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An image of a boy in Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

SFBT, also known as solution-focused brief therapy, is a type of talk therapy or psychotherapy. Solution-focused brief therapy focuses on your present circumstances and future goals rather than probing your past experiences.

During SFBT sessions, your therapist will not typically target the issues or symptoms that caused you to engage with therapy. Instead, the therapist will help you to develop a vision of your future. You will then collaborate with the therapist to establish what resources, skills, and abilities you need to successfully achieve your vision.

What is solution focused therapy in more detail, then?

What is Solution Focused Therapy? 

As a form of psychotherapy, SFBT adopts a different approach to many traditional types of talk therapy. Instead of focusing on the problem, SFBT focuses on solutions and then explores the strengths and resources needed to execute those solutions.

SFBT is sometimes referred to as SFT (solution-focused therapy). These terms are interchangeable.

Husband and wife team de Shazer and Berg created SFBT in the late 1970s in Milwaukee. De Shazer and Berg had noticed many clients speaking about their problems while underestimating their inner resources and ability to overcome those problems. The duo conducted rigorous research during the 1980s at BFTC (Brief Family Therapy Center), a Milwaukee institution they co-founded in 1978, in response to their observations.

SFBT sessions concentrate on issues as they are rather than trying to determine how the issues arose or what the issues mean. Having isolated the issue, the focus shifts to moving forward and implementing a solution.

Additionally, de Shazer and Berg noticed inconsistencies in clients’ experiences of their problems, with problems presenting and then dissipating. SFBT explores these exceptions – more on that below.

SFBT is most effective for those trying to overcome specific problems or to reach certain goals. Solution-focused brief therapy can be used as a standalone therapeutic intervention or delivered in combination with other styles of therapy.

Solution-focused brief therapy can be effective for treating:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Relationship problems
  • Child behavioral issues

SFBT is not typically recommended for the treatment of major psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia or psychosis.

The primary benefit of this form of psychotherapy is its brevity. As a form of brief therapy, SFBT usually takes between five and eight sessions, making it approachable and affordable. Is solution-focused brief therapy evidence-based and effective, though?


Is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Evidence Based?

SFBT can be equally effective as other forms of psychotherapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and IPT (interpersonal psychotherapy) in certain applications.

Solution-focused brief therapy is also an evidenced-based approach to psychotherapy. Over 150 clinical studies worldwide indicate positive outcomes from SFBT. Beyond this, eight meta-analyses of studies show that SFBT can be effective for the treatment of:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Behavioral problems
  • Psychosocial problems
  • Parenting conflicts
  • Interpersonal problems

There is an evidence base for the effectiveness of SFBT in the following areas:

  1. Reducing the severity of trauma and addiction symptoms.
  2. Improving behavioral problems in the classroom in children with special needs.
  3. Reducing issues with anxiety, depression, and self-esteem.
  4. Minimizing behavioral problems and conduct disorder while improving conflict management.
  5. Decreasing marital issues in women.
An image of a counselor and her client in Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

What to Expect in SFBT

Solution-focused brief therapy does not draw from a single theory and does not focus on the past or on attempting to better understand  your problems.

With SFBT sessions, the conversation will be directed toward developing and implementing solutions to your problems.

SFBT is a form of constructivist therapy. Constructivism holds that you are the creator of your own reality. SFBT therapists believe change in life is constant and inevitable. The therapist acts as a skilled facilitator leading the conversation, approaching the conversation from a standpoint of not knowing.

The therapist will use various questions and techniques to help you determine your strengths and resources, as well as your future desires. The focus then shifts to how things might appear when they improve and what things are currently working in your life. As therapy progresses, more solutions may present. The main focus of this type of brief therapy is always solutions not problems.

The first SFBT session normally begins with the therapist posing some goal development questions. These might include:

  • What is your best hope for the outcome of therapy?
  • What needs to happen in therapy for you to consider it a worthwhile experience?
  • What needs to happen in therapy for you to believe that attending was not a waste of time?

Once you have identified your goal, the SF therapist will ask you a series of questions. These questions are designed to elicit how you envision your life when you have achieved your goal. When you have created a detailed description of the positive differences you hope to achieve by accomplishing your goal, your therapist will try to identify any exceptions.

Here are the types of questions your therapist will ask you:

  • Miracle questions
  • Scaling questions
  • Exception questions
  • Coping questions

Miracle questions

SF therapists use miracle questions to help you to think creatively, considering your life by creating a scene where the problem miraculously disappears.

Your therapist will ask you a variation of the following miracle question:

  • Overnight a miracle happens – specifically, the issue that brought you to therapy is solved. The miracle happened while you were sleeping, so you are unaware it has happened. What small change might alert you to the fact your problem has gone?

With a miracle question framed  in this way, you should become more open to hypothetical future possibilities.

Scaling questions

With scaling questions, your therapist will invite you to view your problems on a sliding scale, usually numbered from 1 to 10.

A scaling question for someone dealing with an anxiety disorder goes as follows:

  • If 1 is the most relaxed and 10 is the most anxious, where are you right now on that scale?

The therapist may then ask follow-up questions, such as:

  • Why did you choose that number?
  • Why did you not choose the number below on the scale?
  • How do you know if you are shifting up the scale?

Scaling questions can serve as a useful way to chart progress and monitor change throughout solution-focused brief therapy.

Exception questions

By asking exceptional questions, your SF therapist can help you to isolate occasions when things were different.

To determine when the problem was not such a pressing concern, the therapist may ask you these exception questions:

  • At what times did you feel happiest?
  • What, specifically, made that day a better day?
  • Was there a time when this issue was not problematic in your life?

Exploring these exceptions with your therapist can help empower you to discover an appropriate solution for the problem.

Coping questions

Coping questions might include:

  • How did you manage to prevent things from becoming even worse?
  • How do you find the strength to carry on?

Questions like these can open up different ways of viewing your determination and resilience.

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) at Los Angeles Therapy Network

If you have a recurring issue in your life that you can’t seem to solve, you might benefit from solution-focused brief therapy.

You should first consult your physician and request a recommendation. If you see a mental health professional for an unrelated condition, they may also be able to provide a referral.

Alternatively, you could shortcut the process by reaching out to Los Angeles Therapy Network. Whether you are grappling with addiction, a mental health disorder, or problems in other areas of your life, we can connect you with experienced therapists near you.

Reach out to our friendly team today for more information about engaging with solution-focused brief therapy. Call  833.604.1287 today for more information and immediate assistance.

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