Does Solutionfocus work?

When people encounter the simple, effective model and practice of solutionfocused change, they often ask questions about the applicability of it. Does Solutionfocus work with this or that problem, context, situation? When Solutionfocus fail to work? 

Does Solutionfocus work with

  • attachment problems? 
  • severe mental conditions? (depression / panic / anorexia?)
  • abusive relationships?
  • grief or severe childhood trauma?
  • learning disorders?

There is such a great variety of possible answers! Let’s see some of them!

First answer: we don’t work with problems and diagnoses

If we asked these type of question from the SF cofounder, Steve deShazer, he probably answered: “I don’t understand the question.”. 

From a Solutionfocused standpoint, this is a fairly valid answer: we don’t work with attachment deficits, depression and any mental disorders or problem categories. We work on building solutions, broadening possibilities, strenghtening hope, and most importantly we work with our conversation partner (client, student, child etc) – regardless of what problem (what diagnosis) the client had before. 

I really like the content of this answer: it makes us more reflective of the expressions and categories we consider as given. However, one might say “oh, come on! You know what I mean…” and I bet Steve deShazer secretly also knew what the questioner meant. So let’s move on to the second answer. 

Second answer: it is not Solutionfocus itself what is working

In Solutionfocus we take the client, their words and stories very seriously. We build on what our clients tells us, so what the professional does is profoundly depending on what the client does. We try to curate those emerging things in ways that are useful for the clients. 

We value results more than value our method. If we can choose between “I did well, but it didn’t work” and “I cheated a bit, but the client progressed” we should choose the latter. This flexibility is not the part of the model, but the part of the professional’s work with the model – says Mark McKergow in his great book: The Next Generation of Solution Focused Practice.

Now one might say: “still, could you answer my real question?” So okay, no more useful misunderstanding than. Let’s talk science!

Third answer: Based on studies about therapy in general

Searching for the effectiveness of Solutionfocused conversations, we basically rely on the scienticic literature of psychotherapy outcome research. Generally speaking the method used by the therapist (coach, helping professional) plays a measurable but little role (15%) in reaching therapeutic results. 

From this point of view the inner – outer resources of the client (40%) and the trusting, honest and supporting relationship seem to be more important. (If you are counting now, the remaining 15% is attributed to client’s expectation and hope.) 

Moreover, these factors are supposedly interconnected, so it is fair to say that our method is a means we can apply to utilize that 70% being responsible for therapeutic results. 

Fourth answer: based on studies on the method specifically

A trustworthy amount of data proves that Solutionfocus can be used with similar results as other psychotherapeutic methods to help clients with a wide range of difficulties. 

Problem drinking (alcoholism), difficulties following traumatic events, chronic pain, domestic abuse, bullying, learning difficulties, social reintegration, burnout prevention and -treatment, depression: supporting data exist to show the effectiveness of processes based on the Solutionfocused approach under these circumstances as well. 

(If you want to read more about the research domains and results of Solutionfocus, go to to see all the volumes of the JSFP, Journal of Solution Focused Practices) or listen to the unbelievable Simply Focus podcast.

Fifth answer: What works for you

If we suppose that Solutionfocus does not work… or it is not something that works just by itself. If it is rather made work / applied by us, as (talking) professionals with our own unique ways… than rise the question: 

What works in your practice? What about your conversations?

Based on your observations, experiences, feedbacks from your clients (etc) what things seem to be working? Things that are useful for your clients? Things that you do now and will definitely continue to do – regardless of they are solutionfocused or not..

Original publication: Solutionsurfers Hungary

image: CraiyonAI