solution focused therapy

Solution Focused Therapy Explained

There are more than a few therapists that claim to be Solution Focused Therapists but what does this term really mean? Beyond sounding a bit catchy, does solution focused therapy have a clinical foundation?

The Chicago therapists at 2nd Story Counseling offer this brief article is designed to provide a basic overview of solution focused therapy and provide definition and meaning so that you have a wider understanding of this phrase when it is used.

Let’s jump right in! 

Solution-focused Therapy (SFT), Brief Solution-focused Therapy, Solution-focused Brief Therapy therapists in chicagoand Solution-building Practice Therapy are synonyms for a therapeutic system developed by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg following an in-depth study of hundreds of hours of clinical sessions in an inner city mental health outpatients department.

In cases where patients reported progress, the specific questions and activities employed were preserved and integrated into SFT to create a ‘distilled’ system of therapy.

SFT, like the work of Milton Erickson, pre-supposes several things about the patient. That he or she knows what would make life better for them and that they have the skills and strength to make the changes necessary. The therapist’s role is to ask the right questions to enable the patient to describe their goals in clear detail, recognise their inner strength and employ practical techniques to achieve their aims. SFT focuses on achievable short-term solutions.

SFT is permissive, allowing the patient to be who they are, and utilising, working with what is brought up in the session.

Questions asked during SFT

Questions asked and techniques employed in SFT can be categorised into themes:

Previous solutions

These questions focus on conscious solutions that may have worked for the patient in the past. The patient is asked to explore occasions where a problem was temporarily solved and who or what it was that helped to solve it.


These questions explore when a problem didn’t occur as normal, and attempts to recreate the events counselors in chicagowhich led to the spontaneous and unconscious overcoming of the problem.

Present- and future-focused questions

SFT rarely looks back at the origins of an issue. Instead, it focuses on what’s working now and how the patient can evaluate progress towards their goals. 

Questions leading to self-compliments

When a patient achieves a goal, they are invited to explain what they did to make that progression (e,g, “how did you manage that?”) This helps the patient to recognize their success at coping.


The patient is encouraged to experiment with solutions to their problems.

The Miracle Question (MQ)

A particularly powerful question employed in SFT is the ‘Miracle Question’. This extended dialogue asks patients to imagine that their problems vanished overnight due to a miracle, but that the specifics of the miracle were forgotten. On waking, how would the patient know that things had improved?

The answer often concerns an improvement in behavior by the patient (e.g. they would be more solution focused therapists chicagoloving, cheerful, patient, etc.) They are then invited to try behaving as if the miracle had happened, which can lead to a dramatic shift forwards.

Therapists using SFT often use scaling to track patients’ performances, with patients self-evaluating progress in various areas (relationship, depression, anger etc.) along a ten-point scale.

Evaluation of SFT

A study by Lindforss and Magnusson in 1997 demonstrated that prisoners in Hageby prison, Stockholm were less likely to re-offend if they were given SFT. A meta-analysis of similar studies by Gingerich and Eisengrat in 2000 supported the efficacy of SFT but noted that more work was needed to micro-analyse the co-construction taking place during therapy.


Hopefully, this article provided you greater insight into SFT and helped you to understand the context of this term when used by a therapist or other helping professional. At 2nd Story Counseling, our counselors and therapists integrate a number of approaches in talk therapy, including SFT.

If you would like to set up an appointment for counseling, please give us a call at 773-528-1777 or send us a note through our confidential online contact form. Thanks for visiting 2nd Story Counseling – where every life has a second story!