How Solution Focused Brief Therapy Works

Two men talking during couselling session, close-up
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Many psychotherapists or coaches might describe themselves as "solution-focused," and they may indeed be focusing on helping their clients reach solutions. This article discusses a form of psychotherapy called "Solution Focused Brief Therapy" that has been used internationally in coaching and psychotherapy.


SFBT is a strength-based form of psychotherapy. It was originally developed in the 1970s and 1980s by Insoo Kim Berg and Steve deShazer at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The foundation of SFBT is about what is going right with clients, as opposed to the focus of many other forms of therapy which is on the problems that people are experiencing.

When someone decides to see a psychotherapist, it is usually because things are not going as well in his or her life as he or she would like. There is usually some kind of problem. People have a tendency to focus on the negative, but SFBT utilizes conversation and language to help shift the focus on what is working and create more solutions as a result.

What It's Not

Unlike many traditional forms of psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy or psychodynamic therapy, SFBT is not based on any single theory. There is not a focus on the past, such as one's childhood, unless the therapist and client are clarifying the underlying concern. SFBT is also not focused on insight, unlike some approaches such as psychoanalytic therapies.

How It Works

SFBT is an approach that falls under the umbrella of constructive therapies. Constructivism posits that people are meaning makers and are ultimately the creators of their own realities. The SFBT therapist believes that change in life is inevitable. Because someone creates his or her own reality, he or she may as well change for the better.

In SFBT, the therapist is a skilled conversation facilitator. The therapist does not hold herself as an expert and retains a position of curiosity and "not-knowing." Drawing upon the client's expertise on themselves, the therapist uses solution focused questions to demonstrate their strengths, resources, desires and the path to reaching their goals. With the focus shifted to what is already working in a client's life, and how things will look when they are better, more room opens up for the solutions to arrive.


SFBT is a form of "brief therapy" because it is not meant to continue for years, as are some forms of therapy. By working with a Solution Focused therapist, you can expect a simple approach based on clear, solution-oriented questions. There is an emphasis on simplicity, and the most simple way to the solution is the most preferable.

Steve deShazer was a big fan of William of Ockham and Ockham's razor: "What can be done in fewer means is done in vain with many."

If you are looking to dissect your childhood or come upon a great deal of insight about your life's trajectory, SFBT may not be the kind of therapy you are looking for. If, however, you want laser focused help to move into a new area of your life, without getting lost in the details, SFBT may be a good fit for you.

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