Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

“Problem talk creates problems, Solution talk creates solutions.”

Steve de Shazer

“We are partly empty. We have deficiencies. We are also partly full. We have capacities”.

John McKnight, The Careless Society

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is a therapeutic model and interviewing skill set that uses open-ended questions to identify solutions rather than an exhaustive examination of problems. As the name suggests, SFBT is future-focused, goal-directed, and focuses on solutions, rather than on the problems.

SFBT proposes that a person who has the capacity to describe something as a problem also has the capacity to describe what “better” means.  SFBT also helps youth and families focus on what they want to achieve through the work rather than on the problem(s) that made them seek help in the first place.

We learned a long time ago that when there is a problem, many professionals spend a great deal of time thinking, talking, and analyzing the problems, while the suffering goes on. It occurred to a team of mental health professionals at the Brief Family Therapy Center that so much time and energy, as well as many resources, are spent on talking about problems, rather than thinking about what might help us to get to solutions that would bring on realistic, reasonable relief as quickly as possible.

Problems do not happen all the time. Even the most chronic problems have periods or times when the difficulties do not occur or are less intense. By uncovering these times when problems are less severe or even absent, people do many positive things that they are not fully aware of. By bringing these small successes into their awareness and repeating the successful things they do when the problem is less severe, people improve their lives and become more confident about themselves. SFBT does not ignore small successes. These small successes help a person become more hopeful about themselves and their life. Becoming more hopeful makes one desirous of achieving more. When one is more hopeful, they become more interested in creating a better life for themselves and their families.

Because these solutions appear occasionally and are already within the person, repeating these successful behaviors is easier than learning a whole new set of solutions that may have worked for someone else. Thus, the brief part was born. Since it takes less effort, people can readily become more eager to repeat the successful behaviors and make further changes.

SFBT is simple to learn, but difficult to practice because our old learning gets in the way. The model continues to evolve and change. It is increasingly taken out of the therapy or counseling room and applied in a wide variety of settings where people want to get along or work together.


Executive Director Penelope Griffith has been training workers and other organizations for years in SFBT. Using the 5 tenets below as a guaranteed way of getting to a solution.

Goal Formulation

  • What would have to be different as a result of our time today for you to say that our meeting today was worth your time?

Exception Finding

  • Exceptions are times when problems could have happened but did not.
  • What is different when the problem does not occur?
  • What would have to happen for you to do it more often?

Miracle Question

  • Exceptions are times when problems could have happened but did not.
  • What is different when the problem does not occur?
  • What would have to happen for you to do it more often?

Scaling Question

  • Scaling questions invites the participant to employ measuring and tracking of their own experience, in a non-threatening way.
  • Use a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest.


  • Participants are more likely to engage when strengths are noticed and compliments, large and small, are noticed and communicated.
  • Compliments are used throughout the session to build trust and openness.