Solutions Counseling

By Nicole Beasley |Updated March 21, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Avia James, LPC

Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT), is a type of therapy designed to keep the conversation on the present or the future, rather than the past. Rather than mulling over past hurts, sessions revolve around what is happening now and how to find the right approach to solving the problem. With this focus, on goal-oriented therapy, the symptoms or issues bringing a person to therapy are typically not of concern. Rather, the clinician encourages her or her client to develop a clear, detailed, vision of the future and offers encouraging support as the client determines the skills, resources, and abilities needed to successfully achieve that vision.

As mental health practitioners noticed the amount of energy, time, money, and other resources that tended to be spent through more traditional therapeutic approaches, while often observing that the issues which originally brought an individual to therapy continued to have a negative impact on them; there was the recognition of a need for an alternative approach to therapy. Solutions counseling (SFBT) aims to develop realistic resolutions as quickly, and efficiently, as possible, rather than keeping people in therapy for long periods of time.

Solutions Counseling

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Find Your Own Answers

In SFBT, you are responsible for finding your own answers. You might wonder: 'If I can find my own solutions, what am I doing in therapy?' While 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 therapist who helps them identify and develop those skills. In addition, solutions counseling recognizes that people already know, on some level, what change they need in their lives, and solutions counseling clinicians help their clients clarify their goals. Therapy makes a difference because the therapist asks you questions that help you realize you've already solved similar problems in the past.

Solutions counseling involves developing a vision of one's future and then determining how ones existing, internal abilities can be enhanced in order to attain the desired outcomes. Therapists who practice solutions counseling guide their clients through the process of recognizing what is already working for them, helping them explore how to best continue implementing those effective strategies, and encouraging them to recognize and celebrate their successes. Additionally, practitioners of solutions counseling support their clients as they experiment with new problem-solving approaches.

Resolve Problems Quicker In Solutions Counseling

Usually, people only need a few sessions of solutions counseling to figure out how to solve the problem that brought them into therapy. Since prior pain is left in the past, many sessions that would be spent gaining awareness of the roots of issues, the reasons they are dysfunctional, and how one feels about them, which are parts of many other therapeutic approaches, need not be addressed. This dramatically decreases the number of sessions needed.

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The Therapist Remains Friendly And Positive

Compliments are another essential, and somewhat unique from other therapeutic approaches, part of solution-focused brief therapy. Validating what clients are already doing well, and acknowledging how difficult their problems encourage the client to change while giving the message that the therapist has been truly listening, so understands and cares. Throughout the sessions, the therapist will compliment you when you can resolve your own issues and encourage you to follow your own advice. Instead of asking you questions designed to make you feel uncomfortable, they focus on your strengths and capabilities. They are there to make you feel better, stronger, and more in charge of your own life.

Once the SFBT therapists have created a positive environment through the use of compliments, and then discovered some prior resolutions and exceptions to the problem experienced by the client, they gently invite the client to do more of what has previously worked, or to implement changes they have brought up which they would like to try. This part of solutions counseling is often referred to as "an experiment."

Types Of Questions Used in SFBT

In solutions counseling, therapists ask very specific, and intentional, types of question in order to guide the session. Coping questions help demonstrate one's resiliency and the number of ways in which he or she is already capable of coping with challenges in life. An example might be, "How do you manage, in the face of such difficulty, to meet your daily responsibilities and commitments?" This can illuminate one's skills in coping with adversity.

Miracle questions help people envision a future in which the problem is no longer present, or relevant. This type of questioning allows people to explain how their lives would look different if the problem did not exist, which can help them identify small, practical steps they can take immediately toward change in the direction of that new reality. For example, the client might describe a feeling of ease with family members and believe this ease can only be felt if the present problem were absent. Imagining a scenario in which the present problem does not exist can remind the client that behavioral changes are, indeed, possible, and allow them to imagine what can be done to create change in their lives.

Scaling questions employ a scale from 0-10 to clarify and assess one's present circumstances, progress, or how one is viewed by others. These questions are often used when there is insufficient time to adequately explore the miracle question and they can help a therapist gain insight into the hopefulness, motivation, and confidence of the client. In addition, people who have difficulty verbalizing their experiences may find this approach helpful.

Who Can Be Helped Through SFBT?

Solutions counseling has been used successfully in individual therapy, with couples and families. Solutions counseling can be used to treat a variety of issues. It is often used to address challenges for which the client already has some idea of possible resolutions.

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Alternatives To Solutions Counseling

Although SBFT works well for many people, there may be circumstances in which it is best used along with other types of counseling. For instance, if you have suffered a great trauma that you can't seem to get past, you might need to explore your feelings about that in therapy. Solutions counseling doesn't allow you to do that.

One criticism of solutions counseling is that its quick, goal-oriented, nature may not allow therapists the necessary time to empathize with what their clients are experiencing. As such, clients could feel misunderstood if their therapist is not meeting them on their emotional level sufficiently to illustrate such empathy and understanding.

