Solution-Focused Therapy Has Global Appeal, New Psychological Research Finds

A new article published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is one of the most effective ways to treat a wide range of psychological issues, and that psychologists and mental health practitioners around the world are increasingly aware of its merits.

“Solution-focused brief therapy is a simple but quite radical approach,” says Mark Beyebach, a psychologist at the Public University of Navarre in Spain and lead author of the research. “Instead of focusing on problematic behavioral patterns in order to change them, it focuses on positive behavioral patterns, labeled ‘exceptions.’

An example of a solution-focused approach would be educating the parents of a disruptive child that their disagreements in handling their child reinforce his problems. A therapist could train parents to spot the exceptions—the occasions when the child exhibits adequate behavior in situations where problematic behaviors are expected—and then invite the parents to understand how they contributed to these exceptions. Once parents discover what drives exceptions, they are encouraged to do more. Simply put, solution-focused therapy shifts the therapeutic focus from problems to solutions.

In this study, the authors wanted to assess how often brief solution-focused therapy was used by therapists outside the United States and whether it was an effective treatment method when applied in other regions and cultures.

“Solution-focused brief therapy was developed at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, as part of an American tradition of brief therapy,” says Beyebach. “It quickly spread beyond family therapy and beyond the United States, but it is still sometimes seen as an ‘American’ approach to therapy. My team and I wanted to test whether these perceptions and reviews were correct.

To do this, they conducted an extensive literature search, retrieving over 360 studies on solution-focused brief therapy. They found that many of these studies were conducted outside of North America, and that the output of SFBT research in non-Western countries exceeded the output in Western countries.

“A lot of research on the outcomes of solution-focused brief therapy is being conducted in China, Iran, and Turkey, to name a few,” says Beyebach. “This is done not only in the field of psychotherapy, but also in school counselling, coaching, child protection and organizational interventions.”

Whether solution-focused brief therapy is as effective in countries other than the United States remains unclear, but preliminary results are encouraging. Beyebach and her team are currently working on a follow-up article that will test the effectiveness of solution-focused brief therapy interventions on a cross-cultural and transnational scale.

“We were struck by how often brief solution-focused therapy achieved significantly superior outcomes, not only when compared to waitlist, placebo, no treatment, or ‘usual treatment’ control conditions. (which was to be expected), but also in relation to alternative treatments,” says Beyebach. “The latter is surprising given that when two genuine psychological treatments are compared, they usually turn out to be equally effective.”

A full interview with Dr. Mark Beyebach discussing his new research on solution-focused brief therapy can be found here: Solution Focused Therapy is a worldwide treatment for depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders

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