Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

The psychotherapeutic model I most often follow is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy.

It is called ‘solution-focused’ because it spends only as much time as needed to understand the problem, and as much time as possible helping the client discover solutions. It is a ‘strengths-based’ approach precisely because it looks at the strengths and resources a client has, and doesn’t get bogged down in problem-talk.

It is called a ‘brief therapy’ because, on average, the number of sessions required for the client to feel that they have achieved their counselling goals is less than through traditional means. But each client is unique so I can offer no guarantees on how many sessions your own particular goals might take to meet.

Here’s an example of a session with a client that shows how Solution-Focused therapy seeks to find positives and strengths upon which a client can draw.

CLIENT: Do you know it got so bad, that on Saturday I felt like running away and leaving them all, but I couldn’t do it.
THERAPIST: Things got so bad for you that you felt like leaving … but you didn’t … what made you hang in there?
CLIENT: Well, I thought of how alone my children would be if I left, of how much they need me.
THERAPIST: Sounds like you have a lot of love for them … that you really want to be there for them?
CLIENT: [a little tearful] Yes. 
THERAPIST: What does that say about you as a person … that you want to be there for your children … even despite the pain you feel yourself?
CLIENT: [pause] It means that I want to be the best mother I can be for them.
THERAPIST: I can really see that. 

These are the fundamental underpinnings of SFBT:

  • Clients have strengths and resources;
  • The relationship between therapist and client has therapeutic value;
  • Change happens all the time;
  • A small change will generate larger change;
  • Rapid change is possible;
  • The focus is on the present and the future;
  • Clear goals are essential;
  • The attempted solution may be part of the problem;
  • The focus is on people not problems;
  • ‘Resistance’ is a function of the therapeutic relationship;
  • Knowing the cause of a problem is not necessary to do effective therapy.

Sharry, Madden and Darmody (2012, p. 10) drew up the following table to reflect the differences between a solution-focused therapist (of which I am one) and problem-focused therapists (irrespective of whether they are psychiatrists, psychologists or counsellors):

‘Problem detective’‘Solution detective’
Looks for ‘clues’ that will reveal deeper problems and diagnosesLooks for ‘clues’ that reveal hidden strengths and positive possibilities
Tries to understand fixed problem patterns in the client’s lifeTries to understand how positive change occurs in the client’s life
Elicits detailed descriptions of problems and unwanted pastsElicits detailed descriptions of goals and preferred futures
Interested in categorising problems and applying diagnosesInterested in the person ‘beyond the problem’ and in the unique story he or she has to tell
Focuses on identifying ‘what’s wrong’, ‘what’s not working’ and on deficits in individuals, families and communitiesFocuses on ‘what’s right and what’s working’ and on strengths, skills and resources in individuals, families and communities
Interprets and highlights the times the client ‘resists’ or is inconsistent in his or her responsesHighlights and appreciates any time the client co-operates or goes along with the therapist’s questions
Explores how trauma has affected or damaged the clientExplores how the client has coped with trauma and how he or she has survived its damaging effects

Source: Sharry, Madden and Darmody (2012). Becoming a solution detective (2nd Ed.). New York: Routledge.

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