Solutions Counseling

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated July 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT), also called solutions therapy or solutions-based family therapy, is a structured, problem-solving-oriented type of counseling. Rather than discussing past experiences, solutions counseling sessions may address current challenges, conflicts, or emotional states to find helpful solutions. 

With the focus on goal-oriented and solutions-based counseling, an individual's diagnosis or symptoms may not be the main focus. Instead, the solutions counselor encourages them to develop a clear, detailed vision of the future and offers encouragement as the client determines the skills, resources, and solutions needed to achieve their vision successfully. 

Many solutions counselors feel that a vast amount of energy, time, money, and other resources are often spent through more traditional counseling approaches.

Those who offer solution-focused therapy recognize a need for those who aren't interested in discussing the past and are looking for quick results-based therapy. SFBT aims to develop realistic resolutions as quickly and efficiently as possible rather than keeping clients in therapy for long periods. 

Are you stuck in the issues of your past?

Solutions counseling overview

Solution-focused counseling involves assistance from a licensed counselor, many of whom have a master’s degree in mental health. This counselor can help clients find the most benefit in the shortest amount of time possible, including the following. 

A client-based approach to solutions-focused therapy 

In SFBT, the client is responsible for finding their answers through guidance from the solutions counselor. Although solutions counseling might not seem beneficial if you're the one answering your questions, a foundational belief of solutions counseling is that clients already have the necessary skills to create change in their lives. They may benefit from the involvement of a solutions counselor who helps them identify and develop those skills. 

Solutions counseling may make a difference because the counselor asks clients questions that help them realize how they've solved similar problems in the past. If you struggle to structure goals and plans for your future, your solutions counselor can support you, which may relieve feelings of anxiety or worry about the process.

Solutions counseling involves developing a vision of one's future and determining how one's existing internal abilities can be enhanced to attain the desired outcomes. Solutions counseling may be a beneficial approach for families and single parents with children, and may be combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) as well. Both CBT and DBT counseling strategies can assist children, young adults, and adults with a range of concerns like parenting issues, self-harm, and challenges related to sexual orientation. 

Counselors who practice solutions counseling guide their clients by recognizing healthy skills they already possess, exploring how to best continue implementing those effective strategies and recognizing or celebrating their successes. Additionally, practitioners of solutions counseling support their clients as they experiment with new problem-solving approaches they hadn't considered before. 

A fast resolution: Is therapy right for my mental health? 

People may only need several sessions of solutions counseling to figure out how to solve the problem that brought them into solution based therapy. Since prior experiences are left in the past, many sessions that might be spent gaining awareness of the roots of issues are not addressed. Instead, the client and therapist can identify the concern quickly and develop a plan within the first few sessions. Once the client implements the plan, they can follow up with the therapist. However, sessions may not take months or years to complete. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo

Friendly, optimistic, and positive approaches to treatment 

Compliments and optimism are unique strategies utilized in SFBT. Validating what clients are already doing well and acknowledging how challenging their circumstances may be can encourage the client to change while giving the message that the therapist genuinely cares about their concerns. 

Throughout the sessions, the therapist may praise you when you resolve your concerns or achieve one step toward your goals. Instead of asking personal questions that might make you uncomfortable, they focus on your combined strengths and capabilities. They are there to help you meet your goals and feel stronger, more confident, and capable of solving your concerns. You can work together as a team. 

Once the SFBT therapist has created a positive environment through encouragement, they may gently invite the client to do more of what has previously worked or to implement changes they have brought up. Trying a new strategy might be referred to as "experimenting."

Questions commonly asked in SFBT

In solutions counseling, therapists ask new clients specific, direct, and intentional types of questions to guide the session. Coping questions may help demonstrate one's resiliency and the number of ways in which they are already capable of coping with challenges in life. For example, they might ask, "how do you currently meet your daily responsibilities and commitments with these challenges?" 

The therapist may also ask the "miracle question," which is, "how would you act if you were not currently facing this problem?" Understanding how a client's mindset may limit them from forming answers can help them develop unique plans to achieve their goals. For example, the client might describe a feeling of ease with family and believe this ease can only be felt if the present problem were absent. Imagining a scenario where the present problem does not exist can remind clients that behavioral changes are often possible and allow them to imagine what actions might change their lives. 

