Evan George thinks about the key question 'how can brief therapy lead to sustainable change?'.
First stop would be the popular Solution Focused Brief Therapy: 100 Key Points and Techniques, written by BRIEF (Harvey Ratner, Evan George and Chris Iveson), published by Routledge and available direct from this organisation, which can be used as a self-supervision tool as well as a cover-to-cover read. Most issues that arise in a session will be covered in the book so the more dog-eared it becomes the better your practice is likely to be. Another of our books, Brief Coaching: A Solution Focused Approach (Iveson, George and Ratner), also published by Routledge and available from BRIEF, has invaluable transcripts from sessions to augment the in-depth study of BRIEF's unique Solution Focused approach.
BRIEF has also published Brief Coaching with Children and Young People: A Solution Focused Approach (Harvey Ratner and Denise Yusuf) published by Routledge and available from BRIEF. Those interested in any aspect of work with this population, whether in schools or homes or elsewhere, will find a clear introduction to the approach plus copious case examples.
The rest of this guide to reading in the field of Solution Focused Brief Therapy is not intended to be complete and inclusive but it does aim to offer some pointers towards further exploration. For a complete reading list with full references for all the books mentioned below, please visit our Bibliography page.
Steve de Shazer was adamant that Solution Focused Brief Therapy is not a theory. Rather, he stated, it is a description of a way of talking with clients. However, it is de Shazer’s writings that most clearly lay out the thinking associated with the approach. Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy (1985) is the first of de Shazer’s books to trace out Solution Focused thinking. It is still influenced by his earlier more problem focused ideas and in it the reader can almost witness the birth of Solution Focused Brief Therapy. Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy (1988) is his clearest representation of the approach, while Putting Difference to Work (1991) began to introduce some of the philosophical and linguistic underpinnings to the model that were more fully developed in Words were Originally Magic (1994). Both of these books highlight the influence on his thinking of Wittgenstein’s later philosophical writings and also include substantial transcripts of client work that illustrate the model in detail. The posthumously published More than Miracles: The State of the Art of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (2006) contains de Shazer’s final observations on language, emotion and therapy. Miller (1997) in his book Becoming Miracle Workers: Language and meaning in brief therapy writes from the perspective of a sociologist examining the development of Solution Focused Brief Therapy on the basis of thirteen years’ of observation of de Shazer and the team at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee. His work focuses on the development of a model that within the period of his study became influential throughout the world. A further supplement to the thinking behind the approach is A Brief Guide to Brief Therapy (Cade and O’Hanlon, 1993) which places Solution Focused Brief Therapy within a wider context and helps the reader to see its history. Walter and Peller’s book Recreating Brief Therapy (2000) offers a thoughtful reworking of some central brief therapy ideas. Some of the Handbooks (see below) have chapters relating to theory, as does the book by Simon & Nelson (2007).
There are some books that can be thought of as manuals or workbooks, guiding the reader through a step-by-step exploration of the approach; BRIEF's own books as mentioned above, fulfil this function. Much of the writing of Insoo Kim Berg (formerly, co-director, with her partner Steve de Shazer, of the Brief Family Therapy Center, Milwaukee) is constructed in this way: Interviewing for Solutions, written jointly with DeJong (2013), is a good example of this type of book, and also features several applications chapters at the end, including writing by British practitioners. The last book to feature writing by de Shazer, as mentioned above, has elements of a manualised approach. Becoming Solution Focused in Brief Therapy by Walter and Peller (1992) and Solution Focused Brief Therapy by Pichot and Dolan are others.
The first handbook to be published was Handbook of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy edited by Miller, Hubble and Duncan (1996). Of particular value in the UK is the Handbook of Solution Focused Therapy (2003) edited by O’Connell and Palmer, which contains chapters on a range of applications of the approach, as well as on research. A more recent edition is that edited by Nelson & Thomas (2007), which includes chapters by British practitioners. Of great importance, especially from a research point of view, is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: A Handbook of Evidence-Based Practice edited by Franklin and others which, in addition to many chapters about outcome studies that have been carried out also has overview and historical chapters about the approach, and also includes a chapter on BRIEF's research over the years.
Given de Shazer’s often repeated assertion that Solution Focused Brief Therapy is ‘the same’ whatever problem the client brings, it is somewhat ironic that there has been a plethora of specific application texts, as a glance at the subtitles on the bibliography will show. The Solution Focused approach is also extending beyond the therapy room, as evidenced by books on coaching, organisational work, and management.
With the wide use of Solution Focused Brief Therapy in the field of alcohol and drugs it is worth highlighting Berg and Miller’s book Working with the Problem Drinker: a solution focused approach (1992) and Berg and Reuss’s book Solutions Step by Step: a substance abuse treatment manual (1997). Pichot has also written Solution-Focused Substance Misuse Treatment. Pichot and Dolan’s aforementioned book relates particularly to work with adolescent substance misusers, and also highlights specific issues relating to introducing the approach into an agency. Dolan’s work (1991 & 2000) is important for a different reason. She has focused through a large part of her career on working with survivors of sexual abuse. Her books make the convincing case for the possibility of using Solution Focused Brief Therapy in an area of work that many people instinctively assume not to be appropriate for a Solution Focus. Even from a Broken Web, by O’Hanlon and Bertolino (1998) also focuses on work with survivors of abuse. The UK author Henden has written Preventing Suicide (2017) and his recent What it Takes To Thrive (2018) is helpful to both survivors and practitioners. Another book dealing with preventing suicide is Fiske's Hope in Action (2008). An important text on work with long term users of mental health services is that by Simon and Nelson (2007). Thomas and Cockburn (1998) have written for pastoral care-givers, and work with couples is the focus of Connie's excellent and concise volume Solution Building Couples Therapy (2013).
