Solution-Focus works, it is briefer and less costly

Don’t take our words for it.

Here is another study, just published –> Effectiveness of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: A Systematic Qualitative Review of Controlled Outcome Studies, by Wallace J. Gingerich, Lance T. Peterson, in Research on Social Work Practice, January 2013, 23, (1).

Here is the ABSTRACT:

Objective: We review all available controlled outcome studies of solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) to evaluate evidence of its effectiveness.

Method: Forty-three studies were located and key data abstracted on problem, setting, SFBT intervention, design characteristics, and outcomes.

Results: Thirty-two (74%) of the studies reported significant positive benefit from SFBT; 10 (23%) reported positive trends. The strongest evidence of effectiveness came in the treatment of depression in adults where four separate studies found SFBT to be comparable to well-established alternative treatments. Three studies examined length of treatment and all found SFBT used fewer sessions than alternative therapies.

Conclusion: The studies reviewed provide strong evidence that SFBT is an effective treatment for a wide variety of behavioral and psychological outcomes and, in addition, it may be briefer and therefore less costly than alternative approaches.


The video above was used to put participants in a state of awe in a study led by Stanford Professor Jennifer Aaker.

The title of the study says it all: Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time,  Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being.

Thought I would share with you the study and the video to wish you all sorts of awesomeness.

Solution-Focused Coaching & Positive Outcomes

Guest post by Coert Visser

Solution-focused principles and techniques, orginally developed in psychotherapy, have found their way into coaching, over the last decade. While an evidence base of solution-focused brief therapy is beginning to come off the ground, little research is done on the effectiveness of solution-focused coaching (one researcher who is already doing interesting research in this area is Anthony Grant). It is important that an evidence base on solution-focused coaching is built, too. Individual clients, client organizations and society at large rightfully demand that solution-focused professionals not only discover things that work but also justify what they do by scientifically testing their claims.

Standard effectiveness research approaches involve randomized controlled experiments in which the treatment of interest is compared with a reference approach and a control group. A recent review summarizes this type of coaching research, which is still in its infancy. While this approach is indispensable it is not the only useful approach and it is not without weaknesses. For one thing, this type of research requires the existence of generally accepted definitions of the treatments (coaching procedures) that are researched. This type of research comparing coaching approaches does say something about the relative effectiveness of these approaches but does not say much about the relative contribution of the constituent elements of these approaches because these are not examined separately in these types of experiments but in combination with each other.

Research aimed at a micro level of coaching can be an important addition to these standard research approaches. One example is micro-analysis research done by Janet Beavin Bavelas and her colleagues. Micro-analysis research will, in the near future, I predict, be supported by software to analyze language used in coaching conversations. As this type of research will develop a much more nuanced and specific kind of knowledge will emerge about what works and what not.

Survey based research also offers some interesting opportunities to analyze the specific interventions and behaviors of solution-focused coaches. Recently I published such a study: Testing the Association between Solution-Focused Coaching and Client Perceived Coaching Outcomes. I designed a web-based survey and administered it to 200 clients of coaches. The survey consisted of a list of 28 coach behaviors, 14 of which were solution-focused behaviors and 14 of which were behaviors solution-focused coaches would deliberately avoid. I asked clients to describe what their coaches had done and what they had not done (without referring to the solution-focused approach or any other approach, by the way). In addition to that, I asked clients to describe on several dimensions how effective the coaching had been. Solution-focused coach behaviors turned out to be were strongly positively correlated to positive coaching outcomes. Non-solution-focused coach behaviors, on the other hand, turned out to be moderately negatively correlated to positive coaching outcomes.

