Major Tenet of the Approach
SFBT is not theory based, but was pragmatically developed. Even so, one can easily see the roots of the SFBT in the early work of the Mental Research Institute of Palo Alto, Wittgensteinian philosophy and Buddhist thought. There are a number of tenets that serve as the foundation of SFBT and which both inform and lead to the intervention model.
If it is not broken, don’t fix it. This is the over-arching tenet of SFBT. Theories, models and philosophies of intervention are not important or useful if the client has already solved the problem. Nothing would seem more absurd than to intervene when the problem is already solved, even though at times clients may not be aware of it.
Looking for exceptions. All problems have exceptions, that is, when the problem could have happened but somehow did not. Looking for those times when the problem did not arise when it would normally have, provides clues to what clients can repeat until they are satisfied that things are better enough. Even when clients may not have previous solutions that they can repeat, most clients have recent examples of exceptions to problems.
Asking questions rather than telling clients what to do. Questions are an important communication element of all models of therapy, but SFBT makes questions the primary tool of communication and rarely makes direct challenges or confrontations to a client. However, questions are used as both the primary communication method and as intervention.
Future is negotiated and created. The questions used in SFBT are almost always focused on the present and future. Therefore, rather than emphasizing the past mistakes, misfortune or trauma, it is the basic belief of SFBT that focusing on solutions is much more productive and empowering than focusing on past events or guessing about what might have been the origin of the problem.
Compliments. Compliments are another essential part of SFBT. Validating what the client already is doing well and acknowledging how difficult his problems is, encourages the client to change while given the message that the therapist understands and cares. Compliments in conversations can punctuate what the client is doing right. Soliciting the client’s perception of how other people in his or her life would compliment is also another way that SFBT connects the client with those important persons in his or her real life outside of the therapy room.
Gentle nudging to do more of what is working. Once SFBT therapist has created a positive frame via compliments and reframing and then discovered some previous solutions and exceptions to the problem, they gently nudge the client or family to do more of what has previously worked or suggests to try changes they have thought they would like to try. It is rare for a SFBT therapist to make a suggestion or assignment that is NOT based on the client’s previous solutions or exceptions to their problems.
Change is constant and inevitable. As the Buddhist teaching says SFBT believes that stability in life is an illusion; life is constantly changing and we are always changing. Some changes are more noticeable and apparent than others. It means the more we look for small changes, the more we will notice the changes. Therefore, noticing and paying attention to small changes can set in motion for more and more changes and since we are all changing, the focus is on how to direct our attention to more positive changes that are already occurring.
The solution is not always directly related to the problem. This tenet is the most shocking and it seems to go against all intuition and knowledge we have about problems and solutions. According to the “problem-solving” approach, there should be a logical and coherent relationship between problems and solutions. However, we encounter numerous examples when such logic does not stand up to real life and at times we need to take a bold step to “do something differently.”