What is Solution Focused Approach (SFA) and how does it work?

Solution focused approach

  1. Is a set of conversational tools that help build rapid desired change in many different areas involving people and the relationships they have, ranging from business to therapy.
  2. Contains a mind-set, characterized by a set of assumptions that are radically different from most other approaches helping people and organizations move forward. Such assumptions are: the belief that people (or organizations, from now on referred to as clients) already have the resources and capabilities necessary, to make the (positive) changes they want for themselves. Throughout the solution-focused conversation, clients (together with their solution-focused practitioner) discover and highlight these resources. The relationship between the practitioner and client is a partnership, in which the expert position about the client’s life, situation or preferred future, goes to the latter. Another assumption is that change is happening all the time. By working towards building progress, we spot and amplify useful change. The third assumption that makes SF so different from other approaches is that it seeks descriptions instead of explanations and that it constantly strives towards staying on the surface (not seeking underlying meanings). It is mostly interested in what happens in a conversation between two (or more) people (instead of being interested in introvert processes, expert opinions or underlying theories about how mind, body and/or emotion work).
  3. Uses simple language and adjusts to the client’s context, words and aspirations. It also strives towards simplicity and minimalism, i.e. doing more with less (more outcomes with fewer interventions) and is considerably briefer. This is why it is highly valuable among people and organizations requesting fast ways forward, effective solutions, or immediate intervention with lasting consequences.

What we do in the SF practice: we focus on what works, explore desired future or outcomes and track past successes, situations and experience with the aim to discover, amplify and strengthen the existing abilities, strategies and resources. SF practitioners co-create together with their clients, spot useful change and track progress in a way that the client decides upon what is useful and how much is enough. In so doing, SF practitioners take the “not knowing” position, which enables them to stay close to the client’s descriptions, evaluations, preferences and steps forward. The tools with which SF practitioners help their clients reach their preferred outcome are solution-focused questions and techniques such as the “best hopes” question, the “miracle” question and scaling. Applying these techniques together with the mind-set described above, as well as striving towards doing more with less intervention from the side of SF practitioner, is a powerful process of creation that focuses on the possibilities, solutions and future, instead of problems or problem causes in the past.

What we do not do in SF practice: have a theory about what is (really) going on, analyse the problem, its underlying causes and consequences, focus on the weaknesses and what is wrong. We do not provide expert opinion, advice, assessment or suggestions. We also do not set goals or strive towards action steps, unless it is clients’ wish to do so for themselves.


As a scientist, of course before even starting to learn SFA, I was curious about its efficacy – does it actually work? Only a brief yes was not enough for me, so I’ve done a bit of research in this area prior to learning. Found out that plenty surveys and research has been conducted in the field of efficacy of the approach and most of them agree, it is at least as effective as any other therapeutic approach, if not more (see for example Gingerich, W. J. & Peterson, L. T. (2013). Effectiveness of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: A Systematic Qualitative Review of Controlled Outcome Studies. Research on Social Work Practice, [online version], p. 1-18.; as well as http://www.sfbta.org/PDFs/researchDownloads/SFT.pdf for detailed description on most recent and past surveys about SFBT).

Links you might find interesting:

What does a Solution Focused Session look like?

client’s feedback

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