What is Solution Focus?

The Solution Focused way of working has its origins in the various forms of brief therapy which evolved from the systemic and strategic family therapy traditions in the United States of America. Steve de Shazer, who died in 2005, is regarded as the father of the solution focused approach to people’s difficulties, which can be described as non-pathological and collaborative (de Shazer, 1985; 1988; 1991; and de Shazer & Berg, 1994).  Steve de Shazer, Insoo kim Berg and their colleagues worked at the Brief Family Therapy Centre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Prominent amongst co-workers, who were involved in the shift from problem to solution thinking were:  Walter Gingerich, Bill O’Hanlon and Michelle Weiner-Davies.

Brief Therapy of the earlier problem focused variety tended to encourage clients to describe their problems in detail, outline their beliefs on the causation of the problem and, to express a view as to what best may help.  However, de Shazer, Berg and colleagues (Weiner-Davies 1989; Berg 1991; de Shazer 1988 & 1991; de Shazer et al 1986; O’Hanlon.) discovered that clients achieved their goals quicker by talking more about their hopes for the future and their strengths, rather than describing their problem-peppered past.  Furthermore, it was discovered that by amplifying the ‘solution’ behaviours and reinforcing it by giving compliments, the client began to do more of it, thus outweighing the ‘problem’ patterns.  As they began to picture their lives – once the problem had been overcome – and thus experience more of the solution, a return to healthy functioning was hastened.  What was noteworthy also, was that the problem thoughts and behaviours seemed to have little connection with solution thoughts and behaviours.  So from brief therapy origins, de Shazer and colleagues honed their practice and perfected specific interventions by careful choice of language.  The name they gave to this specific way of working was Solution Focused Brief Therapy.  For over two decades now, it has become a megatrend:  being adopted by educational, health, correctional and relationship counselling services. More recently, the solution focused approach has made great inroads into the organisational and business community.

Useful Links

Solutions in Organisations Link-up – SOL

This is forum for sharing and building solution focused practice in organisations. All are welcome: leaders, managers, consultants, facilitators, coaches and other practitioners.

SOL (www.solworld.org) runs international conferences, summer universities and various workshops.

Solutions Books

This organisation, founded by Mark McKergow and Jenny Clarke, is a key publisher of books and materials on solution focused methods in work, business and organisational settings.

Mark and Jenny have 5 titles for sale already from this site (www.solutionsbooks.com) and are looking to expand their range further.

To give an accurate idea of what they are trying to achieve, a quote from their home page is helpful: “We are promoting the developing movement around Solutions Focus and other positive, minimal change technologies including Narrative and Appreciative Inquiry, which values simplicity and pragmatism over complex models and ill-founded theory. This New Wave is not a different model for change – it is a different kind of approach. We are not interested in finding grand designs. Instead, we seek ways to find direct routés to progress, to explore the limits of what matters and what can be overlooked, in helping people and organisations move forward in a complex and fluid world”.

The Solution Focused List

This list of solution focused practitioners worldwide, (owned by Mark McKergow), now has over 400 subscribers who exchange ideas on various solution focused subjects. It is possible for list members to find out what has been said to date on a particular subject by visiting the list archives. To join, simply e-mail ‘SUBSCRIBE-SOLUTIONS-L’ to: LISTSERV@HOME.EASE.LSOFT.COM

Sometimes the list is more active than others. Either way, you need to make time to deal with all the mailings!


The Brief Therapy Practice (or BRIEF, as it is now known), was founded in 1989 and has put on many conferences and training events over the years. Prominent figures such as Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg, Yvonne Dolan, Bill O’Hanlon and Brian Cade have been brought over by The Practice, to speak. These events have been held in London and other main centres.

Throughout the 1990s especially, Brief Therapy Practice can be credited with bringing the good news of the solution focused approach to the greatest number across the UK.

The Practice (www.brieftherapy.org.uk) specialises in short courses and now runs a diploma course in solution focused practice.

link  to sfwork

The Centre for Solutions Focus at Work. Mark McKergow and Jenny Clarke head up sfWork. In addition to being long established players on the solutions-in-organisations front, they run the increasingly successful publishing house, Solutions Books. sfWork is building an international reputation in solution focused training and consultancy: especially in the world of business.

