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Three Simple Reasons Solution-Focused Therapy Works


Solution-focused therapy is a new type of therapy to many people, including psychology professionals. It is considered a form of brief therapy, much like cognitive behavioral therapy, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be practiced in the short term. I consider these kinds of therapies to be “strength-based” as opposed to “insight-oriented.”

What are some benefits of choosing a strength-based therapy?

1. Focusing on your strengths always produces the best return on your investment. It’s true that most clients don’t come to therapy wanting to improve something they are already good at. However, a solution-focused therapist will work hard to identify the client’s strengths in order to help the client use these strengths in areas where they do want to improve.

Imagine your life as a pie chart, with each slice of pie a different size. At any given time, some section of the pie is going to be off or not functioning at its best. That’s normal; we have a lot of pie on our plate! A client who is problem-focused is looking only at this once slice of the pie. A solution-focused therapist is going to help the client fix that slice by balancing strengths that are part of the rest of the pie.

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For example, a couple might come to therapy complaining generally of having “communication issues,” but upon further questions from a solution-focused therapist, it might turn out that these issues only arise during a specific topic, or under certain circumstances. The couple might have excellent communication skills and just have not figured out how to apply them to their problem area.

2. People
are always trying to right themselves. While you might know a constant complainer who you secretly think does a pretty good job at self-sabotaging, remember that they don’t see their life this way. A solution-focused therapist doesn’t, either. When a client and therapist can tap into the right system to solve problems, the client’s constant efforts to right themselves will eventually work. A solution-focused therapist works hard to believe the best in the client and to act as a coach and facilitator toward the client’s goals.

3. Thoughts are our best predictors of happiness. Why does research show cognitive therapy to be as effective as some medication for mental issues? Because we know that there is a direct link between the thoughts you think and the feelings you feel. When practiced over time, healthy and productive thoughts produce effective long-term results.

If a client has negative ideas about himself, his future, or the world around him, then he is likely to be depressed. Instead of dwelling in these negative thoughts, a solution-focused therapist is interested in learning about when these thoughts are not present. Is there any part of the day when the client is not experiencing the problem that has brought them to therapy? Why is this?

Solution-focused therapy focuses on the present and the future. It is concerned with today’s problems and tomorrow’s concerns. The kind of therapy I do is also nonpathologizing therapy. This means that I don’t view my clients as being deficient or sick in some way. I don’t diagnose clients (unless insurance requires it) and I don’t let them diagnose themselves, either.

It’s not that insight-oriented therapy is the opposite, but it is more interested in one’s past, one’s history of repetitive patterns and relationships, and gives much more weight to subconscious drives, behaviors, and issues.

While both therapies have their places in the world of mental health, my experience has found strength-based therapy to be more effective for the type of clients that I see. My clients are not interested in making therapy a hobby that lasts for years and years. In the coming months, I’ll be writing about how solution-focused therapy is used to help a variety of couples issues and common issues such as anxiety and depression. I welcome your comments!

© Copyright 2010 by Lindsey Antin, MA, MFT, therapist in Berkeley, California. All Rights Reserved.

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  • JERRY February 24th, 2010 at 3:36 PM #1

    This sounds good,especially because it takes a positive view of things.Now we know we have all been taught to always take a positive view of things,no matter how bad the situation or conditiuon is.But most of do not do this and maybe this is something,that if followed,would be able to solve our problems much easily and land us with solutions.

  • Tom Alter February 24th, 2010 at 8:43 PM #2

    It may seem obvious, but it makes perfect sense to concentrate on our strong points and not the weak points at a time we are faced with issues and problems. It gives us some respite from our problems and shows us that we are capable of many things, something that a person refuses to believe when sad about an issue.

  • Keenen February 25th, 2010 at 10:56 AM #3

    Why is all therapy not looked at as solution focused? That’s what I thought therapy was all about anyway, coming up with solutions to help fix your life. Yeah it’s about resolving issues but also coming up with a manageable solution for the future.

  • Dawn Pugh February 28th, 2010 at 9:59 AM #4

    Hi Lindsay,

    “I also work within a solution focused framework (SFF) and find that it’s both empowering and effective with people who are ready and willing to make the necessary small and relevant changes that they require to feel significantly better”.

    Dawn Pugh

  • Lindsey Antin (author) March 22nd, 2010 at 11:19 AM #5

    Hi everyone,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Your question, Keenan, is a good one — isn’t therapy supposed to help find solutions for people? I suppose that there are different reasons why people choose to enter therapy.

    I believe this type of therapy works for my client population. But there are many different clients out there, and some are truly interested in self-exploration for its own purpose. They don’t know or have goals of what they might expect as a result from that.

    Also, traditional modes of therapy that we are taught in graduate school can be heavy on the psychodynamic and insight-oriented approach and have less instruction on postmodern and strength-based apporaches. I think therapists will practice a method that they like. It is important to me though, to practice a method that makes sense to and works for my clients.


  • Stephanie Duckworth January 5th, 2011 at 12:36 PM #6

    Hi love this post. I too am a solution focussed therapist and also use the philosophy in my tutoring. I love the idea of encouraging a client to experiment with new actions and the idea that it can be changed for another experiment if that one doesn’t work. The important thing is to encourage the enjoyment of experimenting with ways to do things differently, and before they start, suggest that idea. I find most people love realising they don’t have to be perfect actually! and they can enjoy experimenting with different solutions until they discover the right approach.

  • Rebecca J. Flores September 2nd, 2011 at 8:28 PM #7

    I am a school counselor in an elementary public school on Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. I have been practicing solution-focused brief therapy the way I understand it based on sessions I have attended at ASCA (American School Counselor Association)Conferences and reading materials as well as research. I’m interested in getting trained on this particular approach. Do you have a schedule of regular trainings that I could avail of?

  • Joanne Boyce March 18th, 2014 at 10:09 AM #8

    I have a question. In Solution Focused Therapy, if a spouse of an alcoholic is the only one involved in therapy, can it become more beneficial than help in developing coping skills? Does the therapist in providing first session feedback try to encourage her to bring the spouse in for family therapy? You can go ahead and recognize a client’s strengths, but how can the situation get better if both parties are not involved?



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