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Solution focused therapy (SFT) or Solution focused brief therapy or solution focused brief counseling (SFBC) is a type of talking therapy that focuses on what clients want to achieve through therapy rather than on the problem(s) that made them seek help. The approach does not focus on the past, but instead, focuses on the present and future. The therapist/counselor uses respectful curiosity to invite the client to envision their preferred future and then therapist and client start working towards it in small incremental steps. To support this, questions are asked about the client’s story, strengths and resources, and about exceptions to the problem. Scaling is also used as a tool to measure progress.
Solution focused therapists believe that if a person has the capacity to describe something as a problem that person also has the capacity to describe what better means in his/her everyday life and that since they are able to describe that they also have the resources needed to make it happen.
The Miracle Question
The miracle question is a method of questioning that a coach, therapist, or counselor uses to aid the client to envision how the future will be different when the problem is no longer present. Also, this may help to establish goals.
A traditional version of the miracle question would go like this:
- "Suppose our meeting is over, you go home, do whatever you planned to do for the rest of the day. And then, some time in the evening, you get tired and go to sleep. And in the middle of the night, when you are fast asleep, a miracle happens and all the problems that brought you here today are solved just like that. But since the miracle happened over night nobody is telling you that the miracle happened. When you wake up the next morning, how are you going to start discovering that the miracle happened? ... What else are you going to notice? What else?"
There are many different versions of the miracle question depending on the context and the client.
In a specific situation, the counselor may ask,
- "If you woke up tomorrow, and a miracle happened so that you no longer easily lost your temper, what would you see differently?" What would the first signs be that the miracle occurred?"
The client (a child) may respond by saying,
- "I would not get upset when somebody calls me names."
The counselor wants the client to develop positive goals, or what they will do, rather than what they will not do--to better ensure success. So, the counselor may ask the client, "What will you be doing instead when someone calls you names?"
Scaling questions are used to identify useful differences for the client and may help to establish goals as well. Visual aides such as a picture of a large thermometer may be often used with children. The client will be asked "what will it take for you to go from a 4 to a 5." The client will describe what behaviors would accomplish this thus, determining what s/he will do next.
Exception Finding Questions
Proponents of SFBT insist that there is always an exception to when a problem occurred. The counselor seeks to encourage the client to descibe what was different or what the client did differently. The goal is for the client to repeat what has worked in the past, and help gain confidence in making improvements for the future.
Coping questions are designed to elicit information about client resources that will have gone unnoticed by them. Even the most hopeless story has within it examples of coping that can be drawn out: "I can see that things have been really difficult for you, yet I am struck by the fact that, even so, you manage to get up each morning and do everything necessary to get the kids off to school. How do you do that?" Genuine curiosity and admiration can help to highlight strengths without appearing to contradict the clients view of reality. The initial summary "I can see that things have been really difficult for you" is for them true and validates their story. The second part "you manage to get up each morning etc.", is also a truism, but one that counters the problem focused narrative. Undeniably, they cope and coping questions start to gently and supportively challenge the problem-focused narrative.
A central idea of the solution focused approach is that people get stuck with their problems because they see them as unsolvable. Solution focused workers help people to find ways of viewing their situation which make change more likely to happen and in which solutions can be constructed.
History of Solution Focused Brief Therapy
Solution Focused Brief Therapy is one of a family of approaches, known as a systems therapies, that have been developed over the past 50 years or so, first in the USA, and eventually evolving around the world, including Europe. The title SFBT, and the specific steps involved in its practice, are attributed to Steve de Shazer and his team at the Brief Family Therapy Family Center in Milwaukee, USA. Their work in the early 1980s built on that of a number of other innovators, among them Milton Erickson, and the group at the Mental Research Institute at Palo Alto – Gregory Bateson, Don Jackson, Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland, Virginia Satir, Jay Haley and others. All these names are important, not just as pioneers of a new way of doing therapy but also because their various collaborations and writings represent nothing short of a revolution in the way we think about social functioning and mental health and well being. Solution Focused approaches are now in constant demand. Their efficacy is well established and supported by a solid and ever increasing body of research. Solution-focused thinking has earned its place and is widely accepted in the fields of therapy, social care, education and business.
- B.Cade and W.H. O’Hanlon: A Brief Guide to Brief Therapy. W.W. Norton & Co 1993.
- S.de Shazer: Clues; Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy. W.W. Norton & Co 1988
- E.George, C.Iveson, H. Ratner; Problem to solution; brief therapy with individuals and families. BT Press, 1990.
- M.A. Hubble, B.L. Duncan, S.D. Miller; The Heart and Soul of Change; what works in therapy. American Psychological Association, 1999.
- S.D. Miller, M.A. Hubble, B.L. Duncan; Handbook of Solution-focused brief therapy. Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996.
- B.O’Connell; Solution Focused Therapy. Sage, 1998.
- B.O’Hanlon and S. Beadle; A Field Guide to PossibilityLand: possibility therapy methods. BT Press 1996.
- J.T. Guterman; Mastering the Art of Solution-Focused Counseling. American Counseling Association 2006.
- M.Talmon; Single Session Therapy; maximizing the effect of the first (and often only) therapeutic encounter. Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1990.
- Peter De Jong, Insoo Kim Berg Interviewing for Solutions Brooks Cole Publishers, 2nd edition 2002
- P.Ziegler and T. Hiller: Recreating Partnership: A Solution-Oriented, Collaborative Approach to Couples Therapy. W.W. Norton 2001.
- The Brief Therapy Practice
- Founder's Website
- Jeffrey T. Guterman, Ph.D.
- Network for the North-east of the UK
- Network of dutchspeeking sf-workers in therapy, education, research and management
- Recreating Partnership Couples Therapy
- Resources for solution focused work
- Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Training Institute in Asia
- Solutions Focus in Organizations
- Solution Focused Consulting / Resource Page
- solution focused discussion group
- solutions in organisations mailing list
- Solution News - the freely available quarterly bulletin of the UKASFP, containing articles on theory and practice
- The United Kingdom Association for Solution Focused Practitioners (UKASFP)
- Yorkshire Solution Focused Brief Therapy Group
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