If you’d rather focus on creating solutions for your current challenges than gaining insight into them, solution-focused brief therapy may be for you.
Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented therapy approach that works with your strengths to help you create the future you desire.
In SFBT, you’ll discuss with a therapist what’s important to you, how you believe your life would be if your current challenges are resolved, and what strengths you have to make that happen.
SFBT is a short-term form of psychotherapy that focuses on solutions rather than on gaining insight into challenges and concerns. The approach was developed by mental health professionals Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg in the 1970s and 1980s.
SFBT is considered a constructive therapy, according to
In other words, you’re an active participant in the creation of your life.
SFBT doesn’t address your past experiences or aim to discover the root cause of your challenges. Instead, it focuses on your present and future needs.
The goal of SFBT is to help you develop tools and skills, based on your current strengths, that you can use moving forward. These tools and skills may help you change harmful behaviors, achieve your life goals, and manage difficult situations.
In SFBT, therapists ask a series of questions that invite you to identify your strengths and needs, as well as focus on possibilities and solutions.
For example, instead of discussing your current concern in detail, a therapist will focus on exploring how you think your life will be once that concern is resolved. Then, they’ll work with you to figure out the tools you need to quickly solve the challenge and move toward the life you want to create.
SFBT generally lasts for approximately five sessions and sometimes can be effective in as little as one meeting with the therapist. It rarely lasts for more than eight sessions.
The principles of SFBT can be summarized as “listen, select, and build.” More specifically:
- The focus is on building solutions rather than solving concerns.
- The therapist assumes you already possess solution-building abilities and listens intently to try to identify cues in your discussion to support this.
- You and the therapist find solutions and create meaning together.
- Solutions don’t have to be related or applied to specific concerns and can be used at any time.
- You and the therapist do this work under the assumption that a concern may or may not actually happen.
- Therapists focus on encouraging useful behaviors that help you face present and future challenges.
- Therapists support you in finding other ways to interact, think, and behave that differ from current patterns.
- Small changes will lead to more significant and permanent ones.
An SFBT therapist will repeatedly assume you are capable, strong, and wise. This will help you both focus on your existing resources and potential in order to make changes and work toward your desired life.
In this sense, every SFBT technique is focused on your strengths and resources.
Miracle questioning is a common technique in solution-focused therapy, according to a
The miracle question may also involve a mental rehearsal of your desired future by asking you detailed descriptions of how your life would be once you achieve your goals.
Some ways your therapist might approach the miracle question include:
- Imagine tonight, while you’re sleeping, a miracle occurs and this challenge you’ve described is solved. What would be different in your life tomorrow?
- How would you notice that the miracle happened?
- How would the miracle affect you and others?
- How would others notice that something is different?
- How would you get to that outcome? Is there anything you can do right now to get there?
Scaling questions usually follow the miracle question and serve to assess your current situation in regard to your desired goal.
The therapist may ask you to rate something from 0 to 10. This “something” can be:
- your motivation to do concrete actions to achieve your goal
- how confident you feel about finding a solution for the challenge or about achieving your goal
- how much your life would change or improve if the miracle occurred
- how bad you feel the current challenge is
- how frequently you experience the challenge
A scaling framework can help you track your progress. It also focuses on your assessment of the situation instead of relying on what your therapist says.
Focusing on times when a challenge or concern could have happened but didn’t can help you stay focused on solutions instead of the challenge or concern itself. Identifying those exceptions is essential to the SFBT practice.
Finding the exception to the challenge helps you regain control of the situation and maintain perspective. It reminds you that the challenge doesn’t always happen or doesn’t happen in every situation.
You and your therapist can use scaling questions to identify, observe, and detail exceptions.
SFBT is an evidence-based approach. This means it’s been studied in clinical and scientific settings, and research findings support its effectiveness.
In fact, according to a 2019 research review, it has been consistently found effective as a therapeutical tool to manage emotional, behavioral, and interpersonal concerns.
A 2021 literature review that examined the effectiveness of SFBT techniques on a global scale also confirmed its wide relevance in psychosocial interventions.
A 2017 systematic review of 33 studies found that strength- and resource-oriented SFBT techniques were effective for the diverse challenges they were used for. The review also suggests that its effectiveness is partly attributed to both its purposeful use of language and co-construction of meaning between you and your therapist.
The findings of a 2016 study with Irani women also show that SFBT may be effective in decreasing symptoms of depression.
Plus, a 2020 study suggested that people with cardiovascular disease who focused on a solution instead of their health condition felt empowered and reported being more hopeful.
SFBT focuses on building solutions rather than discussing concerns.
By identifying resources, strengths, and exceptions, you and your therapist work together to help you create your desired future.
SFBT is an evidence-based approach that typically lasts for up to eight sessions. Common techniques involve the miracle question, scaling questions, and identifying exceptions to a challenge or concern.