Solution Focused Brief Therapy was discovered in the mid 1980’s by Insoo Kim Berg, Steve De Shazer and their colleagues at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They spent more than 25 years observiing hundreds of hours of sessions and preserved what supported desired client change and discarded what didn't, carefully paying attention to the questions, behaviors and emotions that helped clients form realistic, achievable, real-life solutions . It is a different way of facilitating therapy compared to other therapeutic techniques and orientations, whereby it is a questions-based approach that is focused solely on the client achieving their Desired Outcome. This orientation also has a shorter amount of total sessions, usually 1-8. SFBT has one of the highest rate of client change compared to other orientations. It is focused on the conversation between the client and therapist about how and what the client wants to feel and experience as a result of therapy. This helps focus the therapy on the client being an active participant and taking control of his/her results. It is absent of teaching, providing resources, suggestions, coping skills, etc. and all about building the client up by helping them in 4 ways. 1. Internal resources/strengths. 2. History of the desired outcome. 3. Scaling questions, and 4. Desired outcome future description.
The first, and most important step is asking questions to get a clear desired outcome, not a goal. These are different. The desired outcome is much bigger and deeper and more meaningful than a goal, which comes from an internal state rather than something external, that may not have deeper, personal meaning. Therefore, we ask questions such as, “What difference would that make to you if you achieved …?” or What would it mean for you to achieve…?” An internal state may be something like happiness, peace, self-worth, confidence, hope or taking care of others in the way the client would want to, etc. These types of outcomes have been found to be much more motivating for clients to work toward..
After the desired outcome is established, which will be the foundation for the therapy sessions, the conversation can go 4 different ways as stated above. The first one is the client’s Strengths/Resources. This is focused on the resources/strengths the client draws upon within themselves in achieving whatever successes they have achieved in their lives, regardless of how small. Everyone has them, even if they don’t think they do. As therapists, it is our responsibility to believe that every client is amazing and resourceful, because they are. The key is asking them specific questions that will access and bring out this version of themselves. They may say they have never been successful or accomplished anything. In this case, the success is they came to therapy. Ask questions around how they made that decision, how they were able to come to the session today, and what abilities or skills helped them accomplish this. The list of questions are endless. It has been proven that when a person’s feels empowered and has hope, creative solutions and resources flow from, what appears to be, out of nowhere!
The second aspect of SFBT in achieving the desired outcome, is talking about the History of the Desired Outcome, that is, when the present desired outcome was experienced in the past. This conversation is focused on asking detailed questions about how and what the client did to experience the desired outcome in the past as well as a detailed conversation about the presence of the present desired outcome in the past. Questions such as, “How did you know your (desired outcome) was present?” “What difference did it make to you to have it show up at that time?”
The fourth is describing their Future of the Desired Outcome. When client’s provide details about who they would be, what they would be doing, how they would be doing it, and what others close to them would notice, change happens in the most powerful way. The more detail the better in creating this reality. It’s not the therapist’s job to figure out or lead the client to what kind of change will happen since every client is different and every client will tap into what is important to change for themselves. If the therapist gets in the way, it can limit what the client can change.
This is a brief overview of SFBT. The way to master it is to practice a lot as well as view actual SFBT sessions.
If you are a therapist/coach and would like to learn how to utilize this effective, empowering, change-oriented therapy with your clients, or if you would like to experience it as a client, please contact me at (805)279-4686.