Counselling

Solution-Focused Therapy – Powerful Tools for Change

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What Is Solution-Focused Therapy?

Solution-focused therapy (SFT) is a strengths-based, collaborative model for counselling that is well suited to settings that require a short-term focus. It’s also effective at generating additional motivation and clarity toward change.

SFT is rooted in the idea that people possess the internal resources and strengths to overcome challenges. It focuses on the present and future, emphasizing the client’s ability to generate positive change in their own lives – using SFT is both a mindset and a set of tools.

SFT is built on the belief that clients are experts of their own lives, and that the positive power of working together combines inherent strengths with new information and creative energy.

The Mindset of Solution-Focused Therapy

1. Brief and Efficient

The focus of SFT is looking to what’s possible and learning how to immediately take action to make it happen. Attention is steered toward solutions rather than focusing on problems, placing change at the centre. Options for change are often apparent in a short amount of time.

2. Strengths-Based

Shifting focus to what is working well and identifying strengths for a client is a key intervention of SFT. When people are able to notice and embrace their positive efforts, this can generate new energy to tackle their challenges, resulting in a heightened sense of agency and self-efficacy.

3. Hopefulness

By concentrating on solutions rather than problems, SFT creates a positive and hopeful environment for counselling. People are encouraged to envision a preferred future, free from the constraints of their current difficulties.

4. Collaboration

SFT is built on the belief that clients are experts of their own lives, and that the positive power of working together combines inherent strengths with new information and creative energy. Helpers bring their skillful questions and information to heighten the motivation of clients. This mutual trust and respect is the foundation of a therapeutic alliance, allowing the results to be more than the sum of the separate parts.

SFT looks at change as steps of progress that build on each other toward goals, rather than big shifts that “fix” problems.

The Tools of Solution-Focused Therapy

What follows are some key interventions that help counsellors implement and apply the mindset of SFT.

Goal Setting 

With an eye toward solutions right from the beginning, SFT goal setting generates realistic, meaningful, and targeted steps that provide structure to the path forward. An example of this is exploring the end of counselling right from the start:

  • How will we know when we have reached your goal?
Scaling Questions

SFT looks at change as steps of progress that build on each other toward goals, rather than big shifts that “fix” problems. Scaling questions keeps a clear goal in mind and highlights meaningful indicators toward these goals. Examples of scaling questions include:

  • On a scale from 0–10, with 0 meaning the challenge feels stuck and unmoveable, and 10 meaning the challenge feels resolved, how do you feel about your challenge right now?
  • What would it feel or look like to be 0.5 closer to 10?
  • What would need to happen for you to take that step?
Exception Questions 

Helpers inquire about times when the challenge was less intense or absent in the person’s life. Exploring the details of these exceptions illustrates possible or partial solutions that have already presented themselves. It demonstrates strengths and resources that the client has been able to generate in the .

  • Can you think of a time when the problem was not present in your life?
  • When was the last time that you believe you had a better day?
  • What was it about that day that made it a better day?
The Miracle Question

Unique to SFT, this kind of questioning fully embodies the philosophy of this theory. To use the miracle question, the helper invites a client to imagine and describe a future scenario where their current challenge is meaningfully different or doesn’t exist. The preferred future scenario generated by the client reveals the signposts of change that will be meaningful to them. Exploring the details of this miracle picture gives insights into hopes, smaller goals, and possibilities. An example of the miracle question is:

  • If you were to go to sleep tonight, and wake up tomorrow to discover that your challenge no longer exists, how would you know this has happened? What would be the first small signs that you notice to tell you this miracle has occurred?

In Summary

Solution-focused therapy is a powerful and efficient way to facilitate and support positive change. Its collaborative approach contributes to strong counselling relationships that can generate possibility for overcoming challenges in a short time frame. The emphasis on clients’ expertise in their own lives and building on their own strengths results in changes that are likely to continue to be meaningful long after the counselling has ended.


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Author

Vicki Enns

MMFT, RMFT – Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

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