In my therapeutic work with clients, I often use a solution-focused approach, developed by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg in the 1980’s. Solution-focused therapy is a hopeful and pragmatic model rooted in the assumptions that 1) change is always happening, 2) focusing on solutions and the future facilitates change is the desired direction, and 3) there are exceptions to every problem, which can be used to build solutions. Anyone can implement principles of solution-focused therapy in his/her life to create desired change. A few core components of the model are as follows:
In order to get what we want out of life, we need to be really clear about what exactly it is that we want. GPS doesn’t work if you don’t put in a destination. When we engage in dialogues about things we are doing (or will be doing) that are successful, we form mental representations in our minds of ourselves solving the problem. Once we can visualize our success, we can take action with confidence. Create a clear picture in your mind of what you want, and go get it!
Set specific goals
Set your goals in terms of positive language (what will be happening when things are the way you want them to be). Goals should be observable, measurable, specific, and preferably easy to attain in small steps. Set yourself up for success by giving yourself small victories that can build up to larger ones. If you want to be a well-known published author one day, start by writing a few blogs to sharpen your skills and get your name out there (you see what I’m doing here…wink, wink).
Small changes lead to larger changes
Change on one level will have an effect on the larger system. If you want to make major changes in your life, start small knowing that these changes will ripple through other areas of your life. For example, changing the way you take care of yourself (i.e. engaging in more self-care practices or increasing your level of physical activity) will change the way that you feel about yourself… which will change your attitude, demeanor, and self-confidence… which will then change your relationships with others. Hence, you can create a shift in your romantic relationship simply by making a change in how you take care of yourself. Amazing, huh?
If it works, do more of it
Build off of any small success that you’ve had in the past. Remember a time when you’ve successfully tackled a problem or accomplished a goal. How did you do that? What made that possible? Think about specific things that YOU did, and draw upon those strengths. If you could do it once, you can do it again. If it worked, then let’s do more of it!
If it doesn’t work, try something different
This may seem like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised how many people think that persistence is the key when tackling a problem. If nagging your husband about chores isn’t getting him to take out the trash, then increasing the amount of nagging you do certainly isn’t going to do the trick. Keep a mental note of things that you’ve tried that haven’t been successful, and then think outside the box. Experiment. Get creative. The solution is out there!
Solution language is different than problem language
Talk that centers around problems is negative, past-focused, and suggestive of the permanence of problems. Solution talk is more positive, hopeful, future-focused, and suggestive of the transience of problems. Changing the way we talk about ourselves and our circumstances in life is half the battle in making a big shift for the better.
The future is both created and negotiable
Every day is a new opportunity to make new decisions, take new actions, and create a new path for ourselves. We are never locked into our problems, and we have the power to create our own destiny.
The past is a trail you leave behind, much like the wake of a speedboat. That is, it’s a vanishing trail temporarily showing you where you were. The wake of a boat doesn’t affect it’s course–obviously it can’t since it appears behind the boat. So consider this image when you exclaim that your past is the reason you aren’t moving forward. –Dr. Wayne Dyer
Resources to learn more about solution-focused therapy:
de Shazer, S. (1985). Keys to Solutions in Brief Therapy. New York, NY: Norton.
de Shazer, S., Dolan, Y., Korman, H., Trepper, T., McCollum, E., & Berg, I. K. (2007). More than Miracles: The state of the Art of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy. New York, NY: Haworth.
Dr. Tiffany Dzioba holds a doctorate in psychology and is licensed as a marriage and family therapist.