What Is Solution Focused Therapy And How Can It Help Me?

Clinically Reviewed by Amy Cirbus Ph.D, LMHC, LPC
man speaking to female therapist

When many of us think of therapy, we think of sitting on a therapist’s couch, pouring our heart out, digging deep into our past, and trying to understand our motivations and emotional coping mechanisms. We think of therapy as a process that will take many months, if not years.

Yet not all therapy is like that, and one method in particular encourages us to think more about the future than that past, and isn’t meant to drag on for years at time. Enter solution focused therapy (SFT), or solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT).

What To Know About Solution Focused Therapy

So what exactly is solution focused therapy, and how can it help you lead a happier, more balanced life?

In a nutshell, solution focused therapy focuses on just that — solutions to your problems. It’s a goal-oriented therapy that homes in on what needs to change in your life in order for you to live more peacefully and with fewer stressors. Your problems are addressed, but the problems themselves aren’t deeply scrutinized; rather, forward-thinking methods of improvement are discussed.

Besides taking a more goal-oriented approach, solution focused therapy assumes that you know yourself best, that the solution to your problems lies within, and simply needs to be teased out by a skillful therapist. Solution based therapy offers a much-needed breath of hope and positivity for many people seeking care.

What Is The History Of Solution Focused Therapy?

Solution focused therapy has been around since the last 1970s and early 1980s. The method was developed by two psychotherapists, Insoo Kim Berg and Steve deShazer, along with their colleagues at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The team was looking for short-term, effective solutions to their patient’s problems, with a practical, solution-based approach.

What Does The Research Say About Solution Focused Therapy?

Since its inception, solution focused therapy has been studied extensively, and has proven to be effective. For example, there have been 150 randomized clinical trials studying solution focused therapy. Overall, it was found to be effective, and produced similar results as other popular therapy methods, including Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Interpersonal Psychotherapy.

How Does Solution Focused Therapy Work?

Solution focused therapy is similar to other therapy methods in that you generally sit with a therapist one-on-one to do the work. These days, virtual and online options are also available for solution focused therapy. The difference between solution focused therapy and other methods is where the focus lies, and what is discussed during a typical session.

Who Should Seek Solution Based Therapy?

Someone who is experiencing a serious mental health issue, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, should not necessarily seek solution based therapy alone. Solution based therapists do not generally diagnose mental health issues and cannot cure these bigger underlying problems. However, when used in conjunction with other therapies, solution based therapy can be helpful for anyone who is experiencing stress in life.

People who may benefit from solution focused therapy include:

  • Children experiencing behavior problems
  • Children experiencing problems at school
  • Families with dysfunctional dynamics
  • People who are battling addiction
  • Couples who are having relationship issues

What Issues Are Treated With Solution Based Therapy?

Serious ongoing mental health struggles should not be treated solely with solution based therapy methods. But solution based therapy can address many common issues that people struggle with, including relationship issues, issues at school, issues in the family, and workplace issues.

In general, if you have a hunch of what the solution to your problem might be, but you aren’t sure — or if you feel you need someone to help you sort out your options — solution based therapy might be the right choice for you. A therapist who practices solution based therapy techniques will help you become the “expert” on your own life, and help you determine solutions to your problems hidden within yourself.

Often, a solution based therapy approach will be used in conjunction with other methods — such as cognitive behavioral therapy, or traditional psychotherapy — though it can be used on its own as well.

What Techniques Do Solution-Focused Therapists Use?

A solution-focused therapy session will likely begin with a series of questions. These questions may be about what you are struggling with, what you currently see as possible solutions to your problems, and what has worked for you in the past as you have solved other problems.

Your therapist will not tell you what to do, but will help you organize your thoughts on what solutions may work for you and guide you in feeling confident about your own instincts. You and your therapist will work to zero in on = your goal in order to solve the problem. At times, you and your therapist will make concrete plans for how your goal will be accomplished.

What To Look For In A Solution Focused Therapist

Many therapists have training in solution focused techniques, along with other therapy modalities. When looking for a solution focused therapist, you can ask about how they incorporate solution focused therapy into their practice, what therapy will look like, and how long you may take to complete the therapy.

In addition, you will want to look for the features of any reputable therapist, including licensure in your state, experience, education, and a warm, nurturing approach. You will be discussing personal issues with this therapist, so you want to select someone you feel comfortable opening up to. Sometimes it can take a few tries to find a therapist who “clicks” with you — that’s normal and expected.

Traditional psychotherapy, or psychodynamic therapy, where you spend years delving into your childhood, trying to uncover and understand your hidden pain and fears, most definitely has a place, and can have real value for many of us. But sometimes you need a more practical, forward-thinking approach for dealing with life’s struggles and stressors.

Solution focused therapy can offer a positive, hopeful approach to solving problems. With its emphasis on validating your own instincts, and coming up with solutions that work for your lifestyle and sensibilities, it might just be the breath of fresh air you need to make real and lasting changes in your life.

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