What is Solution Focused Therapy?

Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is a future focused, goal directed approach to ‘brief’ therapy. Developed in the early 1980’s, it is a highly disciplined pragmatic approach to change. Early roots leading to modern day SFBT can be seen in the work of Milton Erickson and in the early work of the Mental Research Institution in Palo Alto.

Aspects of SFBT and CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) overlap; both focus on thoughts and actions and both can be used to good effect in conjunction with many other approaches. Combining SFBT with Hypnotherapy results in a powerful therapy that enables the client to make changes and achieve their goals in a relaxed way.

Milton Erickson told the very simple story of a client who was totally unable to solve a particular problem. Erickson guided the client into a trance and then invited him to imagine travelling forward in time, actually six months into the future, to a point where the problem no longer existed. He then asked the client to remind himself (at that future point in time) of how he had solved that former problem. When the client emerged from trance he announced he had a solution. The client’s subconscious mind had generated a solution even though the client had consciously been unable to find one. The same happens when a person has forgotten a name, say of an actor, and some hours later that name will just appear in the mind without consciously thinking about it. It’s the subconscious that has found the answer.

Erickson was very fond of saying “You are all capable of far more than you think you are. You have all the answers to all the questions you will ever ask, already inside you”.

No problem happens all the time

This tenet, following the notion of problem transience, reflects the major intervention that can be used continuously; that people always display exceptions to their problems albeit sometimes only for a short period of time. Utilising the client’s feelings from this time frame enables positive feelings to be captured and built upon.

This helps reinforce to the client what will be different when the problem is resolved. It enables the client to vocalise on how they want to feel and this helps construct small manageable steps towards change.

The future is both created and negotiable

Knowing that a person’s future can be created and changed, or negotiated, offers a powerful basis for the practice of SFBT. People are not seen as locked into a set of behaviours based on history, a social stratum or a psychological past. It suggests that the future is a hopeful place where people are architects of their own destiny and realising this enables a person to take control.

In working with SFBT, it is the therapist’s role to know where the client wants to get to and discover their motivation. Attempting to understand the cause of a problem is not necessary, or particularly useful in some cases. Discussing the problem can be actively unhelpful as it takes the client into the negative part of the brain rather than the solution focused area. It is often the case that the person simply wants to do without the problem and move forward.

Jonathan Cohen pioneered ‘neuro-economics’; considering the neural forces that drive both rational and irrational forces – often the conflict between the high road and the low road’s activity. Cohen’s brain scans show that the more powerful the low road’s activity, the less rational the reactions, the more active the high road is, (the prefrontal cortex) the more balanced the outcome.

Taking the client into a positive frame of mind allows change and motivation.

The brain is plastic!

When we are cheerful the left prefrontal cortex lights up, when we are distressed the right prefrontal cortex is at work. Even when we are in a neutral mood the ratio of background activity in our right and left prefrontal areas is a remarkably accurate gauge of the range of emotions typically experienced. People with more right side activity are particularly prone to ‘down’ or upsetting moments while those with more left side activity generally have happier days. But this is not fixed, each of us has an innate temperament, but the set point is not fixed because the brain is like plastic. In fact, Neuroscience now talks about how Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how the brain changes throughout our lives!

There have been experiments at the University of California with depressed patients being taught to view their own thoughts in a positive and different way, with positive results.

This suggests that the positive state is a skill that can be trained.