Solution Focused Therapy in Marriage and Family


Solution Focused Brief Therapy is one of the brief therapies that are very effective and efficient in solving marriage and family problems such as relationships, stress, depression and anxiety among others. The effectiveness and efficiency of this model is due to the unique approach to the problem by use of proper techniques and interventions. This model therapy focuses on all possible solutions a client can achieve unlike the traditional model that focused on the problems and causes with no attention to the solution. In this model, therapist focuses on the possible solutions enabling a client formulate own solutions in order to overcome the problem. The function of the therapist is to aid and support the client in identifying and achieving the preferred future.

Currently, the Solution Focused Brief therapy Model has become more specialized depending on the clients. At its inception, the therapy focused on marriage and family because one of the assumptions is that, family members are very instrumental in helping a client to solve a problem. The development of new techniques and interventions has led to the evolution and specialization of this model therapy. Currently, the application of the model has expanded into various aspects of life like education and organization


Solution Focused Therapy is a brief psychotherapy applied in solving emotional stresses such as depression, anxiety and relationship problems within marriage and family. The Solution Focused Therapy uses family system approach in helping marriages and families in their relationships. “The approach focuses on the interaction between family members and treats these relationships as an importance influence on the psychological well being of the participants” (Berg, 1999, p. 76). In this approach, problem within the marriage and the family are due to systemic relationships. According to Bowen (1978), “family is an organism or a system with distinct patterns, rules and functions that directly affects the condition of the patient” (p. 32). This means that a family is an emotional unit; in that, if one member has emotional stress; all other family members are equally affected. The Solution Focused Therapy involves positive psychotherapy approach that entails engaging a client in a positive conversation with them aim of formulating a preferred future. This study explores history and application techniques of the Solution Focused Brief Therapy in marriage and family.

History of the Brief Therapy Model

During the middle of 20th century, the traditional psychotherapy focused on problems and their causes but this approach was quite unsatisfactory due to the evolution of the psychotherapy (Walter & Peller, 2000, p. 9). Therapists dwelled on the cause-effect relationships in their psychotherapies believing that problems were due to the unresolved psychological history of a patient since childhood (Selekman, 1997, p. 98). The psychotherapists focused on the problems thinking that if they solve the past then the current problem will be resolved comfortably. According to Nelson and Thomas (2007), “the most useful information was thought to be the information that trickled through from the unconscious mind” (p. 67). In order to obtain the unconscious information from a patient, psychotherapists employed techniques such as chemotherapy, hypnosis, dream analysis and interpretations among others.

The process of the psychotherapy has been more theoretical, which took several years to address a complex psychological problem as in the case of neurotic Alvey Singer who had been under psychotherapy for thirteen years and still hoped to continue for another fifteen years (O’Hanlon & Weiner-Davis, 2003, p. 7). With the evolution of the psychotherapy, therapists embarked on exploring models that were goal-oriented, more practical and brief. Albert Ellis developed a practical model; rational emotive therapy and believes that, “problems were thought to be maintained by the irrational beliefs of the client and by replacing the irrational beliefs with more rational beliefs could solve the problem” (Cade, 2007, p. 75). This approach heralded the shift of psychotherapy from theoretical approach into practical and realistic approach.

The Brief therapy model led to the shift in the psychotherapy approaches to problems, from the theoretical perspective to the practical perspective but maintaining the basics of the psychological theories. According to Nardone (2004), “the first model of the brief therapy dates back to the first works of the Mental Research Institute therapists in Palo Alto, California” (p. 3). In 1930, Milton Erickson and other psychotherapists used hypnotic approach in their studies on communication and family therapy and developed the brief therapy model, which become a very effective model. From Mental Research Institute, the brief therapy model has evolved and differentiated into other models “keeping a common theoretical base and characterize themselves as clinical models and intervention techniques” (Durrant, 1995, p. 35). Although there are many psychotherapy models, they only differ in their approaches but they share theoretical basis. The approaches in different models are marked by the psychological assumptions and techniques. Gregory Bateson also made his contribution and according to Bruner (1986), “Bateson greatly contributed to the solution-focused therapy through his, The Bateson Project” (p. 121). Other colleagues of Bateson were Jay Haley, John Weakland and William Fry, who worked in analyzing and expanding the earlier work of Milton Erickson that formed the basis of the Solution Focused Brief Therapy.

