One of the therapies that I find most helpful in working with clients is Solution Focused Brief Therapy. In this type of therapy, the emphasis is not on how a problem has developed but on the problem at hand in the here and now. Some people avoid beginning therapy, thinking that it must go on for a very long time, and long hours of revisiting childhood are required. While it is enlightening to understand the background of a problem, solution focused therapy, developed in the late 1970’s by Milwaukee social workers Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, is a practical approach that dives right into the now.
The solution focused therapist joins with the client or family in problem solving rather than being the remote observer who has the answers to the situation. SFT looks at not only what is going wrong, but what is going right. A useful question might be “Why are things not worse?” rather than “Why are things so bad? Another useful approach in SFT is to ask “the miracle question”—“What would things look like if a miracle occurred and this problem was solved?” Sometimes we get so rehearsed in the narrative of what is wrong that we lose vision of what it would take to make things right.
Sometimes clients become impatient at how long it can take for a bad situation to improve. The therapist’s role is to be alert to even very small changes that indicate things are changing. Even a very small improvement can keep hope alive. A large vehicle cannot change directions immediately but turns into the changed direction. That is also how many problems are resolved—turning toward a change and knowing what that change is supposed to look like so that we can actually recognize it when it happens.
Expecting a child to keep a disastrous room neat may begin with putting clothes into a dirty clothes basket rather than throwing them on the floor. Recovering from debilitating panic attacks may begin with awareness of a body part that signals the first signs of anxiety, like a nervous tic or a feeling in the stomach. Overcoming the self sabotage of procrastination may begin with opening each day’s mail. Mending a relationship may begin with nothing more than saying hello first.
Solution focused therapy refuses to stay stuck on the negative aspects of a problem and the rigid ways we may have come to view things. It shakes up our perception of a situation as a problem and turns our focus toward what we do want and to celebrate the parts that are actually working. Once again, it all begins with asking the right questions.