The need for an alternative approach to therapy was recognized as mental health practitioners began to observe the amount of energy, time, money, and other resources spent discussing and analyzing the challenges revealed during the therapy process, while the issues originally bringing an individual to therapy continued to have a negative impact. Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg of the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, along with their team, developed solution-focused brief therapy in the early 1980s in response to this observation. SFBT aims to develop realistic solutions as quickly as possible, rather than keeping people in therapy for long periods of time, in order to promote lasting relief for those in therapy. Find a Therapist Advanced Search
SFBT developed into the fast, effective treatment modality it is today over approximately three decades, and it continues to evolve and change in order to meet the needs of those in therapy. Currently, therapists in the United States, Canada, South America, Asia, and Europe are trained in the approach. The principles of solution-focused therapy have been applied to a wide variety of environments including schools, places of employment, and other settings where people are eager to reach personal goals and improve interpersonal relationships.
SFBT has been used successfully in individual therapy and with both families and couples. Developed with the primary intention of helping those in therapy to find solutions to challenges, the approach has expanded to address issues in other areas of life, such as schools and workplaces. Individuals from different cultures, backgrounds, and age groups have all been shown to benefit from this type of therapy.
Research has shown SFBT may be a helpful intervention for youth who are experiencing behavioral concerns or academic/school-related concerns. It has also proven effective as an approach to family therapy and couples counseling. This method is often used in conjunction with other approaches.
To be eligible for consideration, all applicants must be able to practice solution-focused therapy in a professional setting. This means counselors, therapists, teachers, coaches, or other applicants who work with people to improve their mental health must have access to a professional environment deemed suitable by the training institute. Individual IASTI member institutes have specific requirements for acceptance into the certification program.
While there are a number of people in therapy and practitioners who report the effectiveness of solution-focused brief therapy, some concerns have, over the years, presented themselves. One major criticism of the modality is that its quick, goal-oriented nature may not allow therapists the necessary time to empathize with what people in treatment are experiencing. As such, those in therapy may feel misunderstood if the therapist is not meeting them on their emotional level.
Professional counselors apply a variety of clinical approaches in their work, and there are hundreds of clinical counseling approaches to choose from. The most recent edition of The SAGE Encyclopedia of Theory in Counseling and Psychotherapy lists over 300 different approaches to counseling practice.1 So how do counselors come to know what approach is the right one for them? To answer that question, it is first necessary to understand that no one counseling approach is better than the rest. That is because counseling approaches are based upon theories about human function and change as opposed to hard evidence.
Determining whether one counseling approach works better than another is difficult, because there are so many variables to consider in the counseling process. For example, if we try to compare the effectiveness of two counselors applying the same theoretical model, there can be major differences in the counseling outcome due to differences in the clients' histories and situations, differences in the counselors' communication styles, and even differences in client and counselor mood on the day of the comparison.
Such differences are hard to control for experimentally, thus making it almost impossible to prove that one approach to counseling is the absolute best way. Without such proof, it becomes the responsibility of counselors to do all they can to see that the treatment model(s) they apply are the best ones to address each client's needs. That responsibility starts with becoming familiar with the models that have shown to be most beneficial in actual practice.
Cognitive: Cognitive counseling theories hold that people experience psychological and emotional difficulties when their thinking is out of sync with reality. When this distorted or "faulty" thinking is applied to problem-solving, the result understandably leads to faulty solutions. Cognitive counselors work to challenge their clients' faulty thinking patterns so clients are able to derive solutions that accurately address the problems they are experiencing. Currently preferred cognitive-theory-based therapies include cognitive behavior therapy, reality therapy, motivational interviewing, and acceptance and commitment therapy.
Behavioral: Behavioral counseling theories hold that people engage in problematic thinking and behavior when their environment supports it. When an environment reinforces or encourages these problems, they will continue to occur. Behavioral counselors work to help clients identify the reinforcements that are supporting problematic patterns of thinking and acting and replace them with alternative reinforcements for more desirable patterns. Currently preferred therapies based in behavior theory include behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, multimodal therapy and conjoint sex therapy.
Psychoanalytic: Psychoanalytic counseling theories hold that psychological problems result from the present-day influence of unconscious psychological drives or motivations stemming from past relationships and experiences. Dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns from the past have become unconscious "working models" that guide clients toward continued dysfunctional thought and behavior in their present lives. Psychoanalytic counselors strive to help their clients become aware of these unconscious working models so that their negative influence can be understood and addressed. Some currently preferred therapies grounded in psychoanalytic theory include psychoanalysis, attachment therapy, object relations therapy and Adlerian therapy.
Constructionist: Constructionist counseling theories hold that knowledge is merely an invented or "constructed" understanding of actual events in the world. While actual events in the world can trigger people's meaning-making processes, it is those meaning-making processes, rather than the events themselves, that determine how people think, feel and behave. Constructionist counselors work collaboratively with clients to examine and revise problematic client constructions of self, relationships and the world. Some currently preferred constructionist-theory-based therapy models include solution focused brief therapy, narrative therapy, feminist therapy, Eriksonian therapy and identity renegotiation counseling.
Systemic: Systemic counseling theories hold that thinking, feeling and behavior are largely shaped by pressures exerted on people by the social systems within which they live. Accordingly, individual thinking, feeling and behavior are best understood when examined in relationship to the role they play within a person's family or other important social networks. Systemically focused counselors work to revise social network dynamics that influence a client's undesirable thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Some currently preferred therapies drawing from systemic theory include structural family therapy, strategic family therapy, human validation process family therapy and Gottman method couples therapy.
Most counselors will find that some therapy models are a particularly good fit, while others may not be a good fit at all. Consequently, they are most likely to apply those models in counseling practice that fall within their "comfort/competency zone" and avoid those that do not. When confronted with client situations that fall outside of their zone of comfort and/or competency, counselors must decide between (a) working to expand their comfort/competency zone to include alternative models more appropriate to the client's needs or (b) referring the client to another counselor who is more comfortable and competent in the needed alternative models.
The esteemed faculty in the Online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counseling in William & Mary's School of Education help aspiring counselors choose the counseling theories and approaches that best fit with their personal and professional strengths and preferences. Explore our paths in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Military and Veterans Counseling (a specialization within Clinical Mental Health Counseling) and School Counseling.
Julie,It sounds like you had some awful experiences. I agree that courts should not coerce individuals into any type of treatment. Although it can be helpful on occasion, one should be able to opt out of such interventions. Also, while your experiences are obviously different and adverse as you say, fundamentally most counseling approaches do not advocate for individuals being broken or creating dependence. I agree counseling is definitely not a cure-all and should be approached multidimensionally and explore other aspects of self care. Take care of yourself Julie.
According to Psychology Today, therapists use solution-focused brief therapy to help people of all ages address everything from normal, everyday stressors to high-impact life events, including child behavioral problems, family dysfunction, domestic or child abuse, drug addiction or alcohol use disorder, and marriage or relationship challenges. A solution-focused brief therapy approach is not recommended as treatment for some acute or severe mental health disorders. 2b1af7f3a8