Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)

About This Program

Target Population: Parents who have had their children removed from their custody and into foster care by Child Welfare Services (CWS), have been referred by CWS for substance use and mental health treatment, and have a case plan goal of family reunification

Program Overview

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is a therapy model that asserts the importance of building on the resources and motivation of clients because they know their problems best and are capable of generating solutions to solve their own problems. Central to SFBT is client strengths and resiliencies, clients’ prior ability to develop solutions, and exceptions to problems. Discussion of exceptions and movement towards future adaptive behaviors allows the clinician and client to focus on solutions to the client’s problem, rather than dwelling on the problem itself. The emphasis of SFBT is on the process of developing an image of a realistic solution rather than dwelling on the past manifestation of the problem, with the focus being on identifying past successes and exceptions to the problem in an effort to accomplish set goals.

Program Goals

The goals of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) are:

  • Decrease substance use and substance abuse related problems
  • Decrease trauma-related problems

Essential Components

The essential components of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) include:

  • Focus on solution-building rather than problem-solving
  • Focus on client’s desired future rather than past problem
  • Focus on increasing current useful behavior
  • Focus on exceptions to the problems which can be used to construct solutions
  • Focus on co-constructing alternatives to current undesired behaviors
  • Focus on small changes which can lead to larger changes
  • Assumes that solution behaviors already exist in clients
  • Assumes solutions are not directly related to any identified problem by the client or therapist
  • Focus on conversation skills that invite building solutions rather than diagnosis and treating client problems

Program Delivery

Parent/Caregiver Services

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) directly provides services to parents/caregivers and addresses the following:

  • Substance use problems including alcohol/drug use, medical status problems due to substance use, employment/self-support problems due to substance use, family/social relationship problems due to substance use, psychiatric status problems due to substance use, and legal status problems due to substance use; and trauma-related symptoms including anxiety, depression, dissociation, sexual abuse trauma, sexual problems, and sleep disturbances

Recommended Intensity:

Typically, 45- to 60-minute weekly counseling sessions, but it can vary

Recommended Duration:

Typically 5-8 sessions or about 3 months, but it can vary

Delivery Settings

This program is typically conducted in a(n):

  • Community Agency
  • Outpatient Clinic


Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) includes a homework component:

Homework is identified in the counseling session and is individualized. It usually involves small, concrete tasks the client can do help move towards their identified goals.


Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) has materials available in languages other than English:

Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Polish, Swedish

For information on which materials are available in these languages, please check on the program's website or contact the program representative (contact information is listed at the bottom of this page).

Resources Needed to Run Program

The typical resources for implementing the program are:

SFBT clinicians, individual therapy rooms

Education and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

Minimum Bachelor’s degree and Master’s Degree preferred

Education and Training Resources

There is a manual that describes how to implement this program , and there is training available for this program.

Training Contact:
Training is obtained:

Onsite or participants can attend various training workshops at the training centers. There are a number of other trainers around the US, Canada, and Europe that provide SFBT trainings.

Number of days/hours:

Varies but recommend a minimum of 2 full days of SFBT training as well as follow up clinical supervision, if possible

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

Knekt, P., Lindfors, O., Harkanen, T., Valikoski, M, Vitala, E., Laaksonen, M. A., … Helsinki Psychotherapy Study Group. (2008). Randomized trial on the effectiveness of long- and short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy and Solution-Focused Therapy on psychiatric symptoms during a 3-year follow-up. Psychological Medicine, 38, 689-703. doi:10.1017/S003329170700164X

Type of Study: Randomized controlled trial
Number of Participants: 326


  • Age — Mean=31.6-33.6 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — Not specified
  • Gender — 24.2% Male
  • Status — Participants were individuals from psychiatric hospitals.

Location/Institution: Finland

Summary: (To include comparison groups, outcomes, measures, notable limitations)
This study examined the effectiveness of the Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) intervention on treatment of mood and anxiety disorders. Participants were randomized into either SFBT or short- and long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy. Measures utilized include the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAMD), the Symptom Check List Anxiety Scale (SCL-90-Anx), and the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAMA). Results indicated during the first year of follow-up, patients treated with short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy recovered faster from both depressive and anxiety symptoms, and patients treated with SFBT recovered faster from depressive symptoms than patients receiving long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy. After 3 years of follow-up, however, the situation was reversed with a stronger treatment effect in the long-term psychodynamic treatment group both for patients with depressive and anxiety symptoms. Thus in the long run, long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy was more effective than the brief therapies. Limitations include lack of nontreatment control group and possible therapist effects due to nonuse of treatment manuals.

Length of postintervention follow-up: 1 year and 3 years.

Kim, J. S., Brook, J., & Akin, B. (2016). Solution-Focused Brief Therapy with substance using individuals: A randomized controlled trial study. Research on Social Work Practice. doi:10.1177/1049731516650517

Type of Study: Randomized controlled trial
Number of Participants: 64


  • Age — Mean=31.3 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — 56.3% White, 14.1% African American, 9.4% American Indians/Alaskan Native, 1.6% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 8.8% Mixed Race
  • Gender — 43.8% Male
  • Status — Participants were individuals from substance use and mental health clinics who had their children removed by the child welfare agencies.

Location/Institution: Oklahoma

Summary: (To include comparison groups, outcomes, measures, notable limitations)
This study examined the effectiveness of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) intervention on substance abuse and trauma-related problems. Participants were randomized into either the SFBT or control condition. Measures utilized include the Addiction Severity Index-Self-Report (ASI-SR), the Trauma Symptom Checklist-40 (TSC-40), and the Child and Adolescent Mindfulness Measure (CAMM). Results indicated pretest and posttest scores on the substance use and related problems showed slight improvements for both the SFBT and control groups based on the ASI-SR in all subscales, except for the family/relationship status subscale for control group which showed an increase in mean score and small effect size in the opposite desired direction. Trauma-related problems, as measured by the TSC-40, showed that both the SFBT and control group clients improved in the desired direction. Limitations include small sample size, lack of random assignment of clinicians to see which ones are selected to receive the SFBT training and clients in both study groups were also receiving multiple sources of support from various community providers and, therefore, it is difficult to fully account for those possibly additional contributions to the clients’ substance use and trauma-related problems.

Length of postintervention follow-up: None.

Additional References

Kim, J. S., & Franklin, C. (2015). The importance of positive emotions in Solution-Focused Brief Therapy. Best Practices in Mental Health, 11(1), 25-41.

SFBTA. (2013). Solution-Focused Therapy treatment manual for working with individuals (2nd ed.). Available from

Contact Information

Johnny S. Kim, PhD
Agency/Affiliation: University of Denver
Phone: (303) 871-3498

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: September 2016

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: February 2017

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: February 2017