Solution-Based Therapy: A Tool to Facilitate Change

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What is solution-based therapy? How does it differ from other forms of psychotherapy?

Unlike many forms of therapy, solution-based therapy doesn’t look into the past. Instead, it focuses on the problem at hand. It helps you identify solutions by answering specific questions.

Read more to learn about solution-based therapy.

Personal Change: Solution-Based Therapy

Solution-based therapy shows how identifying exceptions to a problem can effectively drive change. This type of therapy doesn’t look into the past to analyze and unravel the sources of your problems. Instead, solution-based therapy helps you examine the immediate problem and its solutions through a simple series of questions.

First, therapists ask “the miracle question”: If you were to wake up tomorrow and the problem was miraculously solved, what would be the first small indication that something was different in your life? 

  • Crucially, this question doesn’t ask for the miracle solution to the problem—rather, it focuses on the small, tangible indication that a solution has happened. In this way, it keeps goals small and attainable. 

Then, they move on to “the exception question”: When was the last time you saw a little indication of the miracle solution, for any small amount of time? 

  • This question can vary, depending on the context. For a child having behavioral problems at school, it might be, “Which class do you usually behave nicely in?” For an addict, it might be, “When was the last time you were sober for an entire day?”
  • The purpose of this question is to help the patient understand that their solution is already in place—they have a small success story that they can study and emulate. The therapist can help them examine the circumstances surrounding the “exception” and explore ways to recreate it. 

Example: The Couples Therapist

A couple seeks out solution-based therapy because they’re bickering constantly and can’t seem to get on the same page.

The therapist asks the miracle question: “If you woke up tomorrow magically back in tune with your spouse, what would the first indication be?” The wife answers, “If he brought me a coffee in the morning. I’d know that he listens when I talk about how hard it is for me to wake up.” The husband says, “If she didn’t start chatting as soon as the coffee perked her up. That would show me she’s mindful of how much I dislike talking in the morning.” 

The therapist moves to the exception question: “When was the last time you really felt like you were listening to one another?” They agree on their answer. “A few weeks ago. We went to dinner and had an amazing conversation over a bottle of wine.” The therapist pushes, “Why do you think this dinner was special?” The wife replies, “For once I didn’t blow off plans to finish up work. And I felt good because he spent time with me instead of going out with his friends again.”

Solution-based therapy stops the couple from searching for the source of their communication issues or overanalyzing past disagreements—instead, successful solutions snap into focus. 

  • Be more aware of each others’ subtle needs—her need to feel that she’s understood and his need to feel that she’s mindful of his feelings.
  • Commit to spending more meaningful time with each other, instead of working or going out with friends. 

Perhaps solution-based therapy is a path toward change for you.

Solution-Based Therapy: A Tool to Facilitate Change

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  • Why some changes succeed while others fail
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  • The three essential elements for successful change

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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