on resolutions, which makes SFBT great for people who have a specific goal in mind and just need a little help reaching it.

Effectiveness

Research shows that SFBT can effectively:

  • Decrease addiction severity and trauma symptoms
  • Decrease marital issues and marital burnout in women
  • Improve classroom behavioral problems in children with special education needs
  • Reduce externalizing behavioral problems, including conduct disorder, and conflict management
  • Reduce internalizing behavioral problems, such as depression, anxiety, and self-esteem

SFBT can be just as effective (sometimes even more so) than other evidence-based practices, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy.

Things to Consider

If you are looking to dissect your childhood or come upon a great deal of insight about your life's trajectory, SFBT may not be the kind of therapy you are looking for. If, however, you want laser-focused help to move into a new area of your life without getting lost in the details, SFBT may be a good fit for you.

How to Get Started

If you have an issue you can't seem to solve and think you might benefit from SFBT, you can start by asking your physician for a recommendation. If you’re seeing a mental health practitioner for other reasons, they may be able to provide a recommendation as well. Local and state mental health agencies also often have resources you can turn to.

(Video) Moving from Supportive to Solution Focused Brief Therapy Interventions

Once you have found a qualified professional, make an appointment and ensure they accept your insurance. Your first appointment will probably involve filling out the necessary paperwork, which can include details regarding your symptoms, medical history, and insurance plan.

The Best Online Therapy ProgramsWe've tried, tested and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Corey G. Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. 10th ed. Cengage Learning; 2016.

  2. de Shazer S. Clues: Investigating solutions in brief therapy. W. W. Norton & Co; 1988.

  3. Kim JS, Brook J, Akin BA. Solution-focused brief therapy with substance-using individuals: A randomized controlled trial study. Res Soc Work Pract. 2018;28(4):452-462. doi:10.1177/1049731516650517

  4. Sanai B, Davarniya R, Bakhtiari Said B, Shakarami M. The effectiveness of solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) on reducing couple burnout and improvement of the quality of life of married women. Armaghane danesh. 2015;20(5):416-432.

  5. Bond C, Woods K, Humphrey N, Symes W, Green L. Practitioner Review: The effectiveness of solution focused brief therapy with children and families: a systematic and critical evaluation of the literature from 1990-2010. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2013;54(7):707-723. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12058

    (Video) Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Role-Play - Miracle Question with Social Anxiety

  6. Kim JS. Examining the effectiveness of solution-focused brief therapy: A meta-analysis. Res Soc Work Pract. 2008;18(2):107-116. doi:10.1177/1049731507307807

  7. Schmit EL, Schmit MK, Lenz AS. Meta-analysis of solution-focused brief therapy for treating symptoms of internalizing disorders. Counseling Outcome Research and Evaluation. 2016;7(1):21-39. doi:10.1177/2150137815623836

What Is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy? (2)

By Jenev Caddell, PsyD
Jenev Caddell, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist, relationship coach, and author.

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FAQs

What is solution-focused brief approach? ›

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is a short-term goal-focused evidence-based therapeutic approach, which incorporates positive psychology principles and practices, and which helps clients change by constructing solutions rather than focusing on problems.

What is the goal of solution-focused brief therapy? ›

The goal of SFBT is to find and implement a solution to the problem or problems as soon as possible to minimize time spent in therapy and, more importantly, time spent struggling or suffering (Antin, 2018).

What is an example of Solution-Focused Therapy? ›

A practitioner of solution-focused therapy asks questions in an approach derived way. Here are a few examples of presupposing change questions: “What stopped complete disaster from occurring?” “How did you avoid falling apart.”

What do solution-focused therapists do? ›

In a solution-focused therapy session, the practitioner and client will work collaboratively to set goals and find solutions together, to overcome the problem or issue. The practitioner will ask questions to gain an understanding of the client's strengths and inner resources that they might not have noticed before.

What are the 3 major principles of Solution-Focused Therapy? ›

The principles of SFBT can be summarized as “listen, select, and build.” More specifically: The focus is on building solutions rather than solving concerns.