Scaling questions employ a scale from zero to ten to clarify and assess one's present circumstances, symptoms, or progress. These questions are often used when there is insufficient time to explore the miracle question adequately. They can help a therapist gain insight into the client's hopefulness, motivation, and confidence. In addition, people who have difficulty verbalizing their experiences may find this approach helpful. For example, a therapist might ask, "how sad are you on a scale of zero to ten, with zero being not sad at all and ten being the saddest you've ever felt." 

Who can benefit from SFBT? 

Solutions counseling has been used successfully in individual therapy, with couples, and for families. Solutions counseling can be used to treat various concerns, such as stress, life transitions, relationship conflict, or uncertainty about the future. It is often used to address challenges for which the client has an idea of possible resolutions.

SFBT may integrate many different therapeutic methods, such as: 
  • Play therapy: This therapy may involve creative and play-based interventions to help children express themselves, explore solutions, and build on their strengths with a client-centered approach
  • Motivational interviewing: Motivational interviewing in SFBT explores and amplifies clients' motivation for positive change, goal-setting, and solution-building. 
  • School-based therapy: This therapy focuses on solutions and personal strengths to help students overcome challenges and enhance their well-being. It’s often conducted by a school social worker and may serve as a safe, discreet space for children to discuss domestic violence* and other challenges 

Alternative counseling and therapy options

Although solutions counseling works well for many people, there may be circumstances in which solutions counseling is best used along with other types of counseling. For instance, if you have experienced a past adverse event that continues to impact your present moment, you might benefit from a counselor that discusses the past in your counseling sessions. Solutions counseling doesn't allow you to do that.

One criticism of solutions counseling is that its quick, goal-oriented nature may not allow solutions counselors the necessary time to empathize with what their clients are experiencing. Clients might feel misunderstood if their solutions counselor is not meeting them on their emotional level sufficiently to illustrate understanding and validation. 

A second concern is how solutions counseling may discard or completely ignore information deemed valid and essential by other well-respected counseling modalities. For example, a relationship between the adverse issues clients face and the changes necessary to foster improvement is not assumed in solutions counseling. Any underlying reasons for maladaptive thoughts or behaviors may not be explored in solutions counseling. Individuals wishing to explore these areas may find it more advantageous to seek counseling that addresses such concerns.

Solutions counseling might not be the most effective choice if you want to talk about the past before you move on to the present and future. In these cases, cognitive-behavioral therapy, trauma-informed therapy, or EMDR could be beneficial. You’ll find a couple of examples of counseling options below. 

Traditional family therapy 

Family counseling is a form of psychological counseling that addresses family issues and communication patterns within a family, aiming to enhance understanding and promote positive change. Note that many solutions professionals specialize in family and interpersonal relationship problems, but this is not the only option.

Traditional couples counseling

Couples counseling, also known as couples therapy or marriage counseling, is a therapeutic process designed to help partners navigate and resolve conflicts, improve communication, and strengthen their relationships. This type of counseling can address many types of relationship problems, leading to positive changes for both partners. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is a psychotherapeutic approach that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. This type of counseling may help address and alleviate various mental health challenges like low self-esteem or anxiety disorders by emphasizing the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

DBT is a form of CBT designed to treat individuals with emotion control and anger management difficulties for those who have experienced trauma. It often combines cognitive and behavioral techniques with mindfulness and acceptance strategies to foster emotional balance and effective coping skills.

Are you stuck in the issues of your past?

Online therapy options

You can find SFBT in various formats, in person or online. Online therapy can be a more cost-effective and speedy approach to this therapy modality, as it allows clients to match with a therapist within 48 hours. In addition, clients can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions with their therapist, giving them control over the therapy process. 

One study on internet-based interventions found that 71% of participants preferred them to in-person options and found them more effective in increasing quality of life for common concerns like depression, anxiety, and stress. If you're interested in uncovering answers to your concerns in the present, consider signing up for an online platform like BetterHelp to talk to a goal-oriented therapist.  


SFBT is a type of counseling often used for those looking to accomplish goals and learn unique strategies to address their concerns. Although it is not a therapy focused on the past or the motives behind particular concerns, it can benefit those looking for support with quick resolutions. If you're interested in learning more about this type of therapy, consider reaching out to a therapist for further guidance. 

You might benefit from solutions counseling or therapy if you struggle to find answers for daily stress or distressing symptoms. Counselors frequently support clients with various issues, including relationship conflicts, moving, adoption, and past adverse experiences. 

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