Skills in Solution Focused Brief: Counselling & Psychotherapy


Paul Hanton

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  • Back Matter
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  • About the Series

    Skills in Counselling & Psychotherapy is a series of practical guides for trainees and practitioners. Each book takes one of the main approaches to therapeutic work and describes the core skills and techniques used within that approach.

    Topics covered include

    • how to establish and develop the therapeutic relationship
    • how to help the client change
    • how to assess the suitability of the approach for the client.

    This is the first series of books to look at skills specific to the different theoretical approaches, making it ideal for use on a range of courses which prepare the trainees to work directly with clients.

    Books in the series:

    Skills in Transactional Analysis Counselling & Psychotherapy

    Christine Lister-Ford

    Skills in Person-Centred Counselling & Psychotherapy

    Janet Tolan

    Skills in Cognitive-Behavioural Counselling & Psychotherapy

    Frank Wills

    Skills in Rational Emotive Behaviour Counselling & Psychotherapy

    Windy Dryden

    Skills in Psychodynamic Counselling & Psychotherapy

    Susan Howard

    Skills in Gestalt Counselling & Psychotherapy, Second Edition

    Phil Joyce & Charlotte Sills

    Skills in Existential Counselling & Psychotherapy

    Emmy van Deurzen & Martin Adams


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    About the Author

    Paul was born in East London in 1962. After a stint in the army at 18 years old, involvement with drugs and alcohol led to a four-year prison sentence at 22 for robbery; without any qualifications, there seemed to be no preferred futures, only escape from the problem present. However, while in prison Paul took five O levels; after prison, his A levels; and then surprised himself by completing a degree at Middlesex Polytechnic and finding that life had a bit more to offer.

    Paul worked in student services and drug and alcohol services and got his first taste of SFBT, attending a two day course at The Brief Therapy Practice (BRIEF) in 1993. This course changed Paul's way of working with a client group that were often chaotic, transient and deemed ‘difficult’. Paul took this way of working with him when he moved north to Barnsley to run one of the country's first dedicated young people's drug and alcohol projects.

    In 2000, Paul enrolled on the world's first MA course in SFBT, run at Birmingham University by Bill O'Connell, with 14 other innovative and enthusiastic practitioners. He completed his MA in 2005, having undertaken his research into using SFBT with people living with moderate-to-severe depression attending a psychology department; he worked as a locum in that department until 2009. Paul has recently returned to young people's drug and alcohol work.

    Paul is an accredited member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and in 2003, along with nine others, became a founding member of the United Kingdom Association for Solution Focused Practice (UKASFP).


    Outrageous moments in therapy. In T. S. Nelson (Ed.), Doing something different: solution-focused brief therapy practice. Routledge, New York. 2010.

    Solution-focused therapy in a problem-focused world. Healthcare Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal, 9(2). 2009.

    Solution focused brief therapy with clients diagnosed as being moderately to severely depressed. Research Review of the United Kingdom Association for Solution Focused Practice, 1(1). 2008.

    Solution focused therapy with carers. Solution News, 3(2). 2008.

    The essential drug service commissioner, Drugscope, London. 2006.

    An exploration of the effectiveness of using solution focused brief therapy with clients diagnosed as being moderately to severely depressed, MA. Dissertation, University of Birmingham. 2005.

    The theory of not having theory in SFT. Solution News, 1(2). 2005.

    Young people's substance misuse review: assessment of future needs, for Doncaster Drug Strategy Unit. 2005.

    Solution focused therapy and substance misuse. In W. J. O'Connell, & S. Palmer (Eds.), Handbook of solution-focused therapy. London: Sage. 2003.

    ‘Treatment toolkit’: a review of publications related to treatment for substance misuse. Drug Prevention Advisory Service. 2001.


    I am grateful to BRIEF for setting me on the Solution Focused path when I attended my first short course at what was The Brief Therapy Practice back in 1993 (or it may have been 1994).

    I am indebted to Bill O'Connell, who believed in me enough to give me a place on the first MA in Solution Focused Brief Therapy in 2000, and in fact, to all the participants on that course who really gave me the freedom and confidence to start practising SFBT in more innovative and ‘me’ ways. Bill has always been a voice of balance and reason, one of the least dogmatic and client-centred therapists that I have met.

    My wife Sue, my eldest son Christoph and my youngest son Kiyoshi have been inspirational in so many ways, not least reminding me that the world in which I work is just that, work; there is a life outside the workplace and the therapy room, something I believe in for the people I work with, but sometimes forget myself.

