The solution-focused brief therapy approach grew from the work of American social workers Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg, and their team at the Milwaukee Brief Family Therapy Center (BFTC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A private training and therapy institute, BFTC was started by dissatisfied former staff members from a Milwaukee agency who were interested in exploring brief therapy approaches then being developed at the Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto, CA. The initial group included married partners, Steve de Shazer, Insoo Berg, Jim Derks, Elam Nunnally, Marilyn La Court and Eve Lipchik. Their students included John Walter, Jane Peller, Michele Weiner-Davis and Yvonne Dolan. Steve de Shazer and Berg, primary developers of the approach, co-authored an update of SFBT in 2007.
The solution-focused approach was developed inductively rather than deductively; Berg, de Shazer and their team spent thousands of hours carefully observing live and recorded therapy sessions. Any behaviors or words on the part of the therapist that reliably led to positive therapeutic change on the part of the clients were painstakingly noted and incorporated into the SFBT approach. In most traditional psychotherapeutic approaches starting with Freud, practitioners assumed that it was necessary to make an extensive analysis of the history and cause of their clients’ problems before attempting to develop any sort of solution. Solution-focused therapists see the therapeutic change process quite differently. Informed by the observations of Steve de Shazer, recognizing that although “causes of problems may be extremely complex, their solutions do not necessarily need to be”.
Questions and compliments are the primary tools of the solution-focused approach. SF therapists and counselors deliberately refrain from making interpretations and rarely confront their clients. Instead, they focus on identifying the client’s goals, generating a detailed description of what life will be like when the goal is accomplished and the problem is either gone or coped with satisfactorily. In order to develop effective solutions, they search diligently through the client’s life experiences for “exceptions”, e.g. times when some aspect of the client’s goal was already happening to some degree, utilizing these to co-construct uniquely appropriate and effective solutions.
SF therapists typically begin the therapeutic process by joining with client competencies. As early in the interview as respectfully possible to do so, SF therapist/counselors invite the client to envision their preferred future by describing what their life will be like when the problem is either gone or being coped with so satisfactorily that it no longer constitutes a problem. The therapist and client then pay particular attention to any behaviors on the client’s part that contribute to moving in the direction of the client’s goal, whether these are small increments or larger changes. To support this approach, detailed questions are asked about how the client managed to achieve or maintain the current level of progress, any recent positive changes and how the client developed new and existing strengths, resources, and positive traits; and especially, about any exceptions to client-perceived problems.
Solution focused therapists believe personal change is already constant. By helping people identify positive directions for change in their life and to attend to changes currently in process they wish to continue, SFBT therapists help clients construct a concrete vision of a preferred future for themselves.
SFBT therapists support clients to identify times in their life when things matched more closely with the future they prefer. Differences and similarities between the two occasions are examined. By bringing small successes to awareness, and supporting clients to repeat their successful choices and behaviors, when the problem is not there or less severe, therapist facilitate client movement towards goals and preferred futures they have identified.
Solution Focused Approach Coaching:
The question people often ask me is: ” What does it mean. Solution Focused, and does it mean you don’t acknowledge the problems people feel they are having?” Perhaps it is helpful if I share some of my understanding of this.
When I listen to clients, and they tell me of their problem(s), I indeed listen carefully to what they share. These problems are often having a profound effect in their lives. I then try to find out how they are coping in sometimes, in my opinion, very difficult situations. Here we start to bring the focus on their strengths. We are aware of the problem and are now looking towards solutions.
In a standard version of a Solution Focused intervention, we often follow the procedure of asking a range of certain questions. We might have a few sessions with a client in this way over a certain period of time. However, not always we have a situation when we can apply a full standard session with someone. In this case, like described above, we can then apply solution focused approaches such as finding out about the skills of the client that they already have and how they can implement these again/more, which could help finding a solution.
Another helpful way is to explore when the problem is not happening. Problems do not exist all the time, and we will look at this by finding out what is different then. Also, we can find out what is the client doing different then, and if they can do more of that. We can focus on that too, what needs to change for it to be more like that.
Another way is, to find out what would be different if the problem was not there anymore for the client.
When I would meet a client again the next time, I would ask them to share with me what is better since we spoke last.
We might talk about the problem again; however, we will start to focus on the goal or the preferred future that we would have discussed in the initial meeting.
Indeed, there are so many other questions that we can use in the sessions we have with clients, and often therapists apply the standard format of Solution Focused Brief Therapy sessions. I did feel though, by sharing some of the skills of Solution Focused interventions in this blog, it might give you clearer idea of the way we communicate in a Solution Focused Way. This way of communication I find very helpful if people are feeling low in mood or are going through an emotionally challenging time. I must mention here, to always advise people if they feel they cannot cope with their problems, to seek professional help or to contact their GP. I just feel that as waiting lists are often so long to be able to get an appointment with medical professional staff, if available at all, that an application of these techniques could help towards an improvement of mental well-being for many. I hope it does for you.
For bookings and further inquiries please contact:
Claudia van Zuiden, Solution Focused Therapist, Coach and Trainer, CEO and Director Solution Ways
Glassel, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, UK.
“The solution does not always have to relate to the problem – just by making one subtle change your world can start to change for the better”. ~ Claudia van Zuiden, CEO Solution Ways: Solution Focused Practice for a Meaningful Life.
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