Solution-focused brief therapy: listening in the present with an ear toward the future

Maureen Duffy

in Discursive Perspectives in Therapeutic Practice

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199592753
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754715 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Solution-focused brief therapy: listening in the present with an ear toward the future

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When talking in any way about the immense cultural construction of mental illness, it is more common to find discussions of how impossible and agonizing life is with a mental illness than it is to find discussions about what might be helpful or even advantageous. Such a skew in favour of negative and deficit perspectives has real implications for people diagnosed with a mental illness and for their family members. It's not hard to see how both those with a diagnosis of mental illness and their family members can be understood for feeling frightened and largely hopeless given the volume of gloomy information that exists about causes, aetiology, and prognoses. While no doubt well-intended, the information about how to deal with bipolar and other mental illnesses tends to reduces options and resources for thinking and acting creatively because it is so prescriptive, and so narrowly prescriptive at that. For a scared parent, an adult child who deviates from the narrowly prescriptive formula for living with bipolar or another mental illness can thrust a whole family into chaos and shift an attitude of mutual support and helpfulness to an unhelpful one of constant surveillance of one party over the other.

Hence the critical importance when dealing with mental illness of introducing variety and pushing out the boundaries of what works for people. The rationale for the blog ‘What Works for You?’ was to invite people to think about and share what they had done that had worked for them in terms of effectively living with and managing bipolar. The blog specifically asked people to share only their stories of what worked—not their broader life stories about what happened in their lives and how they came to be diagnosed. The goal was to provide a forum where people could share their own unique approaches and experiences in being at least comfortably and possibly satisfyingly bipolar. The principles of SFBT that emphasize the ‘solution’ side of the problem/solution complementarity can be put to good use in the area of what is called ‘serious mental illness’ because it is an area in which the constraints for thinking about and managing the set of disorders involved are typically quite narrow and rigid.

The techniques and practices of SFBT may seem deceptively simple. Their constructionist assumptions lead therapists who elect to practise from an SFBT perspective to listen in the present with an ear to the future and to co-create conversations that help people move into their preferred versions of their futures. Along with the excitement and creativity that is still a part of the SFBT community, there is now a sizable body of research that supports the effectiveness of SFBT for a wide variety of problems and in a wide range of populations.

Chapter.  9990 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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