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  • Writer's pictureLynn Cukaj

Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)

Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults

The Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) model of Berg and Steiner (2003) is an approach to solving problems that empowers the individual to find the best possible solution using their own competencies. The theory highlights the importance of discussing solutions rather than focusing on the minute details of a problem. This is what makes this type of therapy “brief”; instead of dwelling on the details of the past, therapists will work on finding a solution to a specific problem in order to minimize the time spent in therapy, and therefore minimize suffering.

The SFBT model is based on the following principals:

  • Change: Change is constant and certain; the individual must want to change; and change can occur over a brief period of time, only if the time is dedicated to working on a solution to the problem at hand.

  • Future: The goal is to help the individual stay focused on living in the moment and how they want to live in the future as opposed to focusing on what happened in the past.

  • Experience: Individuals create change in their lives through their lived experiences and recognize how their behaviors and thoughts contribute to their problems.

  • Create Meaning: Once the individual determines how their actions contribute to their own problems, they are able to create meaning from this and determine goals for themselves. Once a goal is made, a path to achieve that goal can be established.

The SFBT model believes that problems are not fixed but changeable, and are dependent on the social context. During the intake process, the therapist will use solution-focused questions to explore a client’s strengths which aid in achieving their personal goals. This strength assessment helps the client identify, value, and mobilize their skills and resources. An emphasis on an individual’s ability to be their own agent of change is applied.

Humans are not passive; we are decision makers with choices and preferences. We have the opportunity to become masterful and efficacious rather than hopeless and helpless. It is not the circumstance that determines an individual's degree of happiness, but how we interpret what happens.

Working with Children Using the SFBT Model

The Solution Focused Brief Therapy model is effective with children and their families, especially when it comes to working on solutions to various problems. Often if a problem is contextually decided, the solution can be contextually determined.

The role of the therapist or counselor is to empower the child to take charge of their own development. While using the SFBT model, it is key to help the child imagine a future they desire, and work together to develop a series of steps that will help them achieve that goal. This helps a child deal with problems effectively and learn new coping skills. The interventions that are involved in this type of therapy focus on figuring out how to solve and manage problems. These interventions use language and model behaviors that children are familiar with, which makes it understandable and practical. The therapist will work with the child to develop a vision of a future self; a best possible version of themselves in different contexts. So when problems arise, the child will then refer to the steps that were taught in SFBT to solve that problem. The child is able to understand how their abilities can be enhanced to attain a desired outcome.

Therapists and counselors have a “power-with” rather than a “power-over” approach when working with children. This idea contradicts traditional behavioral management therapy which highlights symptoms, issues, and problems. When working with children using the SFBT model, the goal is to focus on a child’s competencies, social connectedness, and growing autonomy. In terms of competencies, we look at self-regulation, interpersonal competence, and academic performance. The SFBT model offers a way for the child to build upon their strengths to increase personal well-being. Their strengths are positive traits reflected in their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Once a child’s strengths are identified, SFBT will then amplify those strengths.

For children suffering with learning disabilities or mental health problems, the SFBT model can create a buffer by amplifying their strengths (rather than correcting or repairing weaknesses). The Resilience Theory is the belief that a child’s strengths are their protective factors and those qualities help them cope with adversity.

As a counselor, the SFBT interventions and techniques I use are the following:

1. Finding Exceptions: This involves me listening to the components of a client’s story that do not fit the problem they are sharing. At what point does this individual succeed despite their difficulties? These are the exceptions to the problem that are pointed out to the client in order to help them recognize their own ability to change.

2. Miracle Questions: These questions are often asked on the first day of therapy as it helps the child focus on the future. For example, I would ask, “If I could give you a magic wand that would change your life to be exactly how you want it, what would your life look like?” This question helps me understand a client’s goal so I can guide them towards achieving that goal.

3. Coping Questions: Questions that are designed to help clients recognize their own resiliency by pinpointing some of the ways that they are effectively coping with their problems. Below are examples of Coping Questions in order to help the child notice internal strengths that they may be overlooking.

The SFBT approach uses multiple interventions/techniques that have the same goal in mind: Focus on the positive and what can be changed in order to relieve ourselves from suffering and being stuck in the past.


Coping Questions: Better, Same, and Worse

These example questions aid in finding a solution to a specific problem.

If the problem got better:

  • Give perspective: Focus on details of how the client is working through the problem (strengths and resiliencies) and offer compliments.

  • Tell me more about what you did instead of losing your temper?

  • When did you realize that you needed to walk away and not get into a fight?

  • Who was most surprised by your decision to walk away?

  • How confident are you that you can do this again on a scale of 1 to 5?

  • What would raise your confidence one level higher?

If the problem stayed the same:

  • Give perspective: The problem has not taken a turn for the worse.

  • How have you managed to keep things from getting worse?

  • Suppose I talk to your parent, what would they say went better, even a little bit? What worked this time?

  • Rate the problem on a scale of 1-5, 1 being the worst. What would you need to do in order to stay at a level 4?

  • What would change in your life if you stayed at level 4 over the next two weeks?

If the problem got worse:

  • Give perspective: How did you manage to get out of bed and make it here today? Offer a compliment for their efforts.

  • How did you get through such a difficult week when so many things went wrong?

  • What helped you get through this week?

  • What helped you stay as calm under difficult circumstances?

  • How come things did not get worse?


Berg, I. & Steiner, T. (2003). Children’s solution work. W. W. Norton & Company.


For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog.

Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here:


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