Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: Definition, Basis, Uses, Goals

We all get caught up in focusing on our problems. After all, sometimes it just feels good to vent. But finding solutions to our problems is most gratifying in the end. That’s what psychologist Steve de Shazer and psychotherapist Insoo Kim Berg believed when they pioneered Solution-Focused Brief Therapy in the late 1970s. Read on to learn more.

What is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)?

SFBT, also called Solution-Focused Therapy, focuses on being brief and finding solutions to problems rather than spending too much time on thinking, talking, and analyzing them. In the late 1970s, the therapy was pioneered by husband and wife Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg who together with colleagues felt that therapists often spend too much time, energy and resources on talking about problems with patients, rather than finding solutions that can bring about relief quickly.[1,2]

The developers of SFBT spent years observing therapy sessions and analyzing how therapists’ approach affected patient behaviors and emotions during therapy and the therapeutic outcome of the sessions. One major finding the SFBT pioneers took away is stated below by Insoo Kim Berg.

“We discovered that problems do not happen all the time. Even the most chronic problems have periods or times when the difficulties do not occur or are less intense. By studying these times when problems are less severe or even absent, we discovered that people do many positive things that they are not fully aware of. By bringing these small successes into their awareness and repeating the successful things they do when the problem is less severe, people improve their lives and become more confident about themselves.”[1]

What is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Used For?

Solution-focused brief therapy is often applied to family therapy, traditional psychotherapy and couples therapy. It is also used to help with the following:[3]

  • Domestic violence offenders
  • Sexual abuse
  • Substance abuse
  • Schizophrenia
  • Parenting skills

Additionally, SFBT is used outside the traditional patient-therapist environment and often used by social service agencies, schools, prisons and businesses.

What Happens During Solution-Focused Brief Therapy?

The key concept during SFBT is a focus on what works rather than what’s wrong. During SFBT sessions, the therapist directs conversation toward what the patient believes could be solutions to his or problems. To help patients come to possible solutions, the therapist aims to do the following:[2,3]

Uncover how problems were solved previously

Solution-Focused (SF) Therapists work based on the belief that most people have solved problems throughout their lives and therefore, can apply those problem-solving techniques to current problems. Therapists may ask questions like, “When this came up in the past, what did you do that was helpful?”

Find exceptions

When people can’t uncover previous solutions, most people can point to times when a problem could occur, but does not because something happened spontaneously instead. To help identify exceptions, SF therapists may ask questions like, “What’s different about times when this isn’t as big of a problem?”

Focus on the present rather than the past

Keeping in line with the SFBT core belief of looking forward, SF therapists usually focus on the present or on the future in hopes to solve problems by discovering how a person would like their life to be.

Acknowledgement and encouragement

By asking questions like “How did you do that?” SF therapists will compliment what patients are doing well since the answers often cause the client to self-compliment.

Stick with what’s working

Once previous solutions and exceptions are discovered, SF therapists encourage patients to continue applying them to current problems or to try new approaches that were talked about during therapy.


  1. Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Association. About Solution-Focused Brief Therapy/ Retrieved December 12, 2013, from
  2. Institute for Solution-Focused Therapy. What is Solution-Focused Therapy? Retrieved December 11, 2013, from
  3. Northwest Brief Therapy Training Center. Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: What Is It & What’s The Evidence? [PDF] Retrieved December 12, 2013, from

By C. J. Newton, MA, Editor

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