Then, I used a statistical technique called multiple regression analysis which gave insight into which specific coach behaviors were predictive of coaching success. This showed that the following 10 solution-focused coach behaviors in particular were associated with positive coaching outcomes:

  • The coach responded with understanding to what I said (coach understandingness)
  • The coach let me decide whether the coaching should be continued or terminated (client continuation choice)
  • The coach focused on topics that I found useful to talk about (client topic choice)
  • The coach encouraged me to describe how I wanted my situation to become (desired situation description)
  • The coach encouraged me to describe what I wanted to be able to do differently (positive future behavior description)
  • The coach gave me positive feedback (complimented me on what I had done well) (positive behavior feedback)
  • The coach encouraged me to choose which step(s) forward I would to take (client chosen action)
  • The coach used the same words as I had used (language matching)
  • The coach checked several times whether our conversation was useful to me (client usefulness check
  • The coach asked questions about what I had already done that had worked well (exploration of what worked)

The number of non-solution-focused coach behaviors that was predictive of positive outcomes was smaller. Three coach behaviors were, as expected, negatively associated with coaching outcomes:

  • The coach told me whether the coaching should be continued or terminated (coach continuation choice),
  • The coach gave me negative feedback (criticized me on what I had done wrong) (negative behavior feedback), and
  • The coach chose what topics we talked about (coach topic choice).

Surprisingly (and interestingly), two non-solution-focused coach behaviors were, contrary to this study’s expectations, positively associated with coaching outcomes:

  • The coach analyzed with me what the causes of my problem might be (problem cause analysis)
  • The coach asked questions about when my problems were at their worst (problem peak focus)

I hope this is a good (while modest) beginning of survey based research into the effectiveness of solution-focused interventions in coaching. The details of the study can be found in the full article. Soon, I hope to publish a study into the effects of the coaching approach on coaches themselves

Nine Brain Myths

Here is my rule-of-thumb regarding “social media”:

– I use this blog to share observations, thoughts, reflections about (Solution-Focused) Coaching, Training and Consulting.

– I use my business FaceBook page to post daily links to articles or blog posts that might be relevant to Coaches,  Therapists, Trainers and Consultants. If interested, just “like” the page and the links will appear in your FB newsfeed.

I decided to break my own guidelines and post here the following link —>

And here is the summary:
Nine Stubborn Brain Myths That Just Won’t Die, Debunked by Science
Brain games will make you smarter! The internet is making you dumber! Alcohol is killing your brain cells! The brain is a mystery we’ve been trying to solve for ages, and the desire to unlock its secrets has led to vast amounts of misinformation. Many of these false notions are more widely believed than the truth. We took our healthy skepticism and a bunch of brain research to find the truth behind some of the most common myths about intelligence and our brains. Here’s what we learned.

it is too important to weed out superstitions that get in the way of effective change strategies!

PS: if you want to learn more, read “50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology“, highly recommended!


I loved reading Timothy Wilson‘s Strangers to Ourselves. It introduced me to the concept of “Adaptive Unconscious”. And it is the book on which Malcolm Gladwell based his bestseller, Blink.

I loved even more reading Timothy Wilson’s latest book, “Re-Direct: the Surprising New Science of Psychological Change“. A must-read. Science-based. Full of interesting information and insights. And the “story-editing” approach Wilson advocates shares with Solution-Focus the same strategy: a brief intervention that has self-sustaining effects leading to long lasting changes in behaviors.

Wilson’s approach is based on the idea that it is all about the interpretations we give to events – not about the events themselves.
Not a novel idea, since it was one of the cornerstones of Stoic thinkers.
But now we have the science to test this approach and… it works!

The interventions Wilson puts under the “story editing” umbrella follow one of the following strategies to change the stories people tell themselves:

  • redirecting the narrative in a way that leads to lasting change: exercises, like Pennebaker’s writing protocol, which are useful for people who have failed to come up with a coherent interpretation of an event that does not make sense and / or it is unpleasant to think about (e.g., trauma)
  • story prompting – redirecting people down a particular narrative path with subtle prompts; for example, by giving people information that would allow them to reframe their experiences. E.g. students might interpret their academic difficulties when they start college as a sign they are not cut out for it; simply showing them data that tells them experiencing difficulties at first isnormal, in addition to a video of peers saying they too experienced difficulties when they started, is enough to have a significant impact
  • do good, be good; as Aristotle said, “we become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlling by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage.”  So by acting in a certain way, people shape their narratives in ways that are helpful to them. E.g., they act kindly and so they get to think of themselves as kind persons.

