Solution Focused Therapy simplified


Quick summary: Solution focused is based on the idea that if you get people to start solving and to stop over analyzing the problem they will be more likely to reach a resolution in the present and they will be more likely to seek out solutions or to put the majority of there perceptual energy towards solutions in the future. In short if you focus on problems – you live within problems… if you focus on solutions – you live within solutions. I have outlined techniques to help people to use this method.


The basic components of the Solution focused method – theories and such…


If people start using solutions they will be rewarded naturally and the person will therefore engage in more solution-oriented behaviors. The idea is to get some momentum behind the process of solving. 


Postmodernism = we create our own reality.

  • This means that if you focus on problems then problems become your reality. If you choose to focus your attention (consciously and subconsciously) on isolating problems then you reality (which is your subjective perception) will be made up of problems. 
  • Solutions – with the help of the therapist, clients learn to focus on solutions. They will then look for solutions in their world as opposed to constantly looking for problems.


Therapist directs the clients toward solutions – though postmodernism-based interventions are not inherently theories which suggest that a therapist is an expert, solution focused interventions require the therapist to be very active in directing all communication away problem saturated narrative and towards solution-saturated narratives.

Systemic – this theory suggest that if you offer positive change or a solution into a family system then there will be a ripple effect in which other parts of the system will begin to focus on solutions.

Strength based – This theory is far more concerned with investigating and accenting strengths and hopes then with diagnosing a problem.

Successful treatment – resolution is created by adding solutions as opposed to removing problems.

The goal is to help the client to focus on the positives that will arrive in their future as they focus their attention on solutions.



Techniques – what a therapist can do to help people to live with a solution oriented mindset.


Miracle question – the therapist asks, “When you wake up and everything is resolved what will you notice… what changes will be present… what solutions will be used?”

  • It is important for the therapist to model the use of definitive language by saying ‘will’ instead of ‘could’… this increases hope.
  • I also like the questions, “when you are all done with therapy and we say goodbye what will you notice that has entered into your life?”


Scaling questions – the client is asked to rate their current circumstance on a scale of 1 – 10. Example, “how is your communication with your wife right now with one being perfectly bad and 10 being perfectly good?”

  • After a number is reported by the client the therapist will ask a solution oriented question such as, “what will be happening when we raise your number by just one point?”

Deconstruction – break down the solution into more manageable parts. If the solution was “to have a clean house” then the therapist would help the clients to break down the necessary steps to do so (put away clothes, buy dish soap, assign chores etc).

Coping Questions – these questions offer a space for the therapist to empathize with the client’s emotional reaction to the problem while gently redirecting the focus to a client’s strength or resilience.

  • Example “with all the pain you are holding from the passing of your mom how have you been so strong as to successfully care for the needs of your children?” or this could be phrased as a statement … “I am impressed with your motherly abilities in the face of the hardship that you are going through.” 


Strength based questions – the therapist will have the clients list their own strength and the strengths of their family members. The therapist will ask what strengths can be used in assisting the defined solutions.

Hope – hope is talked about openly. Ex. “what are you hopeful about?”

Gently redirect clients back to solutions – when a client derails into a problem saturated narrative the therapist will say something like, “I can tell that this is difficult for you and you really want me to understand to effects of this problem, I can help you best if we can allow ourselves to focus on solutions… when things are just a little better what will you notice?” Some therapists are less concerned with being gentle and might say something like,” we are talking about problems again… what is a small step you will make towards a solution?”


Encourage a focus away from the belief that problems have an external origin. “What can you do to help with the solution?”

Internal focus – Encourage people to identify the changes that they can make as opposed to focusing on the changes that their partner or other family members could make. 


Unique Outcomes – address hopelessness, which often arises from over-generalizations, with contrary examples. Ex. He never shows affection… the therapist would help the couple to find a time when affection was displayed. 

Find what you are doing right and do it more.

A deeper understanding of the problem is not necessary – change the focus to the solution. History, emotional impact of the problem etc are not particularly necessary in this approach.

Validate solutions that exist.

Acknowledge positive change.

Encourage and utilize definitive language – ex “I will start to be more involved.” as opposed, “I could be or if I am to be more involved”


“problem based thinking is the problem… solution based thinking is the solution”

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.
William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

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