What Is Solution-Based Therapy?

By Rachel Lustbader

Updated August 30, 2019

Solution-based therapy, also known as solution-focused therapy or brief therapy, entered mainstream psychotherapy practices in the 1970s and 1980s. What began as an aspect of systems therapies has morphed into its own practice, which has grown increasingly in popularity. Created by married therapists Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, solutions-based therapy focuses on the now - today - in the moment. You can create your own future by accessing your goals with evidence-based strategies.


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When we have an issue, it can take a long time to pinpoint the cause of the issue and get better. That is where solution-based therapy can help. When an individual or group of people attend solution-focused therapy sessions, the experience is usually very brief. Solution-based therapy is centered on the idea of honing in on solutions rather than problems. During other methods, a therapist may spend many hours processing with clients and talking about the problem and possible origins of the problem. Solution-based therapy spends far less time talking about the problem to promote efficient, mentally healthy solutions to a client's problems.

During studies and therapists' practices, it has been discovered that clients may experience highs and lows in relation to their problems. They may go a year without the recurrence of a certain issue, but then, they may deal with it for weeks on end. That is where solution-based therapy comes in, helping the client with tangible solutions.

Solutions-based therapy deals with a variety of principles to generate solutions to those who need them. The source of a client's problems is clearly defined during a solutions-based therapy session; furthermore, successes are just as emphasized. For example, solutions-based therapy centers on the following:

Change will always happen; it's inevitable. Clients are asked to embrace change and want it.

Clients have the power to create their own goals and feel more confident.

Each client has his or her own strengths and skills to solve their problems.

Focusing on the past is not as relevant.

This type of therapy is more short-term.

The Benefits of Solution-Based Therapy

Many individuals with anxiety, depression, ADHD, PTSD and other mental-health disorders and life issues have all thought, "I will never find a solution to my problem. I will always be miserable and will never be happy." They sit on the opposite end of a therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist with skepticism in their minds and sinking feelings in their hearts. They may agonize over small details and catastrophize larger details. With a solution-focused therapist, the client can quickly learn to move away from this thinking pattern and start to feel empowered to solve their problems.

It helps you set goals

It is likely that you have goals and objectives before sitting down during a solution-based therapy session; however, these sessions help you formulate goals in relation to your issue. For example, if you are finding that you can't speak your mind during staff meetings at your job, the therapist will ask you why you feel that way, using scaling and other techniques. Then, you can set goals to accommodate a solution to the issue, which could be: getting over your fear of speaking in public, being more assertive in getting your points across and tips on how to appear more confident in your job position.

You will focus on your own strengths

While many people do not go to therapy to be told what they are good at, this type of therapy discusses strengths in relation to change and how you can better balance your strengths to leverage the situation. Solution-based therapy is based on a complimentary system, where the therapists listen to the client and care about the answers. General-interest questions, such as "How did you manage that?", in a complimentary, friendly tone. The goal here is for the client to build confidence and remind the client that just because they feel anxious about the particular problem, there are many things they are good at and have already overcome many other obstacles. This will help the client tap into their own natural problem-solving abilities.

It's short-term and cost-effective

Since the goal is to jump right in and focus on the here and now, you are not going to spend sessions talking about your history and digging into old wounds and traumas if it is not necessary. There are people who need longer-term therapy and need to revisit old traumas. This is not meant to discount the value in recovering from past events. But it is not necessary for everyone. Many people who benefit from solution-focused therapy are going through a specific issue or a major life change or transition.

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Solution-Focused Therapy Techniques

Scaling Methods

Therapists use scaling methods doing solution-based therapy sessions with their clients. This ensures that the clients are putting a value on their experiences, thoughts, emotions and more. Scaling is a more logical approach to therapy, using numbers to quantify emotions and feelings. In turn, using numbers can help you feel calmer during a therapy session. You will be more prone to talk about what is bothering you, which is a quicker approach. When therapists utilize scaling, they help their clients create feelings of control and confidence.

The individual experiencing stress and other related symptoms may think the issues are overwhelming, overshadowing their happiness with negativity and doubt. Scaling makes it seem real like it is something they can manage - either on their own or with help. They feel more hopeful and confident their current situation will pass.Scaling exercises will cause critical thinking. Clients will be able to see outside their narrow forms of vision and see the big picture, thinking objectively about their own lives and situations.

During sessions, therapists break down the steps of scaling to more manageable chunks of information. This lessens the burden and overwhelming feelings associated with handling information overload.


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During scaling, a therapist may ask a patient:

"On a scale of one to 10, how do you anxious do you feel about your upcoming presentation?"

"You said you are a 6 on the scale. What makes you not a 5 or a 7?"

These questions identify a cause and how to change. They give you the flexibility you need to make your own decisions. Some people are more visual, so drawing a staircase or showing a photo with the numbers may help you visualize how you feel in relation to the number.

Coping and Exception Questions

In addition to scaling methods, therapists also use coping and exception questions during their techniques.

Examples of coping questions are:

What motivates you during times of stress?

How do you usually cope with this situation?

How do you solve this problem?

If someone else would experience this issue, what advice would you give him or her?

Exception questions also are used to highlight when a person does not deal with the problem in question, due to various changes:

What has changed since our last session?

When does the problem not occur?

How do you feel when the problem does not occur?

Are you doing anything differently when the problem doesn't happen?

The Miracle Question

This question format allows you to create your own future, tailored to your life. The miracle question is helpful when a client does not know what he or she wants in the future. What does a better life look like? A therapist could ask, "A genie grants you three wishes. What would you wish for that made your life better?" or "You fall into a deep sleep, and when you wake up the next morning, a miracle has made your life better. What has changed?" The miracle question allows you to step outside of the box and create your own visionary path - with freedom and a more focused approach from your therapist. He or she will know how to help you and will make sure it's brief and to the point.


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These methods are also used for solution-based family therapy. To create solutions for the entire family, a therapist will remind the family of their previous successes but will dwell more on the present and future. This will garner hope as the family gains resources and other tools needed to progress toward their joined goal.

Accepting that each family is different, is vital, and there is not a strict guideline on how a family should act, think, etc. For children, when a therapist acts as if the child is the expert of his or her own life, then the child is more prone to be receptive to therapy. Visual representations, including diagrams, coloring sheets, and worksheets also give children a clear way to understand the goals and objectives lined out in front of them.

Is Solution-Based Therapy Right for You?

If you have an issue you can't seem to solve, you may consider consulting a solutions-based therapist near you. If you're willing to change and want to focus more on the present and future, then this type of therapy could be for you. Creating your own goals and framing your future will aid you as you prepare to find solutions and build upon internal and external changes. You can also try online therapy. BetterHelp offers a secure platform where you can be matched with a licensed, qualified therapist and get started today! All you need to get started is an internet connection and a smart phone, tablet, or computer.


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