Is Solutions Counseling Right For Me?

By Nicole Beasley

Updated May 09, 2019

Reviewer Avia James

Solutions counseling, also called solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT), is a type of counseling 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. SFBT aims to develop realistic solutions as quickly, and efficiently, as possible, rather than keeping people in therapy for long periods of time.


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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 in SFBT is that clients already have the necessary skills to create change in their lives, they may benefit from the involvement of a counselor who helps them identify and develop those skills. In addition, SFBT recognizes that people already know, on some level, what change they need in their lives, and SFBT clinicians help their clients clarify their goals. Therapy makes a difference because the counselor asks you questions that help you realize you've already solved similar problems in the past.

This type of therapeutic intervention 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 SFBT 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 SFBT support their clients as they experiment with new problem-solving approaches.

Solve Problems Quicker

Usually, people only need a few sessions 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 come up with good solutions 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 solutions 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 the therapy is often referred to as "an experiment."

Types Of Questions Used in SFBT

In SFBT, counselors 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?

SFBT has been used successfully in individual therapy, with couples and families. SFBT 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 solutions.


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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 SFBT 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 counselor is not meeting them on their emotional level sufficiently to illustrate such empathy and understanding.

A second concern is a way SFBT seems to simply discard, or completely ignore, information deemed important by other well-respected treatment modalities. For example, in SFBT 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. Online therapists who have an eclectic style might use other types of


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