What Is Solution-Based Therapy?

By Rachel Lustbader

Updated April 15, 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, with thousands of people reaping the therapy's benefits per year. Created by married therapists Steve de Shazer and Inso 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. Several studies and client analyses have measured solution-based therapy's effectiveness. More micro analysis is needed, however, to fully measure specific control factors and variables.

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When we are having an issue, it sometimes could take years to pinpoint the cause of the issue. 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 countless hours speaking with clients, recording sessions, tailoring treatment plans for clients and more. Solution-based therapy takes out several steps to promote quick, 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 provide solutions to those who need them. The source of a client's problems is clearly defined and talked about 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 nothing but skepticism in their minds and sinking feelings in their hearts. They agonize over small details and catastrophize larger details.

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 can be who you are.

During solution-based therapy, you will be able to be who you are - without judgment or consequence. It gives clients an unspoken permission to be the person they are at the moment.

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.

It's a short-term, cost-effective strategy.

You will get answers right when you need them. This will save you time and money. Plus, you will be more willing to discuss your issues if the therapy is straightforward.

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While there are several pros, some people think solutions-based therapy doesn't delve as deeply as other forms of therapy - that is a water-down version of psychotherapy.

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 more quick approach. When therapists utilize scaling, they help their clients accomplish the following:

There is a sense of control.

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.

The client will think more critically.

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.

The steps are easier to digest.

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 feel [about something]?"

"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 concoct your own future, tailored to your needs. 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. If you aren't willing to change or don't take your issues seriously or push it to the deepest corners of your mind, then perhaps another method would be better 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.

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