    Last but not least, I'd like to acknowledge all the people who practise SFBT and Solution Focused Approaches in innovative and creative ways who have inspired me. There really are too many to list here and I do not want to ‘miss’ anyone out. I will have commented or thanked you outside this book and will probably do so again. This book is written by me, but owned by everyone who has contributed over the years in their own ways to my knowledge and learning.

    Praise for the Book

    ‘Paul brings to the world of counselling and psychotherapy a fresh exposition of the solution-focused approach. Rich descriptions of the key solution-focused skills, illustrated with examples from Paul's extensive experience of practice, offer the reader many opportunities to extend their own practice repertoire. Drawing on his substantial training experience Paul brings the reader into a learning space, inviting you to engage with his ideas, reflect on how you might become more solution-focused in your work, and highlighting where to go next for further reading.’

    John Wheeler MA, UKCP Registered Systemic Psychotherapist, independent solution-focused practitioner, trainer and supervisor (

    ‘Paul is an experienced, skilled and innovative practitioner who has worked with a wide range of clients, some of them particularly challenging. This book introduces readers in a practical and accessible way to the nuts and bolts of how to practice in a Solution Focused way. I recommend it to newcomers to the approach and to others who wish to renew their practice.’

    Bill O'Connell, Director of Focus on Solutions

    ‘Written by one of the leading practitioners of solution-focused psychotherapy in the UK; this is a highly personal, and highly accessible introduction to contemporary skills in solution focused practice. It clearly states what it is about (and equally, what it's not about), and takes the reader, in true solution-focused style, on a series of small steps towards a clearly described, and well defined, conclusion. It makes use of clear outcomes and recaps in each chapter, clearly signposting for the reader the skills being discussed, and the relevance of them to practice. I was engaged, from the first page, by the level of detail with which this book is written, and the generosity of experience shared by the author. I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to explore, or re-explore, the skills of solution focused brief counselling and psychotherapy.’

    Steve Smith, Lecturer in Mental Health, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen

  • Appendix 1: Photocopiable Resources

    These resources are available to download from

    This first resource is something that I devised (and have honed) as a guide/prompt for those relatively new to the SFBT approach.

    PC Resource 1: First SFBT Meeting

    Solution Focused Brief Therapy

    First meeting

    Client name:


    Presenting issue(s):

    Best hopes for coming here?

    Strengths, skills, interests (problem-free talk):

    Support, family, friends, etc.:

    If this work was successful how would you and the client know?

    Exceptions (to the problem):

    What has made these exceptions more likely to happen?

    Wonderful/miracle question:

    Scale point after the ‘wonderful’ thing has happened:

    Scale point today: How come? What gets you there on the scale?

    What would be happening that tells you that you have moved up the scale?

    What would others notice?

    Between-session task(s):

    Coping questions:

    Other comments:

    Usefulness of meeting (scale):

    What would make the next meeting even more useful?

    PC Resource 2: Current/Future Island

    I first came across this many years ago when working with young people in the drug and alcohol field. A guy called Jamie Satterthwaite introduced me to the basic concept, and I have since adapted and honed it.

    The object of this intervention is to give people a future focus in a visual way. Often people are trying to ‘get away’ from the ‘problems’ without thinking too much about the way the future will look.

    So, the picture below is copied, either as it is or on a sheet of flip chart paper. The client fills in the entire current island with words that are significant to portray their current life, such as drinking, anger, family hassle, no money, etc. The client also puts on the current island things that are going OK. At this point nothing is written on the future island.

    The therapist suggests that there is a body of water between the current island and the future island and asks the client to say what might be on the future island that would encourage them to move/swim towards it, what they might take with them from the current island, and what they might leave behind. It should be recognized by the therapist and the client that even though the current island has ‘problems’, it is also familiar, whereas it can seem difficult to swim to the future island if we do not know what is on the other shore to meet us. The temptation is for people to ‘stay’ on the current island with what they know whereas we want to encourage them to move forward. We could get them to scale the current and future islands.

    Figure App.1 Current and future islands
    PC Resource 3: Who and How?

    This is a short exercise for people to use when they are trying to find solutions and it seems very difficult to do so alone. Ask the client to fill out the sheet below and use this to explore further.

    Who and how?

    Please answer the questions below. The therapist/worker will then discuss your answers with you.

    Q1. Who is important in my life?

    Q2. If I were to ask any of the above people to help me to get to where I want to be with my current issue, who would I ask?

    Q3. How could they help me (just being there, help me with specific tasks, notice my progress, etc.)?