Brief Therapy Press

BT Press (www.btpress.co.uk) publishes and distributes books for practitioners of brief therapy and appreciative enquiry. They publish a good series of mainly British based tests on solution focused brief therapy. Also available are other texts and resource materials relevant to the subject. A good mail order service is available.

European Brief Therapy Association

The European Brief Therapy Association is an organisation (www.ebta.nu) with the aim of supporting Brief Therapy. Since 1994 they have held annual conferences in various cities across Europe.

The conferences are always a source of inspiration to like-minded professionals. Sharing experiences, building links, friendship and gathering facts on brief therapy research has been the main activity. The EBTA Board offer a one-yearly research grant to a suitable project carrying out research into SFBT and its application. A large body of solution focused research has been assembled to date by EBTA Board member Dr Alasdair Macdonald.

Bill O’Hanlon’s Website

A prolific writer (23 books to date), international workshop presenter and highly effective psychotherapist, is found in Bill O’Hanlon (www.brieftherapy.com). From solution focused brief therapy, Bill developed Solution Oriented Therapy and founded Possibility Therapy. He is noted particularly for his collaborative and respectful approach to clients, no matter how serious or life threatening are the problems or difficulties they are presenting.

From his early beginnings in his professional career in 1975, he met the eccentric and creative psychiatrist, Dr Milton Erickson, creator of “Ericksonian Hypnosis”. Bill tells the amazing story of how he asked Dr Erickson how he could become a student of his, to which he replied that he would tell him a little bit about how he worked, if Bill would agree to come and do his gardening!

Bill’s books are very readable and simple to understand. He has contributed much to the body knowledge of the solution focused approach and has influenced many in the techniques they use in their practice.


The United Kingdom Association for Solution Focused Practice (UKASP), functions to help further the use of the solution focused approach and to create a national profile for solution focused practitioners. This is achieved by hosting an annual national conference and by encouraging all who use the solution focused approach to share good practice and to meet in local groups wherever practicable and possible. They have an excellent website (www.ukasfp.co.uk) which enables those seeking solution focused practitioners to locate them through the Directory (the UKASFP also produces a quarterly newsletter which now has a global readership and is now web-enabled). Membership of the Association is for a modest fee of £10 a year.

Brief Therapy North East

This organisation (www.btne.org) is a resource for practitioners in the North East of England and adjoining regions who are developing and promoting models of collaborative brief therapy. BTNE offer friendship, support, information and learning through events and publications.

BTNE events include study days and international workshops. International presenters they have hosted so far include Insoo Kim Berg, Bill O’Hanlon, Scott Miller and Bob Bertollino.

Yorkshire Solution Focused Brief Therapy Group

This organisation (www.yorkshiresolutions.org.uk) meets in the Leeds/Bradford area and hosts about 5 open meetings per year. They are a professional interest group open to anyone using SFT skills in the regions. Their policy is to make newcomers to solution focused ideas particularly welcome.

Members of the group come from a wide range of backgrounds and their main aim is to assist in the spreading of SFT skills as widely as possible around the region.

The Brief Therapy Institute of Sydney (BTIS)

This centre (www.brieftherapysydney.co.au) in the western suburbs of Sydney is committed to being a “Centre of Excellence” for solution focused practice, training and supervision.

They provide a range of sessions which includes programmes of professional training, professional supervision and ‘customised workplace training’. BTIS hold regular monthly Friday afternoon seminars and also stage international presenter events.

Brief Solutions, of which BTIS is part, was founded by Michael Durrant and Svea van de Horne.

The Brief & Narrative Therapy Network(BNTN)

This organisation was created to assist mental health professions in connecting with each other and to promote brief and narrative therapy as they have come to understand and shape it. BNTN is concerned greatly with networking and the sharing of ideas, in order to help grow the thinking of past pioneers in the field of narrative, solution focused brief therapy, the MRI approach, and the collaborative, client-centred outcome informed practices. Through this process, they endeavour to continue to develop and fine tune what has become a highly respectful way of working with people to create human change.

At the website (www.brieftherapynetwork.com), it can be seen how the Network shares through newsletters, round table discussions and gets connected with like-minded people.

BNTN, which is based in Canada, provides a year long training programme in brief and narrative therapy with families, couples and individuals. In addition, they stage one-day events in Toronto.