What are the three main questions in solution-focused brief therapy? ›

The three most important types of questions in the SFBT literature are miracle questions, questions on exceptions, and scaling questions (de Shazer, 1991, 1994; de Shazer et al., 2007).

Which techniques are commonly used in Solution-Focused Therapy? ›

Solution-focused Techniques in Counselling
  • Pre-session change.
  • Problem-free talk.
  • The miracle question.
  • Exception questions.
  • Do one thing different.
  • Scaling questions.
  • Coping questions.
  • Breaks.
18 Dec 2018

Is solution-focused brief therapy good for anxiety? ›

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy is an effective treatment approach for youth managing anxiety.

When would solution-focused brief therapy be useful? ›

It's especially beneficial when you have a particular goal to achieve or problem to overcome. How long does solution-focused brief therapy take? People normally have between five and eight sessions with a therapist and find it effective within this period.

What is the difference between Solution-Focused Therapy and CBT? ›

Solution Focused Therapy vs.

SFT differs from CBT in several ways. While SFT puts minimal time into describing the presenting problem and instead focuses upon possible solutions, CBT requires a clear, detailed description of the problem(s).

How long does solution based therapy last? ›

On average, solution-focused brief therapy takes about five sessions, each of which need be no more than 45 minutes long. It rarely extends beyond eight sessions and often only one session is sufficient.

How do you use the solution-focused approach? ›

What is solution-focused practice? Solution-focused practice concentrates on helping people move towards the future that they want and to learn what can be done differently by using their existing skills, strategies and ideas – rather than focusing on the problem.

What is the miracle question in Solution-Focused Therapy? ›

The miracle question is a popular intervention in Solution-Focused Therapy. It asks the client to imagine and discuss a possible world where problems are removed and issues addressed (Strong & Pyle, 2009). The question may take various forms, such as asking the client, “Assume your problem has been solved.

Is Solution-Focused Therapy good for depression? ›

Solution-focused approaches are ideal for those faced with anxiety, stress, minor depression, relationship issues, family conflict, or children with behavioral issues.

What are the weaknesses of Solution-Focused Therapy? ›

The Cons of Solution Focused Therapy (SFT)
  • SFT won't go over your past issues. ...
  • SFT requires commitment from you. ...
  • You won't talk about whatever you want. ...
  • SFT can't help with everything. ...
  • SFT won't go over your past issues. ...
  • SFT works quickly. ...
  • You learn skills for life. ...
  • The sessions are fun and enjoyable.
18 Jan 2022

Who benefits from solution-focused brief therapy? ›

SFBT may be helpful for children and teens with depression, anxiety and self-esteem issues. Some research shows SFBT has also helped kids improve their classroom behavior. “Solution-focused brief therapy actively works toward solutions. It helps patients identify what they do well.”

What is the most important role of the counselor for SFBT? ›

An SFBT therapist guides the session but through a “leading from one step behind” approach that allows the client to make their own decisions and judgments. To achieve this, according to More than Miracles, there are several main interventions that SFBT practices engage in their sessions.

What is the 3 3 3 method for anxiety? ›

Follow the 3-3-3 rule.

Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body — your ankle, fingers, or arm.

What are 3 strategies to reduce anxiety? ›

Anxiety management strategies
  • Slow breathing. When you're anxious, your breathing becomes faster and shallower. ...
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. Find a quiet location. ...
  • Stay in the present moment. ...
  • Healthy lifestyle. ...
  • Take small acts of bravery. ...
  • Challenge your self-talk. ...
  • Plan worry time. ...
  • Get to know your anxiety.

What are 3 coping strategies for anxiety? ›

Exercising regularly, eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, and staying connected to people who care about you are great ways to stave off anxiety symptoms.

Is Solution Focused Therapy Reality Therapy? ›

Reality therapy is usually a short-term, solution-focused approach sometimes used to help people change a behavior or lifestyle.

What is the difference between solution focused therapy and problem solving therapy? ›

The problem-focus would build on first order change elements: more working the same way. The solution-focus would build on second order change elements: finding a way to work differently.

Is Brief Solution-Focused Therapy evidence-based? ›

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is an evidence-based approach to psychotherapy.