The largest growing area of publication is in relation to work with children and young people. Of the books available on direct work with this population, in addition to BRIEF's book already mentioned, particularly noteworthy is Berg and Steiner’s Children’s Solution Work, and Sharry’s Counselling Children, Adolescents and Families. Family work is also covered in Lowe’s Family Therapy. Solution Focused work in schools has been covered by several authors, including Ajmal and Rees (2001), Rhodes and Ajmal (1995), Young (2009) and James (2016) in the UK. There are several US publications, including Metcalf (2003, 2008 and 2009) and Kelly and others (2008). Berg has looked at work within child care services in her Family Preservation (1991) and Building Solutions in Child Protective Services (Berg and Kelly 1999). Turnell and Edwards' Signs of Safety is an important addition to the field of child protection, focusing as it does on strengths and resources as a route to child safety while at the same time incorporating an assessment of risk. Lethem’s UK book Moved to Tears, Moved to Action: brief therapy with women and children (1994) examines the use of Solution Focused Brief Therapy with women and children. Durrant (1993) looks at residential care.
Simon (2009) published on work in end-of-life and grief counselling, and the first book focusing on the LGBT community was published by Ouer in 2015.
There have been books on the application of Solution Focus to groupwork by Sharry (2017) and Metcalf (!998), and to supervision by Thomas (2013).
For U.K. based readers in particular it is worth mentioning texts written by therapists practising in the UK. Some, including the BRIEF-authored books, have already been mentioned above. BRIEF's Chris Iveson (2001) has written the world’s only book on Solution Focused work with older people. O’Connell (2012 & 2001) brings to his books his wide experience in the field of counselling. Jacob (2001) has made a significant contribution to the challenging field of eating disorders. Burns (2016) has brought a speech and language therapist’s perspective to health issues, and Ghul, Duncan and Mousley (2006) have written on mental health issues from the occupational therapist’s perspective. Macdonald’s book (2007) is a general introduction with a mental health emphasis. Jackson and McKergow’s The Solutions Focus (2006) goes outside of the therapy world to look at work in organisations, and Jackson has also co-authored Positively Speaking with Waldman. Of particular interest to social workers, among others, is Shennan (2014) and Walsh (2010). The wide ranging Handbook featuring a number of UK practitioners has already been mentioned.
Solution Focus has also spawned its own crop of self-help books. Weiner-Davis (1996) has written Change your life and everyone in it in addition to her earlier book Divorce Busting. Miller and Berg (1995) produced a version of their Working with the Problem Drinker for clients, The Miracle Method. In the same way Hudson and O’Hanlon translated their book on marriage and relationships into Stop blaming, start loving - a solution orientated approach to improving your relationship (1996). More recently Connie has published The Solution Focused Marriage: 5 simple habits that will bring out the best in your relationship (2013).It is worth adding that Dolan’s (2000) book Beyond Survival was written for clients, although it is very helpful to professionals, and Henden's book What it Takes to Thrive has already been mentioned. Other books in this category are Metcalf’s Parenting towards Solutions (1997) and The Miracle Question (2004), Hudson’s (1996) The Solution Focused Woman and O’Hanlon’s (1999) Do One Thing Different. O’Hanlon has also written, with Levy, on parenting: Try and Make Me! (2001).
A growth area in the future is likely to be that of coaching and work in organisations. BRIEF's two books are key texts in the field. There is also prominent work by other UK writers, such as O'Connell, Palmer and Williams (2012) and the aforementioned book by Jackson and McKergow. Outside of the UK there is the book by Berg and Szabo (Brief Coaching for Lasting Solutions) and the volume Solution Focused Management edited by Lueger & Korn (2006).
The key text on research is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: A Handbook of Evidence-Based Practice edited by Franklin and others, which, as mentioned above, includes a chapter detailing BRIEF's own outcome studies down the years. Chapters relating to research are to be found in various other books, including the Handbooks and Macdonald’s own book.
Of added interest is the work of Scott Miller and his associates, Barry Duncan & Mark Hubble. Scott worked as a member of the Milwaukee team from 1989 to 1993 and since then has maintained a strenuous interest in what works in therapy, regardless of the practitioner’s model. Escape from Babel (1997) is an early example of how their findings pose a challenge to how therapists’ construe successful practice, and since then they have developed simple evaluation questionnaires for clients to rate their therapy sessions, downloadable from www.scottdmiller.com/performance-metrics.
Solution News, the publication of the United Kingdom Association for Solution Focused Practice (http://www.ukasfp.co.uk), is currently the only Solution Focused periodical in Britain and it always brings something new. The place for more academic-style writing about aspects of Solution Focus practice is in the international Journal of Solution Focused Brief Therapy: visit http://www.solutionfocused.org.au/jsfbt.html.
Practitioners wanting to engage in discussions about aspects of Solution Focus online can join the SFT-L. For further information, go to the site of the List manager, Harry Korman, at www.sikt.nu.
Evan George thinks about the key question 'how can brief therapy lead to sustainable change?'.