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Solution-focused brief therapy

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A woman sitting with a therapist.

What Is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)?

Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) concentrates on someone’s present circumstances and their future goals to help them solve problems and achieve the life they want. It differs from other forms of therapy that place more emphasis on someone’s past experiences to determine how to solve their current problems. Solution-focused brief therapy enforces the belief that people already have the resources they need to achieve their goals—they might just need guidance to identify them. 

Solution-focused brief therapy was introduced by psychotherapists Steve De Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg in the 1970s and early 80s. They developed SFBT after noticing that their clients already had the strengths and resources they needed to solve their current issues but were unable to identify and use them. They also realized that by focusing on current problems instead of on the past, clients could save time and energy by solving their problems more quickly. 

What Is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Used for?

Solution-focused brief therapy is most beneficial when someone has a specific problem they are trying to solve or a future goal they are trying to reach. SFBT can also be used to help improve a range of concerns, including:

  • Mental health disorders: SFBT may reduce symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and mood disorders
  • Stress: SFBT may help someone find solutions to issues in their life that are causing stress
  • Self-esteem: SFBT focuses on someone’s strengths and may help them improve their self-esteem and confidence in making decisions. 
  • Addiction: SFBT may reduce the severity of addiction symptoms and help someone achieve goals that will guide them toward a life free from substance use. 

Along with individual therapy, solution-focused brief therapy can also be used by couples and families to solve relationship problems and improve family dynamics. 

How Does Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Work?

During a session, an SFBT therapist will explore someone’s goals and desires for the future. The therapist will encourage the person to explore their strengths and come up with a plan for making their vision a reality. SFBT is guided by a number of questions that help a person understand what is working in their current situation and how they can use their strengths to solve problems. 

How Long Does It Last?

One of the benefits of solution-focused brief therapy is that it typically does not require many sessions to reach treatment goals. Unlike other forms of therapy, SFBT doesn’t spend time digging into a person’s past. Instead, it focuses on their current strengths, concerns, and goals. 

SFBT typically involves just five to eight sessions over the course of a few months, and may even be one stand-alone session. Each session may be as short as 15 minutes or as long as 90 minutes. Therapy usually ends when a person has reached their treatment goals. 

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Techniques

Miracle Questions

The miracle question technique involves exploring what would be different in someone’s life tomorrow if a miracle happened overnight, getting rid of all of their problems. This encourages the person to think about what would be different if their problems were gone, and gives them a better idea of what they need to change in order to solve their problems themselves. 

Scaling Questions

Scaling questions ask a person to rate the severity of their problems on a scale of 1–10. Scaling questions might include rating one’s current happiness, the role of certain factors in their problems (such as alcohol consumption), or their abilities to achieve a goal. This can give a person more insight into how to achieve their goals and their overall happiness. 

Scaling questions may be especially helpful for those who have a difficult time expressing their feelings. The answers to scaling questions given at the beginning of therapy can also be used as a baseline to measure progress. 

Exception Questions

Solution-focused brief therapy recognizes that people experience times when their problem doesn’t have a negative impact on their life. These are known as exceptions. 

Exception questions work toward identifying these times and exploring what is different when the problem isn’t present. This helps a person recognize that there are times when the issue is not affecting them, giving it less power.

A common exception question is, “When did you feel the happiest?” This encourages the person to remember and explore a time when their issue was not present or affecting them. Their SFBT therapist will encourage them to think about why that day made them so happy. With these insights, they will likely be able to create a solution to their problem. 

Benefits of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

Solution-focused brief therapy offers many benefits, including:

  • Short-term treatment: SFBT is much shorter than other forms of therapy that may last for months or years. This makes it more accessible to many people and more cost-effective.
  • Future-oriented: SFBT encourages someone to focus on moving forward and making positive decisions that help them achieve the future they want. 
  • Focused on problems and goals: SFBT may help someone identify their current problems and goals by talking them out with a therapist.
  • Strengths-based: A therapist using SFBT offers insight and support regarding a client’s strengths that may give them the motivation and confidence they need to achieve their goals. 

Is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Right for Me?

Solution-focused brief therapy might be right for you if you are experiencing problems in life, are ready to embrace change, and have goals in mind for a happier future. 

SFBT should always be used by a licensed therapist and can be used alone or combined with other therapeutic methods. The first step to starting solution-focused brief therapy is to speak with a therapist to determine if the approach can benefit you.  

Find a solution-focused therapist near you today

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The editorial team at works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.