    Q4. Who is the first person I am going to ask to help me? What am I going to ask them to do that is helpful?

    Appendix 2: Useful Booklist and Websites


    There are literally thousands of papers and books on SF therapy/approaches now, and I would not suggest that you try to read them all. Several books and papers are referenced throughout the previous chapters. Some are weighty academic tomes and some, like this book, are very specifically geared towards an area of interest. Choose wisely or you will never lift your head from paper. My personal favourites are:

    Berg, I. K., & Miller, S. D. (1992). Working with the problem drinker: a solution focused approach. New York: W. W. Norton.

    This book has been invaluable in my work with drug and alcohol users and was (and is) influential in illustrating the emerging thoughts of Berg and her colleagues at a time when SFBT was less than a decade old.

    George, E., Iveson, C., & Ratner, H. (1999). Problem to solution (2nd Edn.). London: BT Press.

    BRIEF really helped SF ways of working take off in the UK and this is an excellent introduction to Solution Focused Therapy, and one that I read often when I need to be refreshed.

    Lipchik, E. (2002). Beyond technique in solution-focused therapy. New York: Guilford Press.

    Eve Lipchik was one of the original Milwaukee founders of SFBT, along with Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg and others. This book is a unique departure from the minimalist approach that SF often takes and looks at theory and emotions. I can't say that I agree with everything in this book, but I admire the alternative approach and the ‘freshness’ of it.

    Nelson, T. S. (Ed.) (2010). Doing something different: solution-focused brief therapy practice. New York: Routledge.

    This book has already become a firm favourite for two reasons. First, the sheer breadth of examples of practice is truly stunning, and it includes the thoughts of a wide range of SFBT practitioners. Secondly, there are 76 chapters in 300 pages, so it is very much a ‘dip in’ book. It is not a dry academic text, but rather a book full of amusing anecdotes, thought-provoking moments, and a chance to really see how SFBT is not simply following a script.

    O'Connell, B. (1998). Solution-focused therapy. London: Sage.

    Bill O'Connell has a way of writing that simplifies often complex things. This book is a good read and covers a broad range of areas.

    O'Connell, B., & Palmer, S. (Eds.) (2003). Handbook of solution-focused therapy. London: Sage.

    A UK handbook, with chapters from many of the ‘leading lights’ in their respective SF fields, it covers group work, research, social work, and much more. This book contains easy-to-read chapters following similar formats.

    Zeig, J. K., & Munion, W. M. (1999). Milton H. Erickson. London: Sage.

    Although not strictly a solution focused book, it gives a great overview of the man who, in my opinion, did so much to influence the formation of solution focused ways of working, and the thinking of Steve de Shazer. It is a cracking read.


    Most of the people reading this book will probably have access to the internet. There are thousands of sites and articles dedicated to SFBT, but here are a few that you might find useful. Many of the websites listed here are just a starting point, with links to other sites.

    My website, which, of course, I will list. I have useful links to other SFBT websites, and I often change the downloads on the site for others to use.

    The website of the United Kingdom Association for Solution Focused Practice (UKASFP). Not purely therapy, but a website reflecting the full breadth of SF practitioners in the UK, from social workers, to teachers, to business coaches.

    The website of the free journal of UKASFP. This journal is read worldwide and the website holds current and past copies. It is also a portal for the Solution Focused Research Review (SFRR), a peer-reviewed journal of SF research.

    BRIEF almost need no introduction. This is their website. While it lists courses and conferences, it also has plenty of useful SF information and tips.

    The European Brief Therapy Association website. It has great pages on current and past SFBT research, and much more besides.

    The website of the North American Solution Focused Brief Therapy Association (NASFBTA). It is a great place to start if you are new to SFBT in the USA or Canada.

    Professor Gingerich has pages on his website dedicated to SFBT research and he helpfully categorizes them as strong, moderate or weak controlled studies. He is also very affable and happy to send any further information when contacted.

    Dr Alasdair Macdonald is a complete powerhouse of knowledge of SFBT and if you ever want to know anything about any research undertaken in SF, he is your man and this is the website to consult. Alasdair has been involved with the EBTA and the UKASFP since their inceptions.

    This is the website of Harry Korman and Jocelyne Lopez-Korman. Harry is the founder of the International SFBT message list. He has written many useful articles and has contributed to numerous publications, some of which are available on his website.


