Solution Focused Therapy is an approach to psychotherapy drawing heavily from Positive Psychology and a formal psychotherapy modality called Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT). Solution focused therapy focuses on finding solutions to problems rather than focusing on their original causes. It is a short-term, concrete goal-oriented therapy that is based on the idea that individuals have the resources and abilities to solve their own problems. We think of Solution Focused approaches as “Here and Now” therapies, as opposed to exploratory depth psychotherapies.
One of the key guiding principles is that the therapist focuses on the client’s present strengths and available coping resources. This work is informed by a focus on empowerment and concrete actions. We help clients connect with their personal agency that they have the ability to change their situation. The therapist also helps the client to identify exceptions, which are the times when the problem is not present, or when the client is able to cope with it. This helps the client to identify what works, and to focus on what they want to achieve, rather than what they want to avoid.
What does it look like in practice? Solution-Focused practitioners start by creating an in-depth description of how the client’s life will be different when the problem is gone. We’ll explore how their situation would be improved to a degree satisfactory to the client. Therapist and client then carefully search through the client’s life experiences and habits to discover the necessary resources needed to co-construct a practical and sustainable solution that the client can readily implement. Typically this process involves identifying and exploring previous “exceptions,” e.g. times when the client has successfully coped with or addressed previous difficulties and challenges. Solution focused therapists and their clients consistently collaborate in identifying goals reflective of clients’ best hopes and developing satisfying solutions.
Solution focused approaches are beneficial for individuals who are looking for a short-term, goal-oriented therapy. It can be effective in treating a wide range of problems such as anxiety, depression, relationship problems and addiction. It can also inform a portion of Psychotherapy relating to specific domains that may not warrant a deep dive.
Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) has received criticism from some mental health professionals and researchers. Some of the main critiques of SFBT include:
- Limited focus on the past: SFBT is designed to be a brief and goal-oriented therapy that focuses on the present and the future, rather than dwelling on the past. However, some critics argue that this limited focus on the past can prevent individuals from fully understanding and resolving their problems.
- Lack of emphasis on underlying issues: SFBT focuses on finding solutions to problems, rather than exploring the underlying causes of those problems. This can lead to a lack of understanding of the underlying issues and can prevent individuals from resolving their problems in the long term.
- Limited applicability: SFBT is designed to be a brief therapy that is suitable for a wide range of problems. However, some critics argue that it may not be appropriate for individuals with severe or complex mental health conditions.
- Limited empirical evidence: While SFBT has a growing body of research, some critics argue that there is not enough empirical evidence to support its effectiveness.
- Simplistic approach: Some critics argue that SFBT’s emphasis on solutions can be too simplistic and may not be appropriate for some people’s problems.
Additionally, it might not be the best approach for individuals who are in need of long-term therapy or who are looking for a more in-depth exploration of the underlying issues.
It’s important to note that no therapy is a one-size-fits-all approach
The most common setting you’ll find solution focused approaches is Employee Assistance Programs and many hospitals as they are limited for the number of sessions you can get. Free therapy is a finite resource and there are so many more people than available appointments unfortunately.
At our practices we’re happy to offer a solution focused approach if that’s what you’re looking for. We naturally have some criticisms of this approach though as there is no exploration of the past and underlying issues. While it’s completely understandable that someone would want to solve a problem and move on with their life, that paints a scientifically incorrect picture of how your mind works.
How can we work towards a strong, resilient solution if we don’t understand how you got here? What are the major risk factors to your mental health? If you lacked support growing up, how well can you give it to yourself? If you’re struggling with a number of interconnected issues, we may be able to apply a solution focused lens to one domain, but still work more deeply in others.
Psychotherapy will always be tailored to the individual and at your consult you get to discuss and learn about what the process can look like with your therapist.