Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)

What is Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)?


The Solution Focused Universe (SFU) Training Organisation, the world’s biggest training institution, that I have been part of since its inception, made the following statement:

Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is a therapeutic approach that was developed by Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg, and their colleagues in the 1980’s. SFBT is an evidence-based approach that is effective at helping clients from any background and with various presenting problems. SFBT is a radical approach to helping clients that asks clients to focus their attention on the future they would like to design and create rather than continuing to focus on other problem-related concerns. This language-based approach encourages therapists to view each client as resourceful and competent, while they co-construct (work with) their clients to move forward into the life they would like to live. SFBT therapists ask detail-oriented questions that get clients thinking in new and more adaptive ways. After engaging in change-oriented conversations many clients report feeling warmly understood and empowered to use their agency and autonomy to make necessary changes in their lives that are in line with their desired outcome for therapy. This respectful and collaborative approach doesn’t further traumatize clients or require them to wade through heartache and pain. Instead, SFBT helps clients expand their vision of who they are and what they are capable of accomplishing.

Unfortunately, there are a few misconceptions about this approach.


Misconceptions and facts

The name, Solution Focused Brief Therapy, originated in the eighties. Since then, the therapy has evolved and there are several variations of the original therapy. Unfortunately, the name is a misrepresentation of the current variations in use. And partly this also led to a few myths.


“Solution” in Solution Focused Brief Therapy.


Misconception: The word “Solution” might imply to some that the aim of therapy is to provide a solution to clients or that the therapist should help clients to find solutions themselves. Furthermore, this implies that there are always solutions to problems.

None of this is true. Of course, not all human problems have solutions. Psychological therapy can’t cure a chronic or terminal disease, nor can it bring back a family member who passed away.

Therapy, including Solution Focused Brief Therapy, can of course help you to deal with these issues.

Fact: Solution Focused Brief Therapy does FOCUS on strengths, skills, abilities and resources of the client.

Misconception: SFBT ignores problems.

Fact: We ALL have two storylines. The one storyline is of problems, mistakes, negativity, suffering, trauma, setback, failures, weaknesses etc. It is in our nature to be very much aware of this storyline. Few people need to be encouraged to further explore this storyline. We often revisit these. When a person is asked to make a list of their strengths and weaknesses, the overall majority of people are very quick to make a long list of weaknesses but find it very difficult to come up with strengths.

The second storyline is that of strengths, skills, abilities and resources, where we succeed and get things right. For most people this storyline doesn’t come naturally. It is also to be expected to be less aware, or even unaware of this storyline, when you face hardship.

As a SFBT therapist it is then my job to acknowledge BOTH storylines, but to amplify the second one. One storyline without the other will never be healthy. But is the emphasis is almost exclusively on the first one, a client hardly moves forward.

Often this means that we must constantly move between the two storylines.


“Brief” in Solution Focused Brief Therapy.

Misconception: The word “brief” might imply to some that SFBT necessarily is of short duration. And the next conclusion often made, is thus it is superficial or a “surface based” approach.

Fact: SFBT is designed not to last one session more than necessary. It is indeed, as mentioned in the name, FOCUSED. For some it might mean 1 session and for other 56 sessions, but there are no prescribed number of sessions or a course of therapy to be completed in order to get results.


SFBT is not “scientifically or evidence based”.

Myth: Due to the above misconceptions and SFBT being one of the newer therapies, especially the current versions of it, it led to the myth that it is not “scientifically or evidence based”.

Facts: this is simply not true and cannot be further away from the truth!


Summary of research


This is a summary of research on SFBT as reported by the Institute for Solution Focused Therapy:


  • There have been approximately 150 randomized clinical trials with SFBT (RCTs, the “gold standard” of clinical research);
  • There are eight meta-analyses on the effectiveness of SFBT;
  • Effect-sizes found in these meta-analyses are in the low to high range, suggesting that SFBT is an effective approach for the populations studied.
  • The research was done with a variety of clinical populations and presenting problems, and was done in “real world” settings, so the results are more generalizable.
  • SFBT’s effectiveness is equivalent to or greater than other evidence-based practices, such as Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy and Interpersonal Psychotherapy.
  • While effect sizes are similar to other evidence-based approaches, these effects are attained in fewer sessions, averaging about five sessions and rarely extending over eight or ten.
  • Process research shows that the language mechanisms underlying SFBT is different from other approaches with which it is sometimes compared.


Please consult a list of the references that this summary is based on: