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:
- Relationship challenges
- Family difficulties
- Behavior problems, like drug or alcohol use
- Problems at school or work
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:
- Motivated to participate in the process of generating solutions
- Willing to make changes
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:
- The therapist might ask you a lot of questions, to both clarify the problem and to encourage the generation of potential solutions. A classic question commonly posed in solution focused therapy is called “The miracle question,” which asks you to consider what you would be doing differently if a miracle solved your problem overnight. The aim of this is to encourage creative thinking about possible solutions.
- The therapist might help you to increase your awareness of what is changing, the progress made, and positive aspects of your current experience.
- The therapist might focus on your strengths, existing skills, and ability to solve problems.
- Before the end of each session, you’ll set goals and plans for implementing the solutions. You’ll probably also evaluate your progress towards solving the problem, perhaps giving a rating on a scale from 1 to 10.
What to look for in a therapist for solution focused therapy
- Look for a mental health professional with a current license; this ensures that your therapist has completed the appropriate level of education to practice.
- You might prefer to look for a therapist who has completed specialized training in solution focused therapy. The International Alliance of Solution-Focused Teaching Institutes (IASTI) provides accredited training that therapists must complete in order to be certified IASTI practitioners.
- One of the limitations of solution focused therapy is that less emphasis is given to the development of a strong working relationship between the client and the therapist. Nonetheless, this relationship, called the “therapeutic alliance” can have a significant impact on the effect of therapy. Therefore, it’s important to look for a therapist with whom you feel comfortable working.
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:
- IASTI training
- Experience with solution focused therapy
- What therapy with them will be like
- Their participation in insurance plans
- Cost of therapy