Mental Health
What is Solution Focused Therapy?

What is Solution Focused Therapy?

5 min read


Megan Caligiuri

Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT) is a forward-looking therapeutic approach that helps individuals identify solutions and work toward their desired future. Instead of dwelling on past problems, SFT focuses on creating actionable steps to achieve goals and overcome challenges. It empowers clients by emphasizing their strengths, resources, and capacity for change.

What is Solution Focused Therapy?

Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT) is a goal-oriented and pragmatic therapeutic approach that seeks to help individuals identify and work toward solutions to their problems rather than dwelling on the problems themselves. It is built on three fundamental principles that guide both therapists and clients throughout the therapeutic process.

Future Focus: One of the core principles of SFT is its forward-looking perspective. In traditional therapy, much time can be spent analyzing the past and delving into the origins of problems. However, SFT shifts the focus to the future. Instead of fixating on the causes of their difficulties, clients are encouraged to envision their desired outcomes and goals. They are asked to imagine a future where the problem has significantly improved or been resolved entirely. This future-oriented thinking allows clients to tap into their own resources, creativity, and resilience to chart a path toward their preferred future.

Solution-Building: The heart of SFT lies in the process of building solutions. Therapists collaborate with clients to identify instances when the problem was less severe or even absent. These exceptions serve as valuable clues to understanding what is already working or what has worked in the past. By exploring these moments of success, clients can uncover their own strengths, coping strategies, and resources. Therapists then help clients apply these insights to their current challenges, fostering a sense of empowerment and self-efficacy. This approach is grounded in the belief that clients possess the skills and abilities needed to create positive change in their lives.

Small Steps and Incremental Change: SFT recognizes that significant change can often begin with small, manageable steps. Clients are encouraged to break down their goals into achievable tasks. By taking these incremental steps, clients experience a sense of progress and success along the way. This not only builds their confidence but also reinforces the belief that they are capable of making meaningful changes in their lives. The focus on small steps aligns with the principle of practicality and feasibility. SFT strives to provide clients with tangible and actionable strategies that they can implement in their daily lives.

Ready to find a therapist who specializes in Solution-Focused Therapy? Complete our free, confidential questionnaire to easily and quickly match with three personalized therapists or coaches.

What is the 'Miracle Question' in Solution Focused Therapy

The 'Miracle Question' is a powerful and imaginative tool used by therapists to help clients envision a future in which their problems have significantly improved or been resolved entirely. The purpose of the Miracle Question is to stimulate creative thinking, goal setting, and problem-solving by encouraging clients to explore their own vision of a preferred future.

The Miracle Question typically takes the following form:

"Suppose tonight while you sleep, a miracle happens, and the problem that brought you here is completely resolved. However, because you were asleep, you didn't know the miracle occurred. When you wake up tomorrow, what would be the first small signs that would make you think, 'Wow, something must have happened—the problem is gone?'"

This question encourages clients to vividly imagine a world without their current problem. By doing so, clients are prompted to identify concrete and specific changes they would notice in their lives. These changes often serve as the foundation for setting goals and creating a plan for moving forward.

The Miracle Question serves several essential purposes in Solution-Focused Therapy:

  1. Shifts Focus to Solutions: It redirects the client's attention away from the problem and toward potential solutions. This shift in perspective can be empowering and help clients see that change is possible.
  2. Encourages Goal Setting: The question prompts clients to articulate their desired outcomes. By identifying the first signs of improvement, clients begin to outline their goals and aspirations.
  3. Promotes Creativity: Clients are encouraged to engage their imagination to envision a better future. This imaginative process can spark creativity and inspire innovative solutions.
  4. Instills Hope: The Miracle Question instills a sense of hope by suggesting that positive change is not only possible but also within reach.
  5. Engages Client Collaboration: Clients actively participate in co-creating their path forward. They have the opportunity to voice their aspirations and preferences, making them active partners in the therapeutic process.

Overall, the Miracle Question is a key tool in Solution-Focused Therapy that helps clients explore their own solutions, set goals, and take steps toward a more positive and preferred future. It aligns with the core principles of SFT, which emphasize the client's strengths, resources, and capacity for change.

How is Solution Focused Therapy Different from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Solution Focused Therapy (SFT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are two distinct therapeutic approaches, each with its own unique principles and methods. While they share some common goals, such as helping clients make positive changes in their lives, they differ significantly in their underlying philosophies and techniques.

Focus on Problem vs. Solution

CBT: CBT places a strong emphasis on identifying and modifying negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to psychological distress. It often involves exploring and challenging cognitive distortions associated with problems.

SFT: In contrast, SFT focuses less on dissecting problems and more on exploring solutions. It encourages clients to envision their preferred future and identifies steps to move closer to that vision. SFT operates under the assumption that clients have the resources and abilities to create change.

Time Orientation

CBT: CBT often delves into the past to uncover the origins of current problems. It seeks to understand how past experiences may influence present thoughts and behaviors.

SFT: SFT is future-oriented. It acknowledges the importance of the past but primarily looks ahead, helping clients set goals and create a vision of a more satisfying future.

Role of the Therapist

CBT: CBT therapists play an active role in helping clients identify and challenge irrational thoughts and behaviors. They often assign homework and use structured exercises.

SFT: SFT therapists adopt a more collaborative and client-driven approach. They ask questions that guide clients in exploring their strengths, resources, and goals. The therapist's role is more that of a facilitator, and the client is seen as the expert in their own life.

Assessment of Progress

CBT: Progress in CBT is often measured by the reduction of symptoms and the modification of negative thought patterns and behaviors. Outcomes are typically evaluated through standardized assessments.

SFT: SFT evaluates progress by considering whether clients are moving closer to their preferred future and whether they are achieving their self-defined goals. Success is defined by the client's perception of improvement.

Problem Complexity

CBT: CBT is well-suited for addressing a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety disorders, depression, and phobias. It is effective for individuals with complex and long-standing problems.

SFT: SFT excels in helping clients with specific goals, life transitions, and situational challenges. It is often considered a brief and solution-focused approach, making it particularly suitable for clients seeking short-term therapy.

While both Solution Focused Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy aim to facilitate positive change, they employ different philosophies and methods to achieve this. CBT analyzes and challenges dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors, whereas SFT encourages clients to envision and work toward a preferred future by tapping into their strengths and resources. The choice between these approaches often depends on the client's goals, preferences, and the nature of their presenting issues.

Is Solutions-Focused Therapy Right for Me?

SFT is particularly suitable for individuals who seek practical and actionable solutions to their problems and those who prefer a future-focused approach to therapy. If you're looking to harness your strengths and resources to achieve your goals and improve your overall well-being, SFT may be a valuable choice.

Additionally, SFT can complement other therapeutic approaches. Some clients may begin with SFT to establish goals and solutions before transitioning to other forms of therapy that address deeper issues. It's important to consult with a qualified therapist who can assess your specific needs and guide you toward the most appropriate therapeutic approach.

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About the author

Megan 'Cali' Caligiuri is the Senior Growth Marketing Manager at MyWellBeing. As a seasoned marketing and creative leader with a passion for mental health, Cali is committed to reducing the stigma of therapy, easing the stress of connecting with the right practitioner, and empowering every individual to develop a more loving, healthy relationship with themselves and those around them.

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