History of Solution Focused Brief Therapy

How Solution Focused Brief Therapy began
The origins of Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) date back to the early 1980s and the Brief Family Therapy Centre in Milwaukee, USA, where Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg and colleagues explored how best to facilitate change in people’s lives. They observed hundreds of hours of therapy, carefully noting the questions and client answers that led to client’s achieving real-life change. They observed that there were often exceptions to patterns of problem behaviour, times when the problem was less apparent or even absent. Therapy time spent exploring these exceptions appeared to enable clients to notice possible solutions for moving forwards. This focus on what the client is already doing that works became one of the central tenets of SFBT. Another development was that the work increasingly focused on the client’s hopes for the future rather than problems in their past. As a consequence of this shift they noticed that the number of sessions decreased.

What influenced the development of Solution Focused Brief Therapy?
In the development of SFBT the Milwaukee team drew on a variety of sources including:

  • Systemic family therapy, with its interest in interactional patterns;
  • The work at the Mental Research Institute on developing brief therapy and changing behavioural patterns;
  • Milton Erikson and his interest in client beliefs and capacity to change;
  • The philosophical ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein on how people construct realities through language, suggesting that therapeutic dialogue has the capacity to construct new realities and ‘truths’ about how a person views, and so experiences, their life.

An evolving therapy approach?
The Milwaukee team continued to develop the approach over the subsequent twenty-five years, as have other professionals around the world including organisations such as the United Kingdom Association for Solution Focused Practice. The BRIEF team have been particularly influential and we are indebted to their training and ongoing support.

The SOFIA research project is part of this evolving process. We are exploring how best to adapt this abstract language-based approach so that it can work well with people who have a communication disability including those with very limited language.