Harvard Mental Health Letter

Solution-focused therapy

Psychotherapy usually begins when a client or patient comes for help with a problem or symptom. Therapist and patient discuss the problem and its roots and how to eliminate or manage it. Solution-focused therapy, originally developed as a short-term psychotherapy technique at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee in the late 1970s, takes a different approach — accentuating the positive, in a specific sense. Instead of concentrating on problems and their causes, the therapist gets the client to think about hopes and achievements. Attention is drawn to goals rather than obstacles and strengths rather than weaknesses.

Solution-focused therapists do not make diagnoses, try to promote insight, or analyze the past. Instead they encourage the client to recognize and implement alternatives. They work on the assumption that at the end of any successful psychotherapy, the situation of the client will have changed, so he or she will be doing something different. Solution-focused therapists start by helping the client think about what that difference would be. Once a solution is identified, client and therapist work toward it step by step.

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