Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is an approach to conversations that empowers both helpers and those they help. The approach brings with it a wealth of easily learned and adaptable techniques that will enhance your skills, in any professional context.
This course uses video lectures and will be of use if your work involves helping people tackle some aspect of their lives that has become problematic.
The concise video lessons in this course are supported by 'live session' video clips that both illustrate the techniques and demonstrate the effectiveness of SFBT in action. Each section is supported by a quiz to consolidate your learning, and there are downloadable PDFs and exercises to help you become more practiced and confident in using solution-focused skills in your conversations.
Who is it for?
Maybe your job is formally recognised as part of the helping professions because it involves supporting people (e.g. HR, social work, counselling or psychiatry).
Or perhaps you work or volunteer in a wider group which includes roles like advocacy, charity and aid work, the law, mediation, medicine, occupational health, probation, physiotherapy, social work, teaching, and many others.
Your primary role is not seen as caring or support, but your daily routine inevitably involves helping people in crisis or distress. You are one of many ‘informal helpers’ who use the same skills as the first group – essentially these are the skills of counselling – yet you have had little or no training to develop their helping skills.
A solution-focused conversation is a collaborative process. It is important to set the right tone, and to encourage equal participation. One of the hallmarks of solution-focused conversations is the relaxed, conversational style that practitioners adopt.
Use this introductory quiz to test your understanding of a few key points so far.
To reframe is to offer a new interpretation or viewpoint for an experience. It has the effect of challenging and introducing doubt into old, unproductive beliefs. By offering a reframe you demonstrate that you see the client’s situation and ideas as something other than fixed, rigid conditions.
Check your understanding of reframing as it was explained in this lecture.
When listening to a client's narrative about their problem or concern, it is easy to get swept up, just as they do, in the belief that the difficulty they are facing is ever-present and unmoving. In solution-focused conversations, however, the practitioner is listening for something more than information which simply confirms the client's beliefs about their problem. Listening for exceptions means being alert for 'problem-free' times.
Review your understanding of the lectures on Exceptions and their purpose in SFBT.
In a world that tends to deal in polar opposites and ‘either-or’ thinking, it is useful to remember that few aspects of our lives are either totally one thing or completely another.
Scaling introduces the notion of increments or degrees into a conversation, and it has practical applications which go far beyond the simplicity of the idea.
Review your understanding of Scaling and its application in a SF conversation.
The Miracle Question is one of the most powerful interventions there can be when used properly, yet it's possibly one of the most misunderstood aspects of SFBT.
The idea is to invite the client to step into a future that is problem free. In effect, this a mini-visualisation process – the client ‘goes somewhere else’ – and in order to respond, they must immerse themselves in their imagination.
Use this quiz to check your grasp on the Miracle Question.
Goal setting in SFBT is the keystone of the approach. Many of us are familiar with the concept of setting goals - if not in our daily lives, then certainly in our professional activities. Most of us can also vividly recall a time when we failed. Solution-focused goals have to be designed with precision, and by the client. It is not in the nature of the approach to choose or impose their goals for them.
Summarising is a good rapport-builder and it tends to encourage openness and a free-flowing conversation. It also plays an important role in solution-focused conversations as it provides as an opportunity for you to normalise, reframe and even anticipate a positive outcome.
We have provided a series of practical exercises to enable you to practice the various skills described in this course.
These exercises will help you with the process of adapting to thinking in a solution-focused way. They work best when you DO them, rather than thinking about them or trying to understand them.
Concentrating on the action and observing the results, thoughts and any other questions they provoke also prevents you from becoming overly analytical (and slipping into a 'that-wonʼt-work-because' frame of mind, for example).
They can also be given to clients as tasks to continue with their own development following the conversation (but don't overload them - just try one exercise at a time). The client themselves must also be willing to try this. They should not be imposed.
You should try these exercises for yourself to get a sense of how they feel and work. You may then find that you can then use them with clients, though they should not be used indiscriminately as a one-size-fits-all tactic.
Taken one step at a time, the ideas quickly become more familiar and integrated into a working repertoire.
There is also a list of SFBT books for suggested reading, and references. Finally, we have also included brief guide How to Avoid Getting Stumped, on what to do to avoid a conversation getting 'stuck'.
This is the final quiz in the course will allow you to affirm your understanding of SFBT. Take your time in answering the questions, and re-visit the relevant video lectures if there are any points you are unsure about.
Deena is a single mum who doesn't much like the idea of asking for help. At the start of the session she is a little tense, but she quickly settles into the conversation. See how, in under five minutes, the practitioner builds rapport and starts to establish trust.
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What triggered Deena to ask for help? Watch how her fears are supportively summarised and reframed. At the close of this clip, Deena explains what she needs from the session.
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Watch how, conversationally, the process of SFBT is explained. Reaffirming expectations and pre-supposing success, the practitioner explains how they will work collaboratively on identifying resources and building on strengths.
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So far, no clear goals have been established. Clients often need help clarifying their aims.
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As Deena explains possible sources of help and support, she is also revealing something about the decisions she is making in the interests of her children. This provides an opportunity for the practitioner to identify and reaffirm her decision-making strengths.
Note how Deena's demeanour and engagement have changed since the first clip, 10 minutes earlier in the session.
The summary at the start of this brief clip enables the practitioner to reframe Deena's situation and her expectations of herself. This, in turn, offers Deena another image of herself, which she seems to accept.
Continuing the theme of Deena's strengths as a mother, and the sensible choices she has made, the practitioner enquires about what 'help' means to her, simultaneously reframing it as an exchange of favours.Watch out for:
In this part of the session Deena really seems to 'get' the idea of scaling in relation to stress. The practitioner then builds on this new understanding to reduce her original worry about how 'losing the plot' signals that she is an unfit mother.
Having normalised some of Deena's worries about her behaviour as stress ("The fact that this is normal doesn't mean don't do something about it"), the next step is to discuss how Deena might relieve the pressure by asking for help (framed as 'an exchange of favours').
The use of scaling allows the practitioner to link positive times with the kids ("60% of the time") to choices, rather than chance. Having explained the stress cycle, the next step is to check with Deena that it fits with her experience. The conversation then turns to her trigger points.Watch out for:
Deena is positive about how the session has helped her. She is clearer on a number of points, and is starting to plan. The practitioner summarises the main steps she could consider.
There is one final point that needs to be covered, and that is how can Deena give herself the best chance of integrating the learnings from the session into her daily life.Watch out for:
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BARRY WINBOLT MSc. is a trainer, mediator, psychotherapist and writer.
For more than 25 years he has advised people in many cultures on how to
improve their working relationships and enhance the quality of their
lives. Over the same period he has provided professional training in
conflict management, communication skills, Solution Focused Brief
Therapy, workplace mediation and related topics.