What is Solution Focused Therapy and why is it important?
Solution Focused Therapy (SFT) is strongly oriented towards discovering and creating solutions, and spends little time and energy analysing problems. Lengthy review of problems can be unhelpful for many clients. Moving as quickly as possible towards a focus on solutions is a relatively unique feature that distinguishes SFT from many other psychotherapeutic models. SFT is also strongly oriented towards building clients’ strengths. A key assumption is that the client already possesses all the knowledge and resources necessary for change, and that the role of therapy is to reveal and mobilise these resources. While most other therapeutic models were developed for the purpose of addressing particular problems (e.g. alcohol and drug problems, mental health problems), the core therapeutic task of Solution Focused Therapy is to promote personal growth and resilience consistent with the personal goals of the client. Gingerich and Eisengart (2000) state that “[t]he main therapeutic task is helping the client to imagine how he or she would like things to be different and what it will take to make that happen” (p478). O’Connell (2003) sees the therapeutic task as raising clients’ awareness of the constructive solutions already operating in their lives and helping them find ways to expand upon these solutions (p5). Pichot (2001) suggests that the therapeutic task is to help clients reach the goals that they have set for themselves. As such SFT can be applied in a very wide range of situations.

When should it be used?
A Solution Focused Therapy approach is particularly useful when clients first present to a service, and especially when they are in crisis and feel overwhelmed by problems. It is also useful when the client is reluctant or sceptical about the value of help that could be offered by a professional. Effective use of SFT does not presume that the client is already engaged and committed to a project of change. Because it can yield small practical wins swiftly, this offers immediate relief from distress and helps to promote engagement.

SFT is also very useful at those times when clients are finding it difficult to make the ‘big changes’ such as stopping or reducing substance use, have lost confidence in their ability to change, or when significant barriers exist to changing.

Although SFT is often used in the context of brief therapy, particularly single session work, it can also be applied at various stages throughout a client’s journey. Turning the focus towards solutions rather than elaborating problems offers hope and optimism at times when clients feel overwhelmed, hopeless, or have become ‘stuck’.

There are times when the solution-focused approach is not appropriate, particularly for young people with complex problems. First, the assumption underpinning SFT that the client already possesses the knowledge, skills and resources to solve their problems may not always be justified. Guided experience or skills training will be appropriate here (Bruun & Mitchell, 2012; p114).

Second, speedy movement towards a focus on solutions will be inappropriate for clients who do want to spend some time exploring and coming to terms with problems. Adolescents particularly value being listened to and feeling understood (Green, Mitchell, & Bruun, under review).

An excessively proactive shift to solutions may risk alienating young people who are not yet ready. Third, the solution-focused approach uses a lot of questions. Conversational styles that involve one person asking a lot of questions can feel intrusive and tiring. Some adolescents may feel interrogated rather than respected and supported by an overly questioning conversational style. Alternative approaches may be more appropriate for these clients.



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