A second concern is a way solutions counseling seems to simply discard, or completely ignore, information deemed important by other well-respected treatment modalities. For example, in solutions counseling, a relationship between the adverse issues clients face and the changes necessary to foster improvement is not assumed, and any underlying reasons for maladaptive thoughts and/or behaviors are not explored at all. Individuals wishing to explore these reasons may find it more helpful to seek a type of therapy that includes addressing such concerns, though they may do so while also receiving SFBT. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

If you do need to talk about the past before you move on to the present and future, solutions therapy can be helpful when you're ready to put the past behind you. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between a therapist and a counselor?

What therapists help with:

  • Hard Drugs/Alcohol
  • Transition to College/Adjustment from College
  • Stress/Anxiety
  • Anger Management
  • Body Image/Self-Esteem/Eating Concerns
  • Mood/Behavioral Changes
  • Gender Identity
  • Loss and Grief
  • Sexual Identity Concerns
  • Relationship Conflicts
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Spirituality

The major difference between a therapist and a therapist lies in their methods of treatment, education, experience, and of course, their licenses.

Licensed professionals who offer support, guidance, and solution for behavioral, emotional, and mental health services are grouped under three titles: psychologists, therapists, and therapists. It is common to see people interchanging these terms during conversations, although their technical meanings are different.

Because education and licenses are two big factors that differentiate a therapist from a therapist, their definitions and roles may differ from region to region.

In some regions, licensing and requirements are handled by distinct regulatory agencies.

A therapist is trained to treat any of the following issues, among others;

  • Addiction and substance abuse
  • Marital and family problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Uncontrolled anger
  • Life transition obstacles
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Behavioral problems in teens and children
  • grief and Loss

Some marriage and family therapists may provide;

  • Marriage counseling
  • Couples therapy
  • Family therapy for children and parents
  • Therapy for struggling teens or truant
  • Group therapeutic procedures for children and work situations
  • Child adolescent therapy

How do you know you need therapy?

According to the American Psychological Association, you may need some therapy services if you are facing something that causes you stress and interferes with certain aspects o your life, especially when: coping with or thinking about problems consume an hour or more of your time each day. You also need therapy if you have a lingering problem that makes you feel embarrassed so that you always seek to avoid the people around you. 

Is it normal to cry at therapy?

Of course, if crying works well for you in releasing some pent-up emotions, then it is advised that you shed those tears to release any mental stress that you may be facing. It would also be great if you put some words to your cries to help you make greater sense of your problems and perhaps help your therapist find solutions for them.

One of your therapist's many jobs is to provide a comfortable environment for you so that you can feel free to express yourself.

How long should therapy last?

A therapy session can last for a few weeks, months, and years. The duration of these sessions is in congruence with your objectives and desires. For certain people, they seek a therapy session for a very peculiar problem that can be solved in just a single therapy session. While for others, it may take a longer time before their objectives can be realized.

What can a counselor help with?

Counseling is a concerted endeavor between a client and their therapist. Therapists help their clients find solutions to some of their biggest problems and also in the identification of their goals. They also help clients improve their coping and communication skills and encourage them to positively change their behaviors and help better their mental health.

Normally, therapy stops as soon as the problem has been addressed or at least becomes manageable. When the problem is outside their scope of practice, good therapists will refer you to where you can get the solution to your problem. Solutions counseling could be one method for you to improve your mental wellness.

What is the difference between a therapist and a counselor?

Even though therapists and therapists have different types or levels of education, these factors are not essentially the most critical indicators for a great working relationship between a client and his solution provider. One good way of finding the right professional for your unique problem is to seek to know their treatment approach and experience. A therapist or therapist may have a treatment approach or personality that works well for you, including solutions counseling, irrespective of their title or credentials.

How do I talk to my therapist for the first time?

The first time you check into a therapy session, you’re likely to meet an office with a waiting room. You may also have to check in with a receptionist, fill out some paperwork, and wait for the therapist to initiate a session with you.

The first part of your solutions counseling session with your therapist is most likely to be dedicated to knowing yourselves. At this point, you should strive to build a quality relationship with your client that would make your sessions with him/her a smooth one.

Remember, you started solutions counseling for you. It's ok to talk about whatever you think would be most helpful to you at the present moment. Making eye contact might help you feel more comfortable.

It is customary for your therapist to want to know your objective for seeking therapy. Hence, you may be asked questions about the issues and needs you want to work on during solutions counseling treatment. Also, most therapists would want to know what solutions you opted for in the past and how they helped you. When they’re done gathering these details, they will formulate a unique solution for you.

In starting therapy and determining your needs, your therapist is likely to ask extra questions, such as:

  • What symptoms are you facing?
  • Do you have a past family history of mental health illness?
  • What is your home life like?
  • What are your intentions and objectives for seeking therapy?
  • Do you need family therapy for your loved ones?

How do I choose the right therapist?

Opting for therapy services may be one of the greatest decisions that you make. In this journey, your therapist will serve as your partner in mental and emotional health. Your therapist is there to serve as a guide to help you sail through the different vicissitudes of life.

So, how do you choose the right therapist? Below are some vital things you should know:

  1. Their qualifications
  2. Referrals
  3. Gender
  4. Their experience
  5. Patient reviews
  6. Communication style (such as face-to-face methods, telehealth services, etc.)
  7. Check if they bill online
  8. The details of your insurance coverage
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
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