The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

Building Resilient Clients and Vicariously Resilient Workers

'The greatest gift we can give to a person is to inspire them.' – Elliott Connie

Listening to inspirational stories of survival and coping builds resilience for our clients and vicarious resilience for ourselves as practitioners, reducing the intensity of empathic distress and burnout. Vicarious resilience is created for the practitioner who is motivated and inspired by hearing about their client’s capacity to survive and overcome challenges. This assists the practitioner to maintain belief in the client (and in themselves to support the client!) despite the client’s past traumatic experiences. At a time when our client is most in need of SF questions to shift their attention from problem and pain to hope and possibility, the capacity to tap into our vicarious resilience can maintain a practitioner’s courage to ask SF questions in the face of hearing about horrific traumas in a client’s life. Amidst the client’s traumatic story is evidence of strength and greatness. Elliott Connie of the Solution Focused Universe reminds us that the client’s hero story and their trauma story are the same story, it just depends on how we listen; and that the worse the challenge, the greater the client’s strength has been to survive it and hope for a better future.

SFBT practitioners know of the gift of vicarious resilience that working in the SF way brings, and can consider sharing this when providing counselling to our clients, or consultation to our supervisees, who work with their own clients within the health care field. SF questions can invite those who work in challenging environments, such as family and domestic violence, to remember their purpose in choosing this line of work and to notice the difference they have made for their clients despite the difficult situation. Through catching a glimpse of the human spirit of resilience in their client amidst their struggle, a practitioner can reignite their own flame of resilience that may be dimmed by burnout. SF questions shift attention to a client’s capacity to survive their challenges, energising and motivating the practitioner to continue to support their client who is struggling through the awfulness, rather than blaming the client for remaining in a difficult circumstance. The inspired practitioner can feedback this energy of admiration through the gentle persistence of asking SF questions which can encourage a client to find a way to keep moving through their challenge that is right for themselves. This perceived hopefulness from their practitioner can clear the client’s mind to take another look to see opportunities to improve their experience that they may not have seen when focused on the problem. Talking to the version of the client they wish to be evokes and strengthens this version of the client. This version is ‘the solution’ who is likely to respond to the problem situation in a more useful way, which provides the client with evidence of their resilience to interrupt and replace the trauma feedback loop with one of resilience instead (Connie & Froerer, 2023).

SFBT is a good fit for a post-pandemic world and ‘mental health pandemic’ von Cziffra-Bergs (2021) suggests, as this approach is energising, motivating and builds hope for clients and practitioners when it is most needed, which contributes to greater vicarious resilience in the face of challenging client experiences. Froerer, von Cziffra-Bergs, Kim and Connie (2018) highlight the usefulness of SFBT in shifting client attention through language from their trauma to their preferred future and who they would like to become, and the positive impact SFBT has on practitioners’ perspective about their own life, personal growth and happiness. Froerer et al (2018) suggest SFBT practitioners can become more vicariously resilient when inviting clients to focus on their strengths, resources and resilience. Jacqui von Cziffra-Bergs, a SFBT practitioner and trainer at the Solution Focused Institute of South Africa shares her own experience of becoming a SFBT practitioner and the positive impact of SFBT on her own life:

Realising that people ‘bounce back’ (Bannink, 2014, p.19) and are resilient and even grow in the wake of trauma opened a whole new world for me. Becoming part of a journey that rebriefs resilience and celebrates bravery rather than a dance with terror by debriefing what went wrong changed my relationship with my practice and allows me to love my job again. Once I started acknowledging and honoring that clients who have experienced trauma enter a session with hope – a hope to feel better or cope better – I started building on the already existing hope and allowed hope to grow. Once I started looking with a solution-focused lens and listening with a solution-focused ear to my client’s story; amazing things happened to me and my clients. As a solution-focused brief therapist I am continuously amazed at my client’s ability to cope and handle a traumatic experience. Instead of being exhausted after a session with a client that has experienced a trauma, I now feel inspired by my clients. Where once my client’s stories made me fear going outside, I now feel that I too can conquer whatever comes my way. No longer do I need to run away from my practice and go lecture at a university, I now look forward to practice with a ‘waiting room full of heros’ (MacDonald, 2011, p.36). Listening to trauma in a different way has made me see how incredible people are, how resilient people can be, and how brave people become (Froerer et al, 2018: 230-231).

SFBT can build vicarious resilience for practitioners working with family violence through highlighting inspirational survivor stories of courage and resistance to violence, which is hopeful and energising to hear. This assists the practitioner to maintain capacity to keep supporting clients experiencing violence, and enables them to work in a more sustainable way to maintain energy. Medina and Beyehbach (2014) found child protection workers who adopted strength-based professional beliefs focusing on client improvements, discussing families’ strengths, giving compliments and asking for client feedback to improve services scored lower on the Maslach Burnout Inventory compared to workers using traditional approaches. Perez Lamadrid and Froerer (2022) more recently investigated whether workers may vicariously benefit from focusing on their clients’ growth and resilience and to enhance the positive aspects and outcomes of their work. They found family protective system workers in Bolivia (subject to staff shortages, working without pay and experiencing similar traumas to their clients) supporting clients experiencing violence and trauma using the SFBT approach experienced statistically significant improvements in vicarious resilience compared to training as usual on the Vicarious Resilience Inventory (VRI; Engstrom et al., 2017 as cited by Perez Lamadrid & Froerer, 2022). This confirms Evan George’s (2020) thoughts about how working from a SFBT approach is good for clients and practitioners alike as it is protective against burnout:

