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.
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!
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