Steve de Shazer was a 20th century therapist who was active in the fields of family therapy, social work, and research. He pioneered the practice of solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT).

Professional Life

Steve de Shazer was born on June 25, 1940 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father was an electrical engineer, and his mother was an opera singer. De Shazar practiced classical music throughout his school years and made his living as a professional jazz saxophonist before he began his career in psychotherapy. De Shazar graduated with a degree in fine arts from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and he continued on at the university to receive his master’s degree in social work.

De Shazer was the founder of solution-focused brief therapy, also known as solution focused therapy. He and his wife, psychotherapist Insoo Kim Berg, established the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee in 1978. Their mentor was John Weakland, a founding member of the Brief Therapy Center at the Mental Research Institute. De Shazar authored several books. He died in Vienna in 2005 while on a training tour. 

Contribution to Psychology

De Shazer developed solution-focused brief therapy, a form of talk therapy based on the principles of social constructionism. Social constructionism places a strong focus on the way social context affects reality, including emotions and relationships.

This form of therapy targets the solution—what the person seeking treatment is striving to achieve through therapy—rather than the situation, event, or obstacle that brought that person to treatment. The therapist works to direct attention toward the present and future, not the past, and the person in therapy begins the journey of fulfillment by first envisioning what a desired future looks like and then taking small steps toward achieving that outcome.

Therapists who practice SFBT recognize that there are things occurring in a person's life that are positive and should continue to occur, and the goals of this type of therapy include the identification of those positive elements and the isolation of things that the person in therapy would like to change. SFBT emphasizes constant change and tries to use this constant state of change to enable individuals to take positive steps toward improving their lives.

An SFBT therapist can help individuals design a clear picture of future goals and explore points in life where those goals were achieved or almost achieved, in order to help further the recognition of circumstances, behaviors, or events that were helpful in bringing them close to this ideal future. Thus, these individuals can both celebrate these successes and begin to repeat those actions or behaviors in order to achieve their goals. This type of therapeutic process has been shown to help support people in therapy both explore their desires and determine which aspects of these desires are already present in their lives.

There are several different types of questions that are used during SFBT to aid an individual in the process of determining what an ideal future looks like. The miracle question is the predominant question: It asks a person to address what the future will look like after positive changes are made. In addition, scaling questions may be used to help assess a situation on a scale of 0-10 in order to address areas such as motivation, confidence, and hopefulness. Scaling questions can also be used throughout to assess progress. Exception-seeking questions address times in a person's life when a problem that could have occurred was averted. This allows the person in treatment to identify what worked in the past, even under potentially problematic circumstances.

Problem-free talk is often used by a therapist in order to ascertain strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, and values. By talking about neutral, harmless, or positive areas, such as hobbies, a therapist can gain insight into the areas of life where a person is experiencing success. These issues may then be presented as achievements to the person seeking treatment in order to help that person transfer these successful behaviors into areas of life where problems may be occurring. By using some or all of these techniques, a person in therapy may be able to adapt attitudes and behaviors as needed to achieve an ideal future.

Solution-focused therapy has expanded to the fields of pastoral counseling, hypnotherapy, coaching, and counseling.

Books by Steve de Shazer

  • Patterns of Brief Family Therapy: An Ecosystemic Approach (1982)
  • The Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy (1985)
  • Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy (1988)
  • Putting Difference to Work (1991)
  • Words Were Originally Magic (1994)
  • More Than Miracles: The State of the Art of Solution-focused Brief Therapy (2007, published posthumously)


  1.  Iveson, C. (2005, October 12). Obituary: Steve de Shazer. Retrieved from â��
  2.  Steve de Shazer - Tribute. (n.d.). Retrieved from