Working in the SFBT way can lead to practitioners being inspired by their clients’ resilience. In consultation with Evan George (personal communication, 2023) we created the following self-supervision questions to evoke our vicarious resilience as practitioners. The first two questions serve to validate the practitioner’s efforts to support the client in a useful way and to be curious about how they did this. This can shift the practitioner from the anxiety of self-doubt to more easily reflect on a challenging client experience and to have another look to consider what they have learnt from the client that inspires them.

“What did you learn about yourself that you are pleased to know about your capacity as a practitioner to support your client through a challenging experience in a useful way, that you may not have learnt in any other way?“

“What difference did this support make to your client that they may not have experienced had you not been there?”

“What did you learn in working with these client families and the challenges they have endured about the resilience of the human spirit that has inspired you?”

“How did seeing your client’s survival, despite the horribleness of the situation, inspire you and make a difference to the way you continued to work with your client that pleased you?”

“What have you learnt about the kind of practitioner you can be at your best when working with client families experiencing trauma?”

“How will you know this lesson continues to inspire you to show up as the practitioner you aspire to be in the way you continue to support this client and other clients who may experience similar circumstances in future?”

Being a Shining Light in the Darkness

After working for a few years in the field with families experiencing violence, substance abuse and poverty with little support in her role, a client chose to resign for her own wellbeing. A year into her new role she is noticing herself being triggered by her client families with similar experiences. In the first session the client shared that her Best Hopes were to put the trauma experience behind her, to focus at work and be present with her children to reconnect with her joyful, relaxed, and grateful self. I asked the client to consider what she might have learnt in working with these families, that she may not have learnt in another way and the difference this had made to the worker she is. The client revealed that she knew her purpose was to ‘be a shining light in the darkness’ and did this for her families by providing peace of mind for the wellbeing of their children, providing another pair of hands of reassurance in a holding and caring space for the families to know they are seen, which leads her to be the kind of worker that provides a safe respectful space for families to be heard and answer her questions honestly. I asked her to consider what she has learnt about the resilience of the human spirit in working with these families that has inspired her. She shared that despite the poor living conditions and violence she noticed the children were still smiling and playing with their toys and although she knows about attachment trauma she knew they were also resilient. The client reported that her lesson from this experience to ‘shine the light for herself’ was to stand strong when others push against her values and to walk away to protect herself.

Asking SF questions that invite clients to share about themselves at their best reveal ‘pathways to possibility’ (Evan George). The client answers their own questions, providing strategies and advice they give to others that they can then inspire themselves to use in their current situation. My own experience of vicarious resilience is to be inspired by a client’s capacity as they notice this within themselves in one area and give themselves steps to bring this capacity into another area. Another client struggling with anxiety in her social life had taught herself to manage this within her work life. Asking SF questions about how she did this created pathways to possibility, through reflecting on the steps she took and being invited to notice signs of her confident self showing up in her personal life as well, which is inspiring for the client and myself as a practitioner. Having conversations that invite the client into pathways to possibility provides the practitioner a front row seat to client resilience in action; which in turn inspires the practitioner to continue supporting successful clients through a challenging experience.

Despite the challenges that has brought our client to session, we talk to the version of the client who has hope that things can be better, who does not give up, and this version replies with inspiring thoughts that pave the way to pathways of possibility that strengthen resilience in the client and vicarious resilience in ourselves as a practitioner.


Connie, E. and Froerer, A. (2023), The Solution Focused Brief Therapy Diamond: A new approach to SFBT that will empower both practitioner and client to achieve the best outcomes, USA: Hay House Inc.

Froerer, A., von Cziffra-Bergs, J., Kim, J. and Connie, E. (2018), Vicarious Trauma. In A. Froerer, J. Von Cziffra-Bergs, J. Kim, and E. Connie, E. (Eds.), Solution-Focused Brief Therapy with Clients Managing Trauma, USA: Oxford University Press

George, E. (2020), How SF Protects Us Against Burnout, BRIEF London,; Accessed 24 January 2020

Medina, A. and Beyebach, M. (2014), The Impact of Solution-focused Training on Professionals' Beliefs, Practices and Burnout of Child Protection Workers in Tenerife Island, Child Care in Practice, 20(1): 7-36, DOI: 10.1080/13575279.2013.847058

Pérez Lamadrid, Marcos and Froerer, Adam S. (2022), Solution Focused Brief Therapy and Vicarious Resilience in Bolivian Protective Family Services Workers, Journal of Solution Focused Practices, 6(1), Article 4. Available at:

Kerry Drummond

Perth, Australia

Co-Coordinator of the Western Australia SFBT Interest Group (WASFIG)

24 September 2023


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