From the time that I was introduced to the Solution Focused Approach I was told it is a strength-based approach. However, this description has never felt quite right to me and somehow feels like an inaccurate characterization of what a Solution Focused Brief Therapist is doing in session. Since I have not been able to articulate as to why I had these feelings I have not made my thoughts on this subject known. However, recently things have become clearer to me and this made me want to share my thoughts.

Over the years I have met several wonderful clinicians that described themselves, and their work with clients, as strengths based. As I have talked with these professionals over the years I have come realize that we may not be doing the same thing in session. For example, I was recently meeting with one such professional and discussing how they work in session and it made the picture of the differences become more clear for me.

In session, when using a strengths based approach, the clinician is interested in assessing the client for their strengths and resources so the client will become more skilled in using those traits to conquer a current or future problem. A Solution Focused professional will be engaged in a very different task. While solution building the practitioner is not assessing for anything, including strengths. Instead the SFBT therapist is talking to the client as if they have the inherent strengths needed to engage in the conversation and subsequently resolve the problems that triggered the need for therapy as the go about the task of creating their preferred future. The therapist does not need to have any understanding of the client strengths and thus does not need to assess for them, simply ask questions as if those strengths are there.

This may seem like a subtle difference but to me it is quiet significant. This difference will impact the type of questions that are developed in session and the way the professional goes about doing their work. More importantly, the client experiences a heightened sense of agency and becomes aware of their own strengths without the therapist leading the conversation. It makes more sense to me to describe SFBT as a “strength reliant” approach due to the fact that an SFBT therapist is completely relying on the client’s strengths and skills and functions with a total sense of trust that the client has these strengths within them to carry forward.

I am curious what others in the SFBT community think of this.


Elliott Connie