Solution-focused brief therapy was developed by Milton Erickson, Insoo Kim Berg, Steve de Shazer, and others, as an empowering treatment modality (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010). Counselors work in collaboration with their clients to explore and identify skills, knowledge, and resources that the clients currently have to work through their problems and challenges (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010). Keep reading to learn 10 solution-focused brief therapy exercises and activities you can do with your clients.
During SFBT sessions, Counselors work to help the client find times when the problem or challenge was absent, and times when it was less severe (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010). These moments are then explored to see what was different about them, and how the clients faced the challenge.
Skills commonly used during solution-focused brief therapy include active listening, empathy, open-ended questions, explanations, reassurance, and suggestions (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010). SFBT Counselors and Therapists rarely use confrontation and interpretation in their work (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010).
Counselors who use solution-focused behavioral therapy should be actively engaged during sessions, communicate acceptance, suggest actions that encourage change, and use solution talk to create an environment that can effectively utilize solution-focused brief therapy.
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Mental Health Concerns That Can Benefit from Solution-Focused Brief Therapy
Solution-focused brief therapy can be applied effectively to a range of mental health concerns (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010). With an encouraging and empowering nature, most clients respond well to SFBT and solution-focused behavioral therapy exercises.
Solution-focused behavioral therapy can be an effective treatment approach for clients who are experiencing communication challenges, anxiety, substance misuse and abuse, behavioral problems, and other relationship challenges. Additionally, it can be helpful for individuals who are struggling with their self-esteem.
Similar to other treatment modalities, solution-focused behavioral therapy is not appropriate for every client. Clients who experience severe mental health concerns including active mania, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorders would likely not benefit from solution-focused behavior therapy.
Additionally, solution-focused behavioral therapy focuses on the present and future moments. It does not incorporate a person’s past, which some clients benefit from exploring and processing. This can include individuals who are carrying shame and guilt and some trauma-related mental health concerns.
Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Activities
If you have decided to use solution-focused brief therapy exercises in your sessions, you have a variety of options to choose from. Solution-focused behavioral activities provide clients with an opportunity to explore their own resources and strengths, as well as identify changes that they would like to work towards in their life. SFBT activities can also provide Clinicians and Therapists with an opportunity to introduce new skills and perspectives that can support clients and their goals.
Examples of solution-focused behavioral therapy treatment activities include:
Clients who feel overwhelmed when exploring various problems or challenges they have can often benefit from breaking the problem down into smaller pieces. This can include identifying what the challenge is, what has contributed to it, what helps the concern, and what compounds the distress the individual experiences. TherapyByPro offers a Problem and Solution Worksheet that can act as a guide for this in therapy sessions. Allow for time in future sessions to follow up about the client’s ability to engage in behaviors that would help them move past their identified problem.
The Miracle Question is a popular and simple Solution Focused Behavioral Therapy exercise that you can incorporate into your session. With this, you can ask your client to imagine that while they are sleeping tonight, a miracle occurs that has their problem or challenge resolved. What would their life be like tomorrow? There are many ways that the miracle question can be worded, so find the way that feels natural and authentic for you and your counseling style. The miracle question can help clients explore the benefits of changing their behaviors, and barriers that may be preventing them from making progress toward their goals.
Identifying and working towards goals can often feel overwhelming for our clients. As Counselors, we can help our clients break down goals that feel like a lot into smaller, more digestible, pieces. This can include exploring different behaviors that the client can incorporate into their day that work towards accomplishing their goals. Providing clients with a worksheet, similar to the Goal Setting Action Plan Worksheet offered by TherapyByPro, can act as a reminder outside of sessions regarding what they can do to make forward progress. Allow for time in future sessions to assess any progress made toward the client’s discussed goal.
The use of scaling questions is another SFBT technique that can be used in sessions. Scaling questions can be used to gauge their current experiences as they relate to goals. As an example, you may ask your client on a scale of 1-10, how prepared do they feel to make a change in their behavior today? Scaling questions can be used to explore the progress they have made, the intensity of their distress, and the level of impairment they are experiencing. Using the same scaling question in later sessions can help both parties develop an understanding of progress that is, or isn’t, being made.
Identifying strengths, skills, and attributes can help clients recognize their ability to accomplish challenging tasks. The Overcoming Difficulties with Strengths worksheet at TherapyByPro begins by asking your client to take a different perspective and explore what others may say are their strengths and skills. With this shift in viewpoint, clients may experience a change in their ability to recognize how the strengths that they may have overlooked can support them as they work towards their goals.
Looking for exceptions can help clients gain a new perspective on their thoughts and concerns. As an example, if a client is struggling with their ability to exercise each day, ask them to describe a day when they were able to exercise. What was different that day compared to the others? And how did it make them feel that they were able to exercise that day? Exception questions can be helpful in breaking black-and-white thinking patterns that act as barriers for our clients.
A Negative Habits Worksheet can be helpful for clients who are struggling with unhealthy behaviors (ie. biting nails), and those who would like to add new behaviors to their routine (ie. exercising). You can explore how their life would look if they were to change their behavior and the benefits that they would gain from doing so. Follow up in later sessions regarding changes that your client was able to engage in.
To focus on making progress, ask your client to identify 3 goals for the next month. Work with them to specifically identify the steps needed to achieve their goal and ensure that their expectations are realistic for them. An example of an unrealistic goal would be to lose a significant amount of weight in 4 weeks. Explore how the client’s strengths and skills can support them while they work to achieve this goal, and how this goal would impact their overall well-being. Allow for time to check in on their progress over the next month.
A simple Solution Focused Behavioral Therapy exercise would simply look at the advantages and disadvantages associated with a change in the client’s behavior. Exploring the pros and cons of a change can lead to further discussion about barriers they are experiencing, and how they can work to overcome them. If you use worksheets in your therapy sessions, TherapyByPro offers a Motivation and Ambivalence Worksheet that you can use during therapy sessions.
A SFBT exercise that can be used for a variety of concerns and topics would be the use of homework exercises. Homework exercises ask your client to continue working on something discussed during the session, outside of their therapy sessions. Examples of homework would include keeping a journal of their distress while raising it on a 1-10 scale, using new coping skills 3 times before their next session, or completing a specific worksheet provided in the session. Time should be spent in their next session following up on their ability to complete their homework assignment, and processing their experience with it.
Final Thoughts On Choosing Activities for SFBT
Solution-focused brief therapy can be an effective strategy when working with clients who present with an array of concerns. This form of treatment is intended to yield results in fewer sessions than other treatment modalities. This makes it an effective option for clients who are looking to make a behavioral change within their daily routine.
Some SFBT exercises, such as homework assignments, can be used in conjunction with other treatment modalities. As an example, a clinician who is providing psychoeducation about mindfulness skills for a form of behavioral therapy may ask their client to practice using a set number of skills before their next session.
If you feel that solution-focused behavioral therapy activities would be effective for the population that you work with, you can seek out continued education credits and other training that focuses on this treatment modality. Supervision can be a great resource when determining your readiness to utilize new treatment skills and modalities in your clinical work.
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Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W. (2010). Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy:
Systems, Strategies, and Skills (3rd ed., pp. 220–225). Pearson Education, Inc.
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