Is Solution-Focused Therapy good for trauma? ›

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is an approach ideally suited amid adversity, trauma, and crises. Solution-focused (SF) interventions support people in the aftermath of a crisis by providing a safe and reassuring therapeutic relationship.

What are the types of questions that are used in the solution-focused approach? ›

What would you like to see happen by the end of our session today? (or when we finish counseling sessions) • What have you already tried and what has been useful? What difference would that make? How will you feel when that happens? or What would you like to be feeling? What is already working in the right direction?

What is the meaning of solution-focused? ›

Solution-focused practice concentrates on helping people move towards the future that they want and to learn what can be done differently by using their existing skills, strategies and ideas – rather than focusing on the problem. It was originally developed in the USA in the 1980s and 1990s.

What is the benefit of using solution-focused approaches as brief interventions? ›

It helps patients identify what they do well. It then encourages them to use their strengths to reach their goals. Because SFBT is goal-oriented and short-term, it can be less costly and less time-consuming than long-term therapy.

Why is the solution focused approach good? ›

Future is negotiated and created.

Therefore, rather than emphasizing the past mistakes, misfortune or trauma, it is the basic belief of SFBT that focusing on solutions is much more productive and empowering than focusing on past events or guessing about what might have been the origin of the problem.

What is the difference between CBT and Solution-Focused Therapy? ›

Solution Focused Therapy vs.

SFT differs from CBT in several ways. While SFT puts minimal time into describing the presenting problem and instead focuses upon possible solutions, CBT requires a clear, detailed description of the problem(s).

What are the disadvantages of Solution-Focused Therapy? ›

The Cons of Solution Focused Therapy (SFT)
  • SFT won't go over your past issues. ...
  • SFT requires commitment from you. ...
  • You won't talk about whatever you want. ...
  • SFT can't help with everything. ...
  • SFT won't go over your past issues. ...
  • SFT works quickly. ...
  • You learn skills for life. ...
  • The sessions are fun and enjoyable.
18 Jan 2022

Which techniques are specific to Solution-Focused Therapy? ›

Solution-focused Techniques in Counselling
  • Pre-session change.
  • Problem-free talk.
  • The miracle question.
  • Exception questions.
  • Do one thing different.
  • Scaling questions.
  • Coping questions.
  • Breaks.
18 Dec 2018

What are examples of brief interventions? ›

Motivational interviewing
  • No perception of any alcohol consumption problem.
  • Realisation of alcohol consumption problem with no corresponding action.
  • Current active addressing of alcohol consumption problem.
  • Ongoing maintenance of reduced consumption.

How long does brief therapy last? ›

On average, solution-focused brief therapy takes about five sessions, each of which need be no more than 45 minutes long. It rarely extends beyond eight sessions and often only one session is sufficient.

What are the strengths of Solution-Focused Therapy? ›

Strengths of the Theory

One of the main strengths was stated earlier, in that by not focusing too much on the problem it frees one up for putting more emphasis on solutions and the future instead of dwelling on the past. By looking more positive towards the future the patient is already changing their behavior.

What are the core assumptions of Solution-Focused Therapy? ›

Assumptions about problems

No problem happens all the time; there are always exceptions that can be found and built on. A focus on the possible and changeable is more helpful than a focus on the overwhelming and intractable. The client is not the problem. The problem is the problem.

Videos

1. Webinar: Using Solution Focused Brief Therapy to Treat Trauma
(The Solution Focused Universe)
2. Solution Focused Brief Therapy: Role-play, Part 1 of 2
(Russ Curtis, Ph.D., Professor of Counseling)
3. Solution-Focused Therapy with Insoo Kim Berg
(PsychotherapyNet)
4. How to Talk About the Problem in Solution Focused Brief Therapy - Solutions Every Day Live
(The Solution Focused Universe)
5. What is The Difference Between Solution Focused & Oriented Therapy? | MFT Model Reviews
(Steph Anya, LMFT)
6. Solutions Every Day Episode 120: The Key Ingredient to Solution Focused Brief Therapy
(The Solution Focused Universe)
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