Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

Updated August 13, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You may think that therapy involves going to sessions for years to get the help you need. This idea scares some people from wanting to get started with therapy. However, not all therapy requires a long duration to achieve results. Brief therapy is a form of therapy that you can move through relatively quickly.

What Is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy?

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Many forms of therapy involve digging through past events and looking back into childhood. Doing so helps people to analyze where their struggles in life are coming from. For some mental health challenges, this is necessary.

A patient needs to understand how they got to where they are before they can make the necessary life changes. However, not everyone needs to go through that process.


Brief therapy, also known as Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), is a good solution for those that don't need to analyze and look into their past. It's a therapy option for people that already know what changes need to happen in their life. The sessions help them to identify the solutions they can use to achieve those changes.

Therapists that use brief therapy learn what the problem is without diving into all the details. They believe that progress can be made by looking forward instead of spending so much time looking at the past.

What Is The Focus Of Brief Therapy?

For brief therapy to be beneficial, the patient needs to know what is their goal for attending therapy sessions. During the beginning phases of therapy, the therapist will help the patient establish clear goals to work towards. Knowing the "why" behind doing therapy will help the therapist and patient to establish a plan and the skills necessary to reach it.

One question that is used by some therapists to help patients identify their goals and paths is to ask them if there was a miracle that happened overnight, what would be different in their life the next day. This can help direct the patient's thinking on the right path.

How Long Does A Brief Therapy Last?

Brief therapy is exactly that, brief. Where some types of therapy might last for months or years, the goal of brief therapy is to get results in a short amount of time by focusing on the future instead of spending so much time in the past. While there can be as many as 20 sessions, that's not the norm.

Instead, on average brief therapy will last for 5-8 sessions. This is possible because brief therapy is used with people that are motivated to make changes but need help pinpointing them and putting a plan into action.

The History Of Brief Therapy

Brief therapy came about back in the 1980s. In Milwaukee, there was a therapy center where colleagues, Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, inspired by ideas from Milton Erickson, started to look into the best way to treat patients and help them experience real change in their lives.

They spent hours researching and taking notes on the questions that therapists used and the answers that patients gave that facilitated real change in their lives. They started to recognize patterns and began developing a new type of therapy that focused on the patient's future instead of their past.

When they started implementing this type of therapy, they noticed that fewer sessions were required to reach the desired change.

Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Brief Therapy

As a patient doing brief therapy, you are expected to take an active role in your sessions. This is the best way to take advantage of the therapy process. Here are some tips that help the process:

Know What You Want To Achieve

When you are taking part in brief therapy, you must know your own goals. This is something that only you can do. Your sessions are not going to be effective if your therapist is the one that is trying to set your goals for you. Therefore, you must know what you want to get out of your therapy sessions.

You should be able to put this into words for your therapist. This should be one of the first questions that your therapist will be asking you.

Be Present During The Sessions

You need to be physically present during your brief therapy sessions. It could be that you are sitting face to face with your therapist or that you are on the video call, phone call, or holding your phone in your hand to text your therapist if you are choosing online therapy options. But, you need to be mentally and emotionally focused during your sessions.

Make sure that you allow yourself enough time to make it to appointments, so you don't have to rush into appointments. This will give you time to put aside the other problems and events of your day and to get your mind wrapped around the issue that you are there to discuss.

Participate In The Discussion

This tip goes hand in hand with the previous one. You must play an active role in your therapy sessions. You've probably heard the saying "You can't help someone that doesn't want to be helped." or even, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." These apply to your therapy sessions.

Don't Be Afraid To Speak Up

If you want to get the most out of therapy, then you have to want help and take part in getting it. Your therapist wants to help you make progress, but they need to hear from you to see things as you see them.

Don't be afraid to ask questions or challenge things that your therapist is telling you. It's through these interactions that the largest amount of progress will be made.

Do Your Homework

If you are no longer in school, then you might have thought that you were done with homework, but it's an important part of the therapy process. Your therapist will help you identify things that you should be working on or trying between therapy sessions. If you don't do the homework that you are supposed to do, then you can't expect to see the changes that you want to experience.

Be Patient

The word "brief' in this type of therapy makes people think that everything should happen very quickly. And, while brief therapy tends to lead to faster results and changes, it doesn't mean that it's going to be immediate.

Progress still takes time and work. If you rush the process, you will most likely not experience the long-lasting change that you are looking for in your life.

Focus On Self-Care

All forms of therapy can be a very emotional process. When most people leave counseling sessions, even sessions that have very positive results, they feel emotionally drained. This can cause them to feel physically exhausted as well. When you are going to therapy, you must practice good self-care.

How to Practice Proper Self-Care

Make sure you are getting enough rest and making good eating choices. Take some time to exercise and to reflect. Find activities that you enjoy doing and do them. Get together with people you enjoy spending time with. Make sure you are setting yourself up for success in therapy by taking good care of yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Where To Go For Brief Therapy?

If you feel that brief therapy could be a good option for you, it's important to explore your options. Not all therapists agree with this form of therapy. Some feel that understanding all the details of a patient's past experiences is important in helping create a plan to move forward.

These types of therapy can be very effective, but also tend to take more sessions as well.

How To Find A Therapist

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If you are interested in brief therapy, start by searching for a therapist that offers this as an option. Explain to them why you are interested and ask if it would be a good fit for what you want to accomplish. You'll want to find someone that has experience administering this type of therapy.

You'll also want to find a therapist that you are comfortable with. Since brief therapy tends to wrap up within no more than 20 sessions, you want a therapist that you can quickly feel comfortable with.

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