Inside Solution-Focused Therapy For Families

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated May 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Solution-focused family therapy, sometimes called solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT), is a psychotherapeutic approach to family therapy and mental health that focuses on discovering solutions rather than solving problems. 

The techniques for this postmodern approach were developed during the 1970s and 1980s by husband-and-wife team Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer to help people find solutions for marital or family issues by tapping into the resources and strengths they already have instead of focusing on their challenges.  

Solution-focused family therapy may be valuable for clients who are looking to:

  • Improve marriage communication and move past marital conflicts
  • Decrease trauma severity from past experiences
  • Reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Develop a problem-solving mindset
  • Present and future-focused rather than past focused
  • Engage in brief, short-term treatment instead of long-term therapy 
  • Achieve behavioral changes using the strengths and tools that they already have within themselves

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Families sometimes need extra support

Solution-focused family therapy methodology

Solution-focused therapy may be most effective when the person seeking counseling is looking to reach a particular goal to problem-solve. As the name suggests, this type of therapy is solution focused and helps participants take steps to reach their desired end result. During solution-focused therapy, the mental health professional might ask scaling questions ("on a scale of 1 to 10…") about the client's life to help them draw upon their strengths and ability to solve issues or concerns.

Solution-focused family therapy and solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) are conducted at the therapist's office or social work practice throughout five to eight sessions, on average. 

In the initial session, the issues that your household is dealing with should be presented honestly. There may be several issues, and each person may have a different perspective on what they are and why they exist. Family therapists will work to help each person discuss the issues from their perspective and to get an understanding of the role each person plays. If behavioral problems have been present, the therapist may delve deeper to assess the client’s understanding of how their actions related to past problems. This can distinctly identify exceptions to how certain family view events and help inform how to make further progress.

What does an SFBT therapist do? 

SFBT therapists present themselves not as experts but as not-knowing facilitators, allowing clients to be the experts of their own life and narrative. During the first session and the subsequent visits throughout the treatment, the counselor asks a series of questions to assist clients in thinking outside the box and encouraging their mindset to be future-oriented. For example, some of the techniques involved in solution-focused brief therapy and related outcomes research could include the following:

  • Coping questions
  • The "miracle question."
  • Indirect compliments
  • Scaling questions

Your therapist may ask what you think could or should be done to solve the present problems and allow each person to answer this question. This process may take some time, but it could give the therapist significant insight into what is occurring within the household.

How does solution-based therapy function? 

Many solution-focused brief therapy methods can involve developing practical solutions. The solution may sometimes involve changing behaviors that would change if problems were not occurring. During therapy sessions, a therapist might ask clients to consider living life as if the situation were non-existent and see how it makes them feel.  

Therapists may also ask questions during a therapy session about whether these issues have happened before and what, if anything, was done in the past to solve these issues. If a household has been able to overcome specific problems in the past, it may be capable of overcoming the same issues in the present. The solutions from the past may need to be updated and changed somewhat, but the basic principles could apply and may help participants maintain a positive outlook. 

What are the key concepts of solution-focused therapy?

When Insoo Kim and Steve de Shazer started working together at the Mental Research Institute in the early 1970s, they realized that most families and couples who went to therapy eventually dropped out of treatment. They believed it was because they were unable or unwilling to repeatedly engage in lengthy treatment to discuss their issues and concerns. Kim and de Shazer began to develop a solution-focused approach that prioritized seeking solutions to problems in the present instead of becoming overly involved in the causes or details. The goal is for participants to engage in brief family therapy center exercises and discussions to move beyond their obstacles.

Unlike psychoanalysis, psychiatric treatment, and other therapeutic methods that rely on getting to the root of a problem to find a solution, solution-focused family therapy doesn't require a deep dive into a person's life story to see how their past is influencing their present. Instead, this brief therapy modality is a future-focused and goal-directed approach, which may provide immediate relief and address the client's current level of distress. In some cases, families may seek therapy at a family therapy center that uses a solution-focused model. This type of environment may specialize in brief therapy and offer convenient solution-focused approaches.

Families sometimes need extra support

Counseling options 

Therapy can be a valuable tool for anyone experiencing stress, mental health symptoms, or life concerns. Many resources are available if you seek support in finding an approach to family therapy that best serves your unique needs. Online counseling could benefit individuals looking to try solution-focused therapy on their own or as a couple. 

Online therapy is as effective as in-person therapy in assisting families, and sessions can be conducted from the comfort of your own home, giving you more flexibility. You can have your sessions on the weekend or schedule sessions in the evenings via phone, video, or live chat (where you can send and receive therapeutic messages in real time). Online platforms like BetterHelp for individuals and Regain for couples match qualified and experienced therapists with individuals and teams to help guide them with a focus on solutions and strengthening or healing relationships. 

A licensed online therapist can address depression, anxiety, and other specific mental health conditions in individuals as well. Online therapy is often designed to make getting the help and support you need as easy as possible.


Solution-focused therapy is focused on problem-solving and providing immediate solutions to stressors and concerns. Although it may not work for every problem, mental health condition, or symptom, it can benefit those who want to start seeing results quickly. If you're interested in this type of counseling, consider reaching out to a mental health provider for further information and guidance. 
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