Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)

What is Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)?

Solution Focused Therapy is squarely focused on a person’s present and future circumstances and goals rather than past experiences. It is a goal-oriented therapy cognitive therapy where the symptoms or issues bringing a person to therapy are typically not targeted. Instead attention is paid to the strengths and resources a client brings to therapy and how these might be best applied in the pursuit of change. In order to develop effective solutions, clients and therapists search carefully through the client’s life experiences for “exceptions” or times when some aspect of the client’s goal was already happening to some degree, utilising these to collaboratively construct tailored, solutions that are appropriate for the client.

How does Solution Brief Focused Therapy Work?

In Solution Focused Brief Therapy the therapist and the client work collaboratively to identify existing skills and foster the development of new ones in order to better manage symptoms causing distress and achieve future goals. Acknowledging what works and celebrating success is integral to the approach. The Solution Focused Therapist supports their client in experimenting with new problem-solving strategies.

What is Solution Focused Brief Therapy used for?

Solution Focused Therapy can be applied in the context of helping individuals, couples and families find strategies to address a broad range of personal and interpersonal concerns or problems.

What can I expect from Solution Focused Brief Therapy?

The client can expect to be supported and encouraged, rather than challenged. Therapists are likely to utilised a number of techniques such as The Miracle Question, Scaling Questions, Exception Seeking Questions, Coping Questions and Problem-Free Talk.

The Miracle Question involves asking the client to imagine that: In the middle of the night, a miracle happens and the problem that prompted the client to talk to the therapist today is solved. But because this happens while the client was sleeping, they have no way of knowing that there was an overnight miracle that solved the problem. So, the therapist asks, ‘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!'” Following this the miracle day is thoroughly explored and the therapist can follow-up this with scales, for example on a scale where 0 = worst things have ever been and 10 = the miracle day, with questions such as: Where are you now? Where would things need to be for you to know that you didn’t need to see me any more? What will be the first things that will let you know you are 1 point higher? In this way the miracle question is not so much a question as a series of questions.

Practitioners of SFBT base their practice on the belief that there are always times when the identified problem is less severe or absent for clients. The counsellor seeks to encourage the client to identify these occurrences and maximise their frequency.

Coping questions are often asked by the therapist in order to identify resources or strategies that the client has applied in the past. Although the client’s difficulties are acknowledged by the therapist, both therapist and the client work to find examples of strengths that enabled, for example, the client be sitting in the therapeutic room today. These might be resilience, a belief that change is possible or perseverance in the face of adversity.

Other approaches to therapy can often involve what some SFBT practitioners describe as problem-saturated talk. Solution Focused Brief Therapists favour ‘Problem-Free Talk’ where the client focuses on what is working well. This can often reveal client values, beliefs and strengths that may be applied as the client progresses toward their desired goals.

This approach has been shown to be effective from as little as 3 to 6 sessions.

What Mental Health Issues is SFBT most helpful in treating?

Solution-focused brief therapy is used to treat a variety of mental health disorders. People with eating disorders, gambling addiction, relationship problems, anxiety and depression, substance abuse and behavioural problems may respond well to solution-focused therapy.

When doesn’t SFBT work?

Solution Focused Brief Therapy is likely to be ineffective in situations where a dialogue between client and therapist cannot be established or where it has been tried before without success with an experienced therapist.

Things to be considered before choosing SFBT

The therapist will not act as ‘expert’ and tell you what to do, rather you will work together to identify unique strengths and resources that will help you move forward in life. There will not be a focus on the past as it is a future orientated approach.

This content has been researched, prepared and written by Counselling in Melbourne psychologist Dr Malcolm Winstanley-Cross.

View profile >

COVID-19 & Confidential online counselling appointments now available