Solution Focused Brief Therapy Is Helping People All Over The World

New research suggests that solution-focused therapy has worldwide appeal.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | December 15, 2021

A new paper published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is one of the most effective ways to treat a wide range of psychological issues, and that psychologists and mental health practitioners around the world are becoming more aware of its merits.

"Solution-focused brief therapy is a simple but quite radical approach," says Mark Beyebach, a psychologist at the Public University of Navarre in Spain and lead author of the research. "Instead of focusing on problematic behavioral patterns in order to change them, it places the focus on positive behavioral patterns, labeled 'exceptions.'"

One example of a solution-focused approach would be to educate the parents of a disruptive child that their disagreements in handling their child are reinforcing his or her problems. A therapist might coach the parents to spot the exceptions — the occasions when the child shows adequate behavior in situations where problem behaviors are expected — and would then invite the parents to figure out how they contributed to these exceptions. Once parents discover what is promoting the exceptions, they are invited to do more of it. Put simply, solution-focused therapy shifts the therapeutic focus from problems to solutions.

In this study, the authors wanted to assess how often solution-focused brief therapy was used by therapists outside of the United States, and whether it was an effective method of treatment when applied in other regions and cultures.

"Solution-focused brief therapy was developed at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, within an American tradition of brief therapy," says Beyebach. "It quickly expanded beyond family therapy and beyond the United States, but it is still sometimes perceived as an 'American' approach to therapy. My team and I wanted to test whether these perceptions and criticisms were correct."

To do so, they conducted an extensive literature search, retrieving over 360 studies on solution-focused brief therapy. They found that many of these studies had been conducted outside of North America and that research production on SFBT in non-Western countries has surpassed production in Western countries.

"A lot of research on solution-focused brief therapy is being conducted in China, Iran, and Turkey, to cite a few," says Beyebach. "It is being done not only in the field of psychotherapy, but also in school counseling, coaching, child protection, and organizational interventions."

It is still unclear whether solution-focused brief therapy is as effective in countries beyond the United States, but preliminary findings are encouraging. Beyebach and his team are currently working on a follow-up paper that will test the efficacy of solution-focused brief therapy interventions cross-culturally and cross-nationally.

"We were struck by how often solution-focused brief therapy was found to achieve significantly superior outcomes, not only in comparison to waiting-list, placebo, no-treatment, or 'treatment as usual' control conditions (something to be expected), but also when compared to alternative treatments," says Beyebach. "The latter is surprising given that when two bona fide psychological treatments are compared they are usually found to be equally effective."

An interview with Dr. Mark Beyebach discussing his new research on solution-focused brief therapy can be found here: Solution-focused therapy is a worldwide treatment for depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders