Academic journal article Best Practices in Mental Health

Understanding Emotional Change in Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: Facilitating Positive Emotions

Academic journal article Best Practices in Mental Health

Understanding Emotional Change in Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: Facilitating Positive Emotions

Article excerpt

Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is a strengths-based, future-focused therapeutic model that was developed under the leadership of two social workers, Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, and a team of interdisciplinary colleagues at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee (de Shazer, 1985; de Shazer et al., 1986). The SFBT approach to helping clients provides a set of therapeutic techniques for building client competencies and helps clients discover workable solutions to their mental health problems (Berg & De Jong, 2008). An emphasis of SFBT is on the process of developing a future solution rather than the past manifestation of the problem, with the focus being on identifying past successes and exceptions to the problem, as well as identifying new and novel ways of responding in future efforts to solve problems (Franklin et al., 2001).

Orchestrating a positive, solution-focused conversation is unique to SFBT and is sometimes referred to as solution talk. The aims are to create a context for change where hope, competence, and positive expectancies for change increase and a client can co-construct with the therapist workable solutions to his or her problems. Goals are also believed to be important to the change process and are created by the therapist and client working together. Thus, it is critical that therapists foster an open and collaborative working relationship with clients (Dielman & Franklin, 1998; Lethem, 2002; Lipchik, 2011).

Since its development in the early 1980s, SFBT has attracted increased interest within the fields of social work and marriage and family therapy and across disciplines (de Shazer et al., 2007; Trepper, Dolan, McCollum, & Nelson, 2006). During the past decade, the outcome research on SFBT has also advanced significantly (Gingerich, Kim, Geert, Stams, & Macdonald, 2012; Kim, 2008a), resulting in SFBT being evaluated and recognized as an evidence-based practice for mental health and substance abuse problems (Kim, Smock, Trepper, McCullom, & Franklin, 2009). One of the strengths of the SFBT approach is that it has proven to be very adaptable and transportable to a variety of therapeutic contexts including behavioral health and counseling clinics, school counseling and mental health services, organizational consulting, management, child protective services, and coaching. [See Franklin, Trepper, Gingerich, & McCollum (2012) for reviews of the many ways that SFBT has been adapted and used in various settings.]

Although SFBT has advanced in its recognition as a useful therapeutic and counseling approach, the theory behind SFBT and the process research that explains mechanisms for how SFBT may work to produce changes within clients has not advanced nearly as much. Most recently, microanalysis research has contributed the most to our knowledge of how the change process of SFBT may work. This research has examined the types of therapy conversations that happen in SFBT in comparison to those associated with other therapies (Bavelas, De Jong, & Korman, 2008; Bavelas, McGee, Phillips, & Routledge, 2000; Tomori & Bavelas, 2004). For example, SFBT has been shown to concentrate more on strengths in clients and to use co-construction of meanings in therapy conversations to facilitate solutions with clients (Bavelas, 2012; McGee, Del Vento, & Bavelas, 2005). Microanalysis studies examining therapeutic conversations also demonstrate that therapists employing SFBT as opposed to other therapies use more of the client's exact words, use more positive words, and make more positive reflections with clients.

Despite such efforts to understand the therapeutic process of SFBT, knowledge about the possible theoretical and therapeutic mechanisms for change within SFBT is in its infancy relative to actual empirical studies that examine these mechanisms. In the most recent review of SFBT process research, however, McKeel (2012) noted the lack of information on how SFBT techniques create client hope and optimism. …

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