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Solution-Focused Brief Therapy

Ages 13-14

Rating: Level 3


Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is based on social constructionist philosophy. It emphasizes what the client wants to achieve through therapy rather than the client’s problems. The approach concentrates on the present and future rather than on the past. The therapist/counselor uses respectful curiosity to invite the client to envision a preferred future and then helps the client start moving toward it. By helping clients identify the things they wish to change in their life—and also to attend to those things that are currently happening that they wish to continue happening—SFBT therapists help their clients construct a concrete vision of a preferred future for themselves. SFBT can be applied in individual or group settings.

To achieve such proactive change in a group setting, SFBT practitioners structure sessions in a way that a) uses the resources and strengths presented by individual group members, b) recognizes that change, particularly positive change, by individuals is inevitable, c) concentrates on a present and future orientation, d) develops treatment sessions that are cooperative and collaborative, e) points out that problems are not solved but solutions are considered, f) discusses exceptions to problems that then become the building blocks for solutions, and g) organizes treatment sessions that are goal directed and goal driven.

To facilitate the group, practitioners then ask questions such as the miracle question, the scaling question, the relationship question, and the exception-finding question. For example, the SFBT practitioner using the miracle question might ask: “Suppose that tonight, while you are asleep, there is a miracle and the problem that brought you here today has been solved. However, because you were asleep you were unaware this miracle happened. Could you tell me, what would be different in the morning that would tell you a miracle has taken place?” In addition, the practitioner might also ask the scaling question: “On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being least confident, and 10 being most confident, where on this scale would you say you are now, and where on the scale would like to be?” Examples of the relationship question include the following: “Who would notice that you had reached your goal on the scale? If a close friend were here right now, what would he or she say about how you have reached this goal? What would she or he be seeing that would convince her or him that you had accomplished goal?” Finally the exception-finding question: “When did the issue that brought you here today become a problem.”


SFBT was evaluated with a quasi-experimental pretest–posttest comparison group design. A nonprobability, convenience sample included 52 students (26 students who received SFBT and 26 students who did not). Participants were selected from the current seventh and eighth grade roster of a single junior high school in Ohio. All potential participants for the study were defined as any student in the seventh or eighth grade identified as being at risk for academic failure based on below-average academic performance or displaying chronic or low attendance from the previous academic year who were not receiving or currently under the provisions of an Individual Education Plan. Placement of students in the intervention group was based on each student’s class schedule, the grade of the student, and the likelihood that SFBT would not interfere with the student’s academic classes (e.g., math, English, social studies, history). Conversely, the aforementioned factors were not considered for students who did not receive SFBT, given that they were used for comparison purposes only. The two groups were not statistically different on any baseline measure.

Univariate and multivariate statistical analyses were used to examine the differences between participants in the groups on the dependent variables of grade point average (GPA) and absences. Measures of central tendency, independent t-tests, chi-square, and ANCOVA were used as statistical techniques in the study. As with other applied outcome research, the .05 level of statistical significance was used in the study.


The study results indicate that SFBT may possess some qualities as a group intervention with students at risk for academic underachievement. The results indicate that participants who received SFBT enhanced their overall GPA from 1.58 during the pretest to 1.69 during the posttest. Conversely, the comparison group participants mean GPA at pretest was 1.66, whereas the mean at posttest was 1.48. The findings were statistically significant. Despite the encouraging results pertaining to GPA, no statistical significance was found between the two groups on the dependent variable of school attendance. A closer look at the data reveals an important issue when considering the possible impact of SFBT on postattendance levels. Participants in the treatment group did not present an issue of school attendance at the beginning of the school year, or at the onset, duration, or conclusion of the study. In fact, participants in the study appeared to be attending school on a regular basis. Thus, student nonattendance may have been an issue for the participants in their previous academic school year—a criterion for meeting the at-risk definition as well as for participation in the study—but appeared to be irrelevant during the academic school year when the study took place. This, in turn, may have resulted in the lack of treatment outcomes on this dependent variable.

Risk Factors


  • Dropping out of school
  • Low academic achievement
  • Low academic aspirations
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school
  • Truancy/Frequent absences

Protective Factors


  • Above average academic achievement / Reading and math skills
  • High expectations of students
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)


Newsome, William Sean. 2004 “Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Groupwork With At-Risk Junior High School Students: Enhancing the Bottom Line.” Research on Social Work Practice 14(5):336–43.


William Sean Newsome
Family Studies and Social Work
McGuffey Hall, 101
Oxford, OH 45056
Phone: (513) 529-2030

Technical Assistance Provider

Terry S. Trepper
Purdue University Calumet
2200 169th Street
Hammond, IN 46323
Phone: (219) 989-2541
Fax: (219) 989-2008
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