SOLUTION-focused brief therapy (SFBT)

SFBT is a popular intervention not just in health care, but also among athletes, entrepreneurs and organizations.


It was discovered by a group of clinicians in the 80’s when they reviewed hundreds of hours of therapy footage to see which elements of encounters were actually associated with positive change.


Before we give you the premise of SFBT…


Ask yourself…

about times in your life when you had success at something that was important to you?

How did you do it?

Were you motivated by the fear of failure?

Or were you in the zone?

When it comes to a health problem, is your goal to get rid of the problem, e.g., the headache?

When did that become your goal?

Which aspirations did those displace?

Were your aspirations grander and more generous?

Were they more important to you?


The popular psychologist Viktor E. Frankl from his best-selling book “Man’s Search for Meaning” writes:


“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”


 So, the interesting discovery from scouring over hundreds of hours of sessions with patients is that focusing on the problem was not associated with change.


When you think about it, this really doesn’t come as a surprise…

Think about historic match between heavyweight boxers Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. The match was promoted as the Rumble in the Jungle, held in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974. The fight was watched by a record estimated television audience of 1 billion viewers worldwide.


Politically, there was more at stake than just the boxing title, but that’s a long story.


What do you think was more likely to help Ali in winning the battle?… and he did win in tremendous fashion!


Thinking about all the problems he had in his way:

Foreman was 7 years younger at 25; was stronger

Foreman was undefeated

Foreman was more popular in North America (at the time)

Foreman wasn’t banned from boxing for 3.5 years like Ali was and so wasn’t “rusty”

The fear of letting down his cause (the “underdogs” in society)

How Ali had a tough time beating Frazier who had a similar aggressive fighting style to Foreman

How everyone told him he couldn’t beat Foreman.


Or by focusing on his strengths:

Maturity, speed, wisdom – after all, he did learn a lot from his 3 fights with Frazier

His discipline – he was quoted as saying what makes him a champion is that in the last few seconds of the last round, he can dig a bit deeper than the other guy

His aspirations: he fought – ironically – to make popular peace and equality. In his free time, he would visit the sick in hospitals and visit addicts and prostitutes in the ghetto to show them that he cared.

His charm: every African was cheering for him; it is said that the energy that night was palpable

His courage – he took on the majority of American public, and definitely the media, and ended up in Supreme Court in Washington DC against 7 judges to defend his position on not participating in the Vietnam war, and he was only in his 20s (this footage is available on YouTube)

His commitment – he used to run 13 miles to boxing practice!


If you review the footage surrounding the event (there is a documentary on this), it’s fun to see in which spirit he approached the road ahead.

Ali’s approach was commensurate with the premise of SFBT:

  1. You have to know what you want to get there (rather than what you don’t want!); and…
  2. Be aware of the difference it will make to you in your life; …
  3. Bringing to your attention what you do have working for you (i.e., your strengths and resources). Sometimes this is hard to notice – the last thing a fish notices is water – but if you employ a little mindfulness, people invariably realize that they are capable of surfing the tide of life. What have you used before to improve your lot? Or show up in a way that you are proud of? And where did you learn that?


Research shows SFBT to be effective in 65-83% of cases in an average of 4-5 sessions.


Last update: November 2020