    Bachelor, A., & Howarth, A. (1999). The therapeutic relationship. In M. A.Hubble, B. L.Duncan, & S. D.Miller (Eds.), The Heart and Soul of Change. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
    Berg, I. K., & Miller, S. D. (1992). Working with the problem drinker: a solution-focused approach. New York: W. W. Norton.
    Burns, K. (2005). Focus on solutions: a health professional's guide. London: Whurr.
    Corsini, R. J., Wedding, D., & Dumont, F. (Eds.) (2008). Current psychotherapies (
    8th Edn.
    ). Belmont, CA: Brooks-Cole.
    De Jong, P., & Berg, I. K. (1998). Interviewing for solutions. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks-Cole.
    De Jong, P., & Berg, I. K. (2002). Interviewing for solutions (
    2nd Edn.
    ). Belmont, CA: Brooks-Cole.
    de Shazer, S. (1985). Keys to solution in brief therapy. New York: W. W. Norton.
    de Shazer, S. (1994). Words were originally magic. New York: W. W. Norton.
    de Shazer, S., Berg, I. K., Lipchik, E., Nunally, E., Molnar, A., Gingerich, W. C., & Weiner-Davies, M. (1986). Brief therapy: focused solution development. Family Process, 25: 207–21.
    de Shazer, S., Dolan, Y., with Korman, H., Trepper, T., McCollum, E., & Berg, I. K. (2007). More than miracles: the state of the art of solution-focused brief therapy. London: The Haworth Press.
    Dolan, Y. (2000). Beyond survival: living well is the best revenge. London: BT Press.
    Duncan, L., Ghul, R., & Mousely, S. (2007). Creating positive futures: solution focused recovery from mental distress. London: BT Press.
    George, E., Iveson, C., & Ratner, H. (1999). Problem to solution (
    2nd Edn.
    ). London: BT Press.
    Hanton, P. (2003). Solution-focused therapy and substance misuse. In B.O'Connell, & S.Palmer (Eds.), Handbook of solution-focused therapy. London: Sage.
    Hayley, J. (1973). Uncommon therapy. New York: W. W. Norton.
    Hubble, M. A., Duncan, B. L., & Miller, S. D. (Eds.) (1999). The Heart and Soul of Change. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
    Koss, M. P., & Shiang, J. (1994). Research on brief psychotherapy. In A. E.Bergin, & S. L.Garfield (Eds.), Handbook of psychotherapy and behaviour change. New York: Sage.
    Lambert, M. J. (1992). Psychotherapy outcome research: implications for integrative and eclectic therapists. In J. C.Norcross, & M. R.Goldfried (Eds.), Handbook of psychotherapy integration (pp. 94–129). New York: Basic Books.
    Lipchik, E. (2002). Beyond technique in solution-focused therapy. New York: The Guilford Press.
    Macdonald, A. (2007). Solution-focused therapy: theory, research and practice. London: Sage.
    Mair, K. (1992). The myth of therapist expertise. In W.Dryden, & C.Feltham (Eds.), Psychotherapy and its discontents. Buckingham: Open University Press.
    McLeod, J. (1998). An introduction to counselling. Buckingham: Open University Press.
    Miller, G. (2008). The man behind the mirror behind the mirror at BTFC. (An interview by Dr Mark McKergow.)InterAction: the Journal of Solution Focus in Organisations, 1(1): 78–88.
    Nelson, T. S. (ed.) (2010). Doing something different: solution-focused brief therapy practice. New York: Routledge.
    O'Connell, B. (1998). Solution-focused therapy. London: Sage.
    O'Connell, B. (2007). Solution-focused therapy. In W.Dryden (Ed.), Dryden's handbook of individual therapy (
    5th Edn.
    ). London: Sage.
    O'Connell, B., & Palmer, S. (Eds.) (2003). Handbook of solution-focused therapy. London: Sage.
    O'Hanlon, W. H., & Weiner-Davis, M. (1989). In search of solutions: a new direction in psychotherapy. New York: W. W. Norton.
    Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (1983). Stages and processes of self-change of smoking: toward an integrative model of change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 51(3): 390–5.
    Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (1986). The transtheoretical approach. In J. C.Norcross (Ed.), Handbook of Eclectic Psychotherapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel.
    Wheeler, J. (2010). Certificate of competence. In T. S.Nelson (Ed.), Doing something different: solution-focused brief therapy practice (Chapter 54). New York: Routledge.
    Wills, F. (2008). Skills in cognitive behaviour counselling and psychotherapy. London: Sage.
    Zeig, J. K., & Munion, W. M. (1999). Milton H. Erickson. London: Sage.

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