Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT) is an approach to therapy that was developed by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg. While studying family therapy at the Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto, CA, Steve de Shazer noticed that change was a constant in clients’ lives as a result of attending therapy. He focused on this trend for 15 years. He also noticed that the changes that occurred were almost always positive.
De Shazer later opened the Brief Family Therapy Center (BFTC) in Milwaukee, WI. The team at the BFTC, including wife Insoo Kim Berg, decided they would base their approach to therapy solely on the positive changes that occurred. The team noticed that by focusing on these changes, the problem that led the client into therapy became irrelevant. All clients seemed to benefit. In the years since the development of this model in the 1980’s, research has come to the same conclusion as over 250 research studies have supported this approach.
I believe the key to this model’s effectiveness is the focus on the presence of the solution and not just the absence of the problem. This allows the client to envision what a future looks like without the problem and what steps are needed to make this a reality. A therapist that works this way is guided by a series of tenets
“Suppose you went to sleep and a miracle occurred. What this miracle does is completely solve all of the problems that are troubling you today. But because this miracle occurred while you were sleeping, you don’t know that it happened. When you woke up the next morning, what would be the smallest first hint that something miraculous has occurred?”
This question is key to the type of therapy that I do. I ask my clients future-focused questions that allow them to envision a future without the problem with great detail. Often times this is the first time someone has thought about these things and just by describing the future in this way, it becomes more doable.
“Tell me about those times when the problem is not present, or at least not as bad.”
I tenaciously explore times in my client’s lives when the problem is not as powerful to get clues as to what the client is already doing that will lead towards a solution. In answering this question, clients begin to feel hopeful as they realize there are already times when they have solved the problem. Usually, these exceptions have gone unnoticed since so much time and energy has been spent paying attention to the problem. Shifting focus to these exceptions allows those times when the problem is not present to grow and become more pervasive until the problem is totally eliminated
In my practice, goal setting and assessment are constantly taking place. This is due to the fact that almost everything I say in session is a variation of the following three questions:
Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT) is also known as Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT). It is known as brief therapy because the constant assessment of the goals and progress in achieving these goals in the treatment process is significantly shorter than other approaches. Once the client’s goals have been achieved, therapy is over. In short, therapy does not last one session longer than the client thinks is needed in order to achieve their goals. This differs from more traditional psychotherapies where the therapist determines the length of treatment.