The traditional therapists at the Palo Alto focused on problems rather than solutions. The Therapists at the Mental Research Institute “focused their attention on the vicious circle of the problem persistence, this attention on the part of the same disorders bearers led to the realization of the need of the intervention maneuvers to stop and reorganize dysfunctional attempted solutions” (Gergen, 1999, p. 29). This realization provides the basis for the formulation of the Solution Focused Therapy Model that focuses on solutions to problems in marriage and family.

In 1978, the Psychotherapists at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin formulated the Solution Focused Brief Therapy Model.The Brief Family Center is a Mental Research Institute that was started in 1967 and was dedicated in the research of the psychological disorders. At this research institute, Steve De Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, who are a husband and wife together with other therapists, formulated the Solution Focused Brief Therapy Model. De Shazer and Berg formulated several interventions and techniques that have now become applicable to other aspects of life like education and organization apart from marriage and family.

The traditional therapy had some disadvantages in that the traditional therapists depended on the distressed state of the client to help them focus on the problems and the deficiencies of the client. In essence, the traditional therapists dwelled on the past problems to solve the current situation (Sharry, 2001, p. 99). The solution-focused therapy has advantages over the tradition therapy for; it focuses on the immediate solution, its approach encourages the client, the solution is based on the innate intelligence and wisdom of the client coupled with its focus on the strengths of the client.

Why this Model is Considered Brief

The Solution Focused Therapy is considered as brief model because Steve deShazer, Insoo Kim Berg and other psychotherapists combined the Solution Focused Model with the Brief Strategic Model attributed to the Witzaele-Garcia et al. “Combining the brevity of the work at the Mental Research Institute and the strength-based work of Milton Erickson, deShazer developed Solution Focused Brief Therapy Model” (Cunanan, 2003, p. 76). Therefore, the model was considered brief because of the incorporation of the Brief Strategic Model by deShazer and Berg. Moreover, the Solution Focused Brief Model was developed at the Mental Research Institute called Brief Family Therapy Center, offering brief psychotherapy services. Halford (2001) describes brief as “more than a precise number of sessions or duration of treatment and are critical feature of the briefer therapies as time becomes an explicit feature in the therapeutic contract” (p. 44). In psychotherapy, the duration of the therapy determines its effectiveness, as therapies that take many years to solve a problem are not effective.

Assumptions of Model

Brief therapy models differ from one another due to the underlying philosophical assumptions. The first assumption is that change is constant; meaning that, the problems of the client are not static, but are subject to some changes depending on the perception of the client. Since complaints are behaviors that result from the perception, “making changes in one’s perception, new behavior based on the new perception can help promote a resolution to the client’s complaints” (Cunanan, 2003, p. 89). This view assumes that change is inevitable, as long as the client is willing to change his/her psychological perception of the problem. The second assumption is that the solution to the problem lies within the ability of the client. The resources and the strengths that the client has, forms the basis of addressing the problem. Cunanan (2003) explains that, “by expanding the pieces of the solution that are already present, the theory follows that, these pieces will begin to overshadow the complaints, which the client has brought in” (p. 26). The function of the psychotherapist is to aid and support the client in collecting the pieces of solutions and formulation of a concrete solution.

Thirdly, this model assumes that it is unnecessary to know the degree of a problem in order to solve it, because this model focuses on the solutions to the problems rather than the problems. Gingerich and Eisengrat argue that, “problems are best solved by focusing on what is already working and how a client would like his/her life to be, rather than focusing on the past and the origin of the problems” (2000).This assumption is the basic and unique approach of the Solution Focused Brief Therapy Model.

