Frequently Asked Questions

Solution Focused Brief Therapy takes a particular interest in what's working in people's lives, as opposed to what isn't. This information often helps people to figure out how to change the parts of their lives that aren't working so well.

The most specific definition of SFBT is attributed to Steve deShazer and Insoo Kim Berg. Along with colleagues, in 1978, they established the Brief Therapy Centre in Milwaukee, US. ( From the outset they committed themselves to a combination of therapy, training and research. By 1984 their papers spoke of a shift away from previous approaches, emphasising a solution rather than problem focused approach, and a recognition that clients could often create their own strategies for change. Several tools were found to operate like "skeleton keys", able to unlock a process of problem resolution without having to be tailored to the problem in question. Eventually they articulated a set of assumptions and tools named as SFBT. In practice these two aspects, assumptions and tools, are interlinked. The tools without the assumptions can fail to be of benefit, whilst the assumptions can be seen as propositions which can be tested out by using the tools.

SFBT Assumptions

SFBT Tools

Problem-free talk.

Once it is respectful and sensitive to do so, clients are invited to talk about aspects of their lives other than their problems. They might be asked about how they cope, or about their work, or other aspects of their life where they enjoy more success. As well as providing important information about existing resources, this can also remind clients of abilities they may have forgotten, raising morale in the process.


Clients are invited to detail their preferred outcomes in specific, concrete and measurable terms. Goals help the client to determine steps forward, evaluate progress and know when to stop. Sometimes the careful detailing of goals can of itself be informative, when people realise that some of what they hope for is already happening.


At the end of an interview, and often throughout, the practitioner comments on abilities and resources they have noticed in the client. This again can alert clients to resources they may have lost sight of.

Pre-interview change

Research at the Brief Family Therapy Centre in Milwaukee found that two thirds of people attending for first appointments were reporting either progress or times when the problem was not happening. When clients are able to report this, the practitioner has a useful opportunity to explore how this may have come about. Sometimes clients then identify strategies which, if continued, can resolve the problem.

Scaling questions

Scaling questions can be used in many ways: to check for pre-interview change, evaluate how much progress is needed and identify what would bring about one step forward.


Often clients can report times when the problem doesn't happen, or happens in a different way. This again can draw clients' attention to aspects of their lives which they may not be noticing so much, and which contain the seeds of solution and hope.

The miracle question

This particular question can help to clarify goals, identify existing progress, clarify options for action and act as a catalyst for change. Typically the question is worded as "Imagine as you sleep tonight a miracle happens and the problems go away, but ecause you are asleep you don't know it's happened. When you wake in the morning, what would be a first sign to you that the miracle has happened?" As with goal setting questions, this can also remind clients that some of the changes they need to see are already happening.

Noticing tasks

If clients are interested in trying something out, they can be invited to notice, for example, times when exceptions to the problem show up, and figure out what was different. They can be asked to look out for parts of their lives they would prefer to keep. Or they might be invited to practice the beginning of their miracle.

Why form a group such as BTNE?

SFBT is a relatively new approach in the UK. Practitioners can find the assumptions of the approach hard to sustain, especially if they are isolated from others using the approach. BTNE helps to keep SFBT practitioners in touch with each other, and in touch with developments in the approach. BTNE can also keep practitioners up to date with training opportunities, and generate learning opportunities in the region, such as the hosting of international presenters, saving practitioners the cost of travelling to more distant venues.

How do I find out more?

You can join the group for a small fee. See our Join us Section.

Should I join BTNE?

Of course. Brief Therapy North East is an organisation for those interested in the newer approaches to therapy and counselling. Most members live or work in NE England and there is also an active cluster of members in Cumbria. There are no requirements for membership other than interest and enthusiasm. We welcome members from a variety of professional areas. Explore our site and see if you're interested in what we offer. Check our Events section to see what's going on in the region. If you want to know more contact John, Marie, Andrew or Janine using the links at the top of this website.