One of the most interesting point made by the author is that while we thoroughly test drugs before putting them on the market, we do not do the same with psychological interventions. As a result, much money and effort has been spent on programs that seem to make sense – but do not work. One example: D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education).

It gets worse. Not only some programs or interventions do not work – they might actually be harmful. Among these: CISD (Critical Incident Stress Debrief); “Scared-straight” programs like R.I.P. (Restoring Inner-city Peace). Bottom line: test first, roll out later. Not vice-versa!

But as I mentioned, the book is not about what does not work – it is about what works in facilitating self-sustaining, and therefore long-lasting, change.

You will learn about a technique that, again, was conceived by the Stoics – negative visualization. You will learn about the power of volunteering for keeping teenagers out of trouble. You will learn about the tricky but effective “minimal sufficiency principle“. And you will learn about how a simple 15-minute writing assignment allowed students to close the achievement gap. Among many other things… and it is all in —> here.

Interview with Janet Beavin Bavelas, Ph.D.

Janet Beavin Bavelas, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., is one of of the co-authors of Pragmatics of Human Communication and, as a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Victoria, still at the forefront of research into interpersonal communication. The research team she leads specializes in the study of face-to-face dialogue – their findings have direct applications in psychotherapy, counseling, coaching, and management. I had the privilege and the pleasure to attend her workshop on microanalysis at the 2010 SFBTA Conference in Banff, Canada.

I was so happy to finally encounter an empirical research method dedicated to exploring the power of interaction to produce change! In my opinion, every Solution-Focused practitioner should become familiar with Janet Beavin Bavelas work: her research results are an essential part in establishing the scientific credentials of Solution-Focus.

Besides being an innovative thinker and a thorough scientist, Janet Bavelas is also a very engaging person and she very kindly accepted to be interviewed for my blog – here are her answers to my questions. I suggest  you take the time to read this interview again and again – as her motto goes, “Life Happens in Detail” and many insights wait for you in the details of her thought-provoking answers. Enjoy!

1)  You have been working a lot with Solution Focused practitioners in the past few years, using Microanalysis to investigate Solution Focused conversations. Can you briefly tell us what draws you to Solution-Focus?

Good question–especially because I’m an experimental psychologist, with absolutely no practical training in therapy or anything else!  I’m glad someone finally asked me that question, because I’ve had my answers ready:

First, Steve, Insoo, and I had the same roots, learning from the Palo Alto Group and especially John Weakland.  The three of us were not there at the same time, but that experience was a lasting influence for all of us.  (I agree with Steve and Insoo, who in a 1991 article pointed out that their SFBT was just one small change from the original Palo Alto Brief Therapy.)  In addition to John’s many wonderful qualities as a mentor, there was the focus of the whole Palo Alto Group on language and communication. That heritage makes it easy for my research group to teach what we do to SFBT folks.  For example, you have the right focus on observable communication rather than on inferred mental processes.

Second, I admit that I am always attracted to good idea that is 180° from what everyone else is thinking.  The new idea has to be a good one as well as challenging assumptions that no one usually questions–then I’m interested.  That was true for the original Brief Therapy and is also true for SFBT.

The third reason is ethical. My personal ethics will not accept inventing negative characterizations of a client and imposing these labels on someone who is vulnerable.  I say “inventing” because there is usually no basis except the opinion of someone in authority. For example, diagnosis usually categorizes an individual based on a single highly limited observation, with no objective check or recheck. The individual arrives at a consultation with one problem and leaves with at least two! More broadly, clinical theories of  personality, cognition, emotion, or brain processes almost always indulge in circular reasoning.  For example,
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