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Brief Solution-Focused Therapy

Brief solution-focused therapy was developed by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It has its foundation in the theoretical ideas of Bateson and the clinical work of Erickson and the pioneering work conducted at the Mental Research Institute. According to Lipchik (2002), brief solution- focused therapy looks closely at the pattern of interaction surrounding the problem, approaches for changing the pattern, and creation of outcomes. Its focus, however, shifts from concentration on problems to concentration on solutions, drawing on client strengths as well as using all the client brings that can promote change. For solution-focused counselors or therapists, the solution-finding process holds therapeutic promise and helps clients develop expectations of change and solutions.

Little attention is paid to the details of the problem. More attention is directed at highlighting how the client will know when the problem is solved. The key to this approach is using what clients have, in terms of strengths and resources, that will meet their needs in such a way that they will be able to find satisfactory solutions to problems. This approach emphasizes that counselors or therapists must do more than assess how problems are maintained or how to solve them. Solutions come when people involved in problematic situations are required to do something different, even it is seems irrational, irrelevant, bizarre, or humorous. No one problem or group of problems occur all the time. A goal of this approach involves getting clients to envision their future without the presenting problem. When this happens, the problem is diminished (de Shazer, 1991; Lipchik, 2002; Walter & Peller, 2000).

According to Miller (2001), solution-focused brief therapy is based on the assumption that solutions are constructed rather than that problems are solved. This implies that knowing a lot about the problem may not be necessary to formulating a solution. In fact, problems may be unconnected and even irrelevant to the change process (T. F. Lewis & Osborn, 2004). This approach assumes that a small change in one area can lead to greater changes in other areas. This is often referred to as the ripple effect, whereby problem irregularities, or times when the problem is not a problem, are identified (Berg & Miller, 1992).

Brief solution-focused therapy assumes that clients want to change and client resistance is not an issue. Counselors or therapists compliment clients on positive steps they have taken, suggest things for clients to do that might be good for them, and often assume the role of student, placing clients in the role of teacher. Clients are encouraged and trusted to know and make decisions regarding what is best for them.

De Shazer (1985) provided a list of categories (building blocks) under which client complaints could be grouped together with basic assumptions to help counselors or therapists understand these complaints and construct solutions. The building blocks are as follows:

• A bit or sequence of behavior

• The meanings ascribed to the situation

• The frequency and location in which the complaint happens

• The degree to which the complaint is involuntary

• Significant others involved in the complaint

• The question of who or what is to blame

• Environmental factors

• The psychological or feeling state involved

• The past

• Dire predictions of the future

• Utopian expectations (p. 27)

The assumptions include the following:

• Recognize that clients' complaints are brought on by the clients' worldview.

• Realize that complaints are maintained based on the clients' belief that the original decision was the only thing that could be done. Clients remain trapped because they keep doing the same thing.

• Initiate minimal change, and once this process begins clients will provide additional changes for resolving the complaint.

• Focus on clients' view of what reality would look like without the complaint and use this viewpoint to generate ideas for change.

• Promote problem resolution by suggesting new frames of reference and new behaviors based on clients' view of reality.

• View change holistically; a change in one part of the system will bring about changes in other parts of the system.

Intervention in brief solution-focused therapy takes many forms. Based on the nature of the counselor-client or therapist-client relationship, establishing rapport and promoting cooperation are crucial. Based on the interactional process of change and the belief that clients can solve their own problems, counselors or therapists must fit into the worldview of clients. When this is achieved, counselors or therapists begin a "change question" technique that involves seeking exceptions to the problem or exploring the solutions that clients have attempted. Questions such as, "Since the last time we met, have you been noticing some changes in yourself or discovering a new way of looking at the problem?" "When did you manage this problem in the past?" "What did you do differently?" and "When were things just a little bit better?" all serve to create an expectation for change, emphasize the client's role in this change, and stress the fact that change occurs outside of the counselor's or therapist's office.

The "miracle question" is another intervention that aids clients to clarify goals and identify exceptions to the problem by encouraging the client to imagine a solution and remove constraints to solving the problem and building hope for change. Clients are asked, "Suppose that one night, while you were asleep, there was a miracle and this problem was solved. How would you know? What would be different?" (de Shazer, 1991, p. 113). This type of question allows clients to visualize their life without the problem.

Scaling questions is another intervention designed to make the abstract concrete by quantifying intangibles, placing power with clients, and demonstrating change (R. Lewis, 2005). In this intervention, clients are asked, "On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means you have no influence over your problem, and 10 means you have total influence, where would you place yourself today?" This is often followed by such questions as "Where would others place you on this scale?" and "What do you need to move a fraction of a point up the scale?"

These examples highlight interventions that attempt to induce doubt regarding the severity and dominance of the problem and aid clients in both finding exceptions to the problem and defining goals that concentrate on constructing solutions. Brief solutions- focused therapy concentrates its techniques and interventions on creating the expectation that solutions exist or are imminent.

 
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