The last assumption of this model is that a small change is necessary to make other significant changes in an individual. “Milton Erickson was convinced that therapy often did not need to take long and believed that a small change by the client was often enough to set a process of larger change in motion” (deShazer, 1983). Therapists focused on small and possible solutions in helping clients develop positive focus in life. Other assumptions include, different views of a problem are valid and there is no one right view, clients define their own preferred future and therapist function is to help clients identify the preferred change and amplify the change in the client.

Techniques and Interventions

Several techniques are applied in the Solution Focused Brief Therapy. Searching for the pre-session change is one of the techniques that involve evaluation of client’s progress in therapy. In this technique, “therapist questions the client during the first session about what changes have happened since the time they scheduled the initial appointment and when they came in for the fro the first appointment” (Cunanan, 2003). The purpose of mentioning these changes is to encourage client to make their own positive changes towards resolving the problem.

Another technique is the use of scaling questions. Scaling questions help the client to evaluate his/her status towards achieving the preferred future goals. “Use of this technique gives the therapist an idea of how the client views their situation” (Hudson, 1996, p. 156). The scale range from one to ten so that the client can easily pinpoint the extent to which the client has reached in achieving solutions to the problems. In the case of marriage and family, a couple can be asked to rate the confidence they have in their relationship in a scale of one to ten.

Miracle questions are a technique used by therapists to change the perception of the client. “It is a powerful tool in generating the small steps of solution states by helping the clients to describe small, realistic and doable steps they can take as soon as the next day” (Berg, 1999, p. 41). Therapists create a hypothetical situation where the problem is assumed to be solved, and then asks the clients the probable course of action they would take. “The interesting part of this scenario is that the miracle happens while the client is asleep” (Jackson, 1965, p. 6). Client’s response to the miracle situation enables the client to have the perception of a life without problems.

Other techniques and interventions involve use of previous solutions or use of exceptions in the cases where the client does not have previous solutions. Eron & Lund (1996) note, “a previous solution is something that the family has tried on their own that has worked, but later discontinued, while an exception is something that happens instead of the problem, often unconscious” (p. 11) The therapist uses lead questions to help the client identify such situations. More techniques entail the use of present and future focused questions in trying to create a preferred future while complementing the progress of the client in order to encourage.

Application to Latino Clients

The application of the Solution Focused Brief Therapy in the resolution of problems within marriage and families require cultural and ethnical consideration. The model depends on the ability of the client to cooperate during the therapy as therapy involves conversation. Haley (1973) argues that, “the therapy focuses on the strategies to restructure family as a unit” (p. 67). Therefore, cultural and ethnical unit of a family determines the success of the model. According to the Smith and Montilla (2005), “the family bond in Latino population is powerful and enduring” (p. 8). Strong family bond forms the basic source of support and care to the client in times of distress.

In order for therapists to work effectively with the Latino clients, they must consider their cultural and family values. For effective and efficient therapy, “a therapist working with a Latino client must gain the trust and respect of the family members” (Furman & Ahola, 1992, p. 30). This is very necessary since the Latino culture and family set up is hard to penetrate, thus a therapist must first win the confidences of not only the client, but also the family. Winning the confidence of the client and family will ease the application of the Solution Focused Brief Therapy Model.


Solution Focused Brief Therapy model is an effective model of solving problems within marriage and family. The effectiveness of the model emanate from the fact that this model focuses on the solutions only, unlike the traditional models that focused on problems and their root causes. The uniqueness of this model is that it engages the client to participate in formulation of own solution as the therapist aids in supporting the client to realize the possible solutions. This model has evolved since its inception at the Mental Research Institute, Milwaukee in 1978 and now has become one of the most effective and efficient brief therapy models. The solution-focused therapy has advantages over the traditional therapy because it focuses on the immediate solution, its approach encourages the client, and its solution is based on the innate intelligence and wisdom of the client. Due to these advantages, this model has expanded its applications into education and organization.


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