Solution-Focused Therapy

What is solution focused therapy?

Solution focused therapy is a type of talk therapy where the primary focus is on finding solutions to problems.

Unlike many other therapy types, solution focused therapy tends not to involve pulling apart the detail of the problem, or understanding the underlying issues that led to the formation of the problem. Rather, solution focused therapy is a short-term intervention. It aims to rapidly generate workable solutions, and thus relieve clients of distress quickly.

What solution focused therapy can help with

Solution focused therapy can help with a wide range of issues in individual, couples and family therapy contexts. Although not exhaustive, some examples of the kinds of problems solution focused therapy can help with includes:

Further research is required to clarify the mixed evidence suggesting that solution focused therapy might also help with:

Solution focused therapy is generally not recommended for more serious mental health problems, like schizophrenia or severe depression. In such cases, participation in other evidence-based therapies is more appropriate.

Effectiveness of solution focused therapy  

Results of available studies suggest that solution focused therapy can be an effective short-term form of therapy for people with behavioral and psychological problems. However, it’s difficult to make a definitive statement about its effectiveness as it has not yet been researched in great depth.

Solution focused therapy is generally not recommended for people who are experiencing serious mental health disorders, nor for those who want to focus on better understanding their problem and the factors underlying it.

How solution focused therapy works

The aim of solution focused therapy is to find workable solutions to problems quickly, and in doing so, limit the time you spend caught up in the problem. For this process to be effective, solution focused therapy assumes that when you come to therapy you will already be:

You and your therapist will work closely together to clarify the problem and generate possible solutions.

Solutions tend to be related to your personal strengths or skills that you already have. This differs from other types of therapy where the focus is on learning new skills.

Several techniques can be used to help you to generate potential solutions. Your therapist might help you to look for exceptions. This involves identifying a situation where the problem was not evident or affecting you and determining why that situation was different. Next, you would consider how those differences could be used to solve the current problem.

Additionally, you might work together to identify something you did to solve a previous problem. Often, people find that previous solutions can also help to solve current ones. You and your therapist will use the information gathered to set goals and agree on strategies for implementing the solutions.

Frequency of solution focused therapy sessions

The frequency of solution focused therapy sessions depends on your individual circumstances and the problems that you are experiencing.

There is a firm emphasis on experimenting and trying out the proposed solutions in between sessions, where a great deal of change takes place.

As such, it would not be unusual for solution focused therapy sessions to be less frequent than other forms of talk therapy.

Length of solution focused therapy treatment

Because of the focus on finding solutions based on your existing abilities, solution focused therapy tends to be quite a short-term type of therapy.

You may have just one session, or many. One study, for example, found that five sessions of solution focused therapy can be effective.  

In other instances, solution focused therapy might be a therapeutic strategy incorporated to help an overall longer-term type of treatment.  

You and your therapist will decide together, based on your individual circumstance and progress, when the appropriate time is to end therapy.

Structure of solution focused therapy sessions

Although it varies, solution focused therapy sessions tend to be around 45-50 minutes in length, and involve a high level of participation on your part.

In the initial session, you will usually work with your therapist to clarify the problem you are experiencing and agree on the goals for solution focused therapy. The emphasis is on understanding the current problem enough to be able to generate solutions for the future.

In later sessions, you’ll review how successfully the solutions (which you apply in between sessions) have solved the problem. You might then need to collaborate to generate additional solutions based on your existing skills and strengths, and review progress towards therapy goals.

What happens in a typical solution focused therapy session

Throughout therapy, sessions tend to be focused on the present or future-oriented, with little focus on the past. A typical solution focused therapy session might include the following elements, which require a high level of active participation on your part:

What to look for in a therapist for solution focused therapy

The best way to gauge how you might feel about your prospective therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. Most therapists will be happy to do so. This gives you the opportunity to ask about your therapist’s: