What You Need to Know About Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT)

What is Solution-Focused Therapy?

            Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT) is a form of counseling or psychotherapy that focuses on discovering solutions by drawing from personal strength and resources. Most traditional therapies focus on problems and traumas in the past; SFT looks toward the future and takes a goal-oriented approach. This form of therapy can be extremely beneficial in certain situations.

Use Cases for SFT

Solution-Focused Therapy has been successful in treating a broad range of mental health challenges including depression, anxiety, relationship struggles, and addiction. Especially applicable in situations where clients are looking to reach a specific goal, SFT looks for realistic, workable solutions that can be accomplished within a reasonable timeframe. Although not appropriate for most major psychiatric disorders, such as psychosis and schizophrenia, SFT is an effective method for relieving stress and helping people discover and access their own personal strengths and internal resources.

The SFT Approach

Solution-focused therapists operate under the understanding that people generally acquire default problem patterns based on past experiences—and default solution patterns to address them. Rather than focus on the problems themselves, SFT critically evaluates clients’ default solution patterns for areas requiring growth or refinement. The theory emphasizes the constant nature of change and the need for individuals to be willing to change themselves, coupled with the belief that they possess the internal resources to do so.

Common Techniques and Interventions

Some of the questions and techniques used in Solution-Focused Therapy include the following:

  • Goal Development Questions – The first step of SFT is to establish at least one attainable goal. Once a goal has been selected, clients are encouraged to imagine in detail what their life will look like when that goal has been accomplished. With the therapist’s guidance, the client’s life experiences are explored for a time when at least some part of this goal may already have been realized. The therapist helps the client unearth the circumstances or behavior that may have contributed to that realization.
    • Coping Questions – The focus of this aspect of SFT is helping individuals recognize their own resilience in the face of difficulty. The question may be posed as: “How do you manage to fulfill your daily obligations, in spite of the challenges you’re facing?” Often, this line of questioning will help individuals recognize inner resources they weren’t fully aware they could access.
    • Presupposing Change – Similar to the previous intervention, this question focuses on recognizing ways in which a client has successfully managed the struggle they’re facing. Seeking to address the common human tendency to focus on problems while ignoring positive changes, this technique promotes appreciation of all growth—no matter how small—as progress. An example of how this question might be posed is: “What’s different or better since I saw you last?” If the client struggles to answer, or believes there hasn’t been any positive change, a therapist may help guide them with follow-up questions such as: “Why hasn’t this situation become worse than it is? What prevented a total disaster? How did you manage to keep it together?” This line of questioning is designed to lead the client to recognize the impact of self-efficacy while maintaining a positive and optimistic outlook on their situation.
    • Exceptions to the Problems – SFT reasons that there are exceptions in a person’s life where the specific problem or issue being addressed in therapy is not present. An example of this could be an individual who suffers from excruciating social anxiety but feels comfortable with fellow church members. The therapist might prod the client into considering what is different during these times, which can help guide the client in recognizing solutions they’ve already uncovered and may be able to transfer into other areas of life. Furthermore, because mental health challenges can often cause us to feel overwhelmed and helpless, simply recognizing areas that are not affected can be extremely empowering for a client.
    • Strength Finders – This activity asks clients to focus on a time where they felt their strongest and most capable. Clients are asked to highlight the strengths that were present when life was going well, and to reflect on how those strengths contributed. As the client recognizes their inner strengths, the therapist can help them brainstorm how these positive traits could be part of the solution to their present problem.

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