It has often been said that the Solution Focused Approach is easy to learn but hard to do, and I would have to agree. Thinking back to the time when I was introduced to SFBT, there has always been something about this method that made sense to me. The theoretical orientation of this just jumped off of the pages of the books and articles I was reading, and I knew this was the way I was supposed to be working.
However, no matter how much I understood the theory of the approach, nothing really prepared me to do it in session with actual clients other than practice, lots of practice. I saw clients while working in an agency and I saw clients while working in private practice. I’ve seen clients in group settings, in couples therapy and of course individual counseling. I have also seen clients from problems that are on the highest end on the severity scale all the way to the lowest.
Eventually something stood out to me and has had a significant on the way share this approach with those that are looking to improve or sharpen their skills. What I noticed in all of those experiences above was that the process of SFBT in session didn’t change. Meaning, in SFBT, there is no difference in the way we conduct sessions with someone who is looking to overcome depression or a couple that has experienced infidelity.
No matter what, the first task of the clinician using this approach is to establish the desired outcome for the therapy, then to elicit a detailed description about the presence of that desired outcome, and then to close the session with feedback and possibly a suggestion or two.
This is part of what makes the Solution Focused Approach so different from the problem focused ways of working. Most approaches are impacted significantly by the problem that brought the client into therapy (even though there is almost no research supporting that matching intervention to symptom is effective).
So then, what is the best way to learn this approach? The answer is clear; it is not so much about learning how to do it with this problem or that symptom. It is better to learn SFBT as a language, to become fluent in this way of talking so that it does not matter what problem brought a person (group or couple) into therapy. Your role remains the same and that is to walk the client through a solution building conversation.
But here’s the trick: you have to trust the process, you have to trust that the client has the capacity to change, and you have to have confidence in your ability to develop questions in the session. That is why my events and training materials are rarely “SFBT with….” Instead, I focus on the language and develop events and materials designed to help you become fluent in this approach.
I invite you to pursue learning this approach as a process language and not just the techniques, and to pursue fluency in SFBT instead of trying to become an expert on client problems. Build up your trust in yourself as well as your client, that is where the true essence of this approach becomes apparent.