Solution-Focused Therapy & How It Differs From Other Therapies

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated August 3, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Lauren Guilbeault, LMHC

How do you know which type of therapy is best for you? This is usually a decision made by a licensed therapist or counselor, but it doesn't hurt to do your homework. One of the latest and most effective therapies includes solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT). SFBT is a modern approach to psychotherapy, and is focused on getting a positive outcome. 

Wondering If Solution-Focused Therapy Is Right For You?

SFBT was created by therapists Insoo Kim Berg and Steven de Shazer as an outcome-focused approach. The two met in the 1970s at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, where they were studying with John Weakland and the Palo Alto Group. In 1978, Berg and de Shazer opened their therapy practice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin called the Brief Family Therapy Center.

Special Words And Questions

After spending thousands of hours observing both recorded and live therapy sessions, the pair of counselors discovered that there were certain words or questions the therapist would use that led to a more positive therapeutic change in patients. While most traditional and historical therapies choose to discuss the client's history and past problems before deciding what type of treatment would be best, with SFBT, the counselor does not want to talk about the past, only the present, and future. The focus of SFBT is not to worry about the past but to work on the present so you can create the future that you want.

Solution-Focused Therapy: Using Evidence-Based Strategies

To do this, therapists say that you should use evidence-based strategies like coaching, organizational development, and minimalism. The point of minimalism is to get rid of all the unnecessary parts of the change process and concentrate on the client's aspirations and dreams. This may be done by one-on-one therapy in person or online through chat, text, email, teleconference, or telephone conversations. In other situations, therapists found that group therapy sessions worked well. By talking to others who have similar issues, the group sessions increase positivity and stimulate more ideas for reaching their goals.

Patterns And Behaviors

While therapists can help clients find other alternatives to negative patterns or behaviors, the client, for the most part, is the one to decide what it is they need to do to be successful. Some of these ideas may be indirectly related to the client's issues, but most often the idea is to construct a way for the client to reach the goals they have set for themselves. SFBT is more about building solutions than solving problems, and while current issues are not ignored, the therapist tries to push the client into focusing their energy on their desired future. They do this by learning the client's useful or positive behaviors and increasing the frequency of these actions.

Overall Topics

Another interesting aspect of SFBT is that it does not matter what the reason for therapy. No matter what the client's issues, the approach is the same. This is because SFBT is about changing what is going on, whether it be depression, anxiety, addiction, or even family therapy. The overall topic of this type of therapy is centered on the client's vision of their goals, what is important to them, their concerns, their strengths and resources, their motivational level and confidence, and their continued progress toward reaching their goals.

Questions And The Miracle Question

At the core of the SFBT conversations are a set of specific questions that are focused on the client's vision of the future and draws on their resources, strengths, and past successes. These questions vary depending on the client, but the basic premise is to get the client to describe their life and what it is they need to change to be happy. The questions will depend on the answer to the question before it was. For example, if the therapist were to ask, what if your problems were miraculously solved while you were asleep? What would be different in your life? The counselor uses the client's responses to build the platform for the next question, each question building on the client's previous answer.

Scaling And Three Wishes

The therapist may also use scaling questions to have the client evaluate their progress. For instance, they may ask the client to evaluate their problem on a scale of one to five, with one being the worst and five being the best. Once they decide on a number, the counselor may then ask what would need to change to move that number closer to five. With this type of questioning, the therapist gives the client a way to assess their issues and realistically think about what they need to do to feel better. An option to the previous miracle question, the therapist, could also use the "Three Wishes" question. They would ask them if a genie were to give them three wishes, what would they wish for to make their lives better.

Summarizing The Session

Typically, solution-focused sessions end with the therapist summarizing what the client has said that fits with the idea that change is expected. This summary might include assets that the clients have noticed and mentioned during the session, whatever the clients are doing that is useful, signs of hopefulness, instances, and exceptions. The therapist could then suggest getting the clients to pay attention to signs of their progress so they can continue to make progress.

Solution-Focused Family Therapy

Solution-focused brief family therapy, or SFBFT, is a short, goal-directed, and future-oriented approach to traditional family therapy and family dynamics work. The therapist typically focuses on figuring out the family's strengths and building upon them. Since SFBFT is a shortened type of counseling, the counselor does not spend time going over what has happened in the past and who did what. They are more interested in what needs to be changed to help the family become more stable and happier. The main premise to SFBFT is that if it isn't broke, don't try to fix it. In other words, if something works, do it more often and if something is not working do something else.

Small Steps Lead To Big Changes

Small steps will lead to larger changes and more progress toward the family's goals. Though the solution is not directly related to the issue because no problem happens all the time. There are always going to be exceptions, and the family's future is negotiable and flexible. The therapist only has the family focusing on they identify as the problem, and nothing else is discussed. Therapy sessions are short and do not veer off into talk about other past issues or problems.

Strengths But Not Weaknesses

Focusing on the family's strengths is essential and finding those strengths may take a bit of time, but if the therapist asks the right questions, they can usually find out their strengths in the first session. This allows the rest of the short sessions to focus only on how the family is going to work toward a better future. When something is working, rather than discussing why they are not working, the therapist just takes the family around the problem to find a different way to make things better. The counselor may ask the family how they have managed the issues to keep things from getting worse. In doing this, they can work together to discover how they are controlling the problems, which will make it easier to discover the solutions to the issues at hand. It is important to talk about the strengths rather than the weaknesses in SFBFT and to complement the family members on their insight and help.

Wondering If Solution-Focused Therapy Is Right For You?

Small Steps Can Lead To Big Changes

The focus of solution-focused SFBFT is typically on making small changes that push the family in the right direction to reach their goal. However, it is up to the family members to decide what needs to happen to achieve this goal. The therapist is not the one who decides what needs to happen. Rather, they push the family in the right direction and help them find their strengths and assets. The miracle question is also helpful in SFBFT as it is in SFBT. By letting each family member describe which one small thing that is different after the miracle cure happened, they all get to know what the others are feeling and can figure out together what needs to be done to reach that so-called miracle.


As mentioned previously, complimenting the clients, whether they are an individual or a family, is essential to working toward a solution as well as their goal. The counselor should take the time to go over what each client has done to move closer to that goal and praise them on what they have done. Giving the client positive feedback for every little thing they do that brings them closer to the future they want will help them push harder and get there faster. At the end of each session, the therapist will typically ask each client how they think the session went and what they learned that would get them moving toward their goal. If the client mentions something that they did to help, the counselor will again compliment them for it to encourage them to do it more often and continue to move forward.

Contact Someone Today

SFBT can be used in almost any situation and can be used alone or in conjunction with another type of therapy or treatment. Various types of issues have been successfully treated with SFBT such as depression, anxiety, family dysfunction, child behavior issues, addiction, and eating disorders. Whether you are dealing with a mental or emotional illness or just have questions or concerns, contact someone at BetterHelp, and they will put you in touch with someone who can help. No appointment necessary and you do not even need to leave the house.

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