Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is a strategic approach to therapeutic communications that empowers both clients and helpers. Though it has developed – as its title suggests – as a form of brief, talking therapy, the approach brings with it a wealth of easily learned and adaptable techniques which will enhance the skills of any capable health professional whatever the setting.

There are many shared values between SFBT and Trauma-Informed Care; both start from a position of client safety and empowerment, a future orientation, and strong engagement between clients and their practitioner. Thus, solution-focused interventions are entirely congruent with trauma-informed care.

Traditionally clinical approaches have focused on what is wrong with the client, communications have naturally followed suit. But imagine for a moment a world where, in discussing a problem with the client, rather than focussing on what is wrong and exploring problem, we focus on what is working; on the successes and strengths which the client (and helping professionals very often too) will have overlooked.

SFBT aims to help individuals identify and achieve their goals in a positive, future-focused way. This approach is particularly useful in trauma-informed care, as it helps individuals to move forward from their trauma and find ways to cope with the challenges they may face.

Fundamental to the approach is the idea that people have strengths and resources that can be identified and built on to generate ‘solutions’ to their problems, even when they seem insurmountable. This doesn’t mean that every problem can be resolved. SFBT practitioners work collaboratively with clients to establish new possibilities which the client alone has not been able to identify. The process usually begins with helping the client and clarify identify their goals, and the steps they need to take to achieve them. Significantly, the technique focuses on the present and the future, rather than dwelling on the past or analysing past events in great detail.

SFBT and trauma-informed care

In the context of trauma-informed care, SFBT can be used to help individuals cope with the effects of trauma and develop strategies for managing their symptoms. It can also be used to help individuals build resilience and improve their overall well-being.

One of the key elements of SFBT is the use of ‘scaling questions’, which are used to help the client evaluate their current situation and identify areas where they would like to make changes. For example, a therapist might ask an individual to rate their current level of distress on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least distressed and 10 being the most distressed. The therapist would then work with the individual to identify specific steps they can take to move towards a lower level of distress.

Another important aspect of SFBT is the use of ‘exceptions’. These are times when the individual has been able to cope with their symptoms or achieve their goals, despite the challenges they may be facing. By identifying and focusing on these exceptions, the therapist helps the individual to build on their strengths and develop a sense of hope and optimism.

A solution-focused approach provides effective, compassionate, and client-led interventions in trauma-informed care. It helps both client and practitioner to form a collaborative relationship from which to identify and work towards the client’s goals in a positive, structured and forward-oriented way. Because it focuses on the present and the future, rather than dwelling on the past, SFBT is ideally suited to helping individuals to move forward from their trauma and build resilience and coping skills.

See also

The Trauma-Informed Approach to Care and Support

The Five Principles of Trauma Informed Care