Solution focused brief counseling, or SFBC as it is commonly called, is an incredibly effective and practical counseling model to include into your school counseling program. I have written briefly about SFBC in previous posts (like this one on individual counseling), but I figured it was high-time to devote an entire article to this model. Honestly, in all my years of school counseling, I have seen nothing that even comes to a close second in terms of effectiveness in the school setting.
Solution Focused Brief Counseling Defined
So, what exactly is solution focused brief counseling? It is a counseling model that emphasizes solutions instead of problems. Students are encouraged to focus on their strengths and use past successes to solve current issues. The SFBC model is based on the work of Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg who together developed Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT) in the late 1970s. SFT proposes that people already have the solutions to their problems, so clients are encouraged to notice and repeat their past successes. This idea, when transferred into SFBC for the school setting, is perfect for kids in need- especially those who have experienced trauma! For example, think how empowering it would be for a student to realize that they have the solution to their problem inside themselves!
Solution Focused Brief Counseling: The Strategies
Imagine guiding a child to change their perspective so that instead of seeing a hardship as an event that holds them back in life, they see it as an obstacle that will only make them stronger once they overcome it. This is a very likely outcome when using the strategies of SFBC, such as reframing the problem. Here is an explanation of some of the main techniques of this counseling model.
- Reframing the Problem- Encourage the student to look at their problem from a more positive perspective. For example, if the student thinks a teacher doesn’t like him, a way to reframe that is to consider that maybe the teacher is just in a bad mood because it is Monday.
- Scaling- Have the student rate their progress toward a goal on a 1-10 scale with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best. Really, you can have them scale anything- how they are feeling, how the problem has improved, etc. Try asking them what they need to do/have happen in order to move up one number on their scale.
- Miracle Question- Ask the student to consider the following question in order to help them clarify their goal: “Imagine that you go to sleep tonight and a miracle occurs so that when you wake up your problem is gone. What will be different in your life now that your problem is no longer there?” This MQ can really help them visualize what their life looks like without the problem.
- Exceptions to the Problem- Guide the student to notice the times when their problem is not occurring. After all, no problem occurs 100% of the time, at every minute of every day. Then work with the child at building on the behaviors that make up those exception scenarios.
- Cheerleading- Use compliments and positive comments to praise the student for any success.
Through effective SFBC strategies, all students can experience the successes that come from concentrating on solutions, rather than problems.
Solution Focused Brief Counseling: In Schools
SFBC is THE go-to model for counseling in schools. According to Dr. Gerald Sklare, a dynamic thought-leader in the movement to infuse SFBC into schools, SFBC is “ideally suited for schools” where caseloads are often huge and the focus is on keeping kids in the classroom to maximize learning; as a result, “counselors need a focused approach suitable for a range of problems” (Sklare, 2014, page ix). I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating, you won’t regret getting yourself a copy of Dr. Gerald Sklare’s SFBC book, Brief Counseling that Works– it is a fantastic manual on how to run best-practice SFBC counseling sessions in schools. In addition, Dr. John Murphy, another SFBC expert, adds that, “The simple and pragmatic emphasis on doing what works is a refreshing change from the more cumbersome approaches that are impractical for schools” (Murphy, 2008, viii).
Solution Focused Brief Counseling: Your Program
Here are some fun and effective ways to work SFBC into your school counseling program.
SFBC in Individual Counseling
Are you lucky enough to have a smaller caseload that allows you do short-term, one-on-one counseling with students? If so, SFBC will never let you down! To get kiddos to zero in on a solution that they can turn into a SMART goal, ask them the Miracle Question. Or use my own revamped version of the MQ, which I call the Million Dollar Question. It is an absolute life saver for those middle schoolers who just can’t think of any time ever in their lives that the problem didn’t exist (sigh). Here it is: “If someone were to give you a million dollars to take a wild guess at a time before in your life when the problem didn’t exist, what would you say to get that million dollars??” Works like a charm every time! You can find my version of the MQ in my own SFBC individual counseling guide, Where’s There’s a Goal, There’s a Way!
SFBC in Group Counseling
Consider starting every group with a quick scaling activity where the kiddos hold up an index card with their number and then share the reason they are at that number. I actually had a dynamic intern years ago doing this in her group and I decided right then and there that I’d be borrowing that idea FOREVER! Thanks, Megan Seymour!!! If you’d like more SFBC activities in group form, check out my goal-based guide, Sending Students Soaring!
SFBC in Guidance Lessons
Teach your students the value of reframing a problem and then give them situations to reframe with a partner. This is great for skill-building so they are ready to reframe when a distressing problem comes at them! For example, you might partner up students and then give every pair a notecard with a different problem (ex: Sarah has a 65 in math so she is failing because she doesn’t understand math.) The pair then has to work together to reframe the problem into a more positive perspective (ex: Sarah has a 65 in math which means she is only 5 points away from a passing score. She is on her way to understanding math well enough to get a passing grade!). The pairs can then write their reframed problem on the back of the notecard. Finally, everyone can share their reframed partner work with the class. Here is a really fun academic achievement guidance lesson that utilizes SMART goals to improve grades.
Newsy & Noteworthy
- I have been busy working to combine my best counseling resources into bundled packs for easier access. Here are some of the most popular new bundles:
- The Anti-Bullying Bundle includes games, 2 group counseling guides, multiple guidance lessons, and a changing behavior activity. And they are all on the topic of bully prevention!
- The Guidance Lesson Mega Bundle has all my yearly guidance lessons from volumes one and two- basically it’s 2 years of guidance lessons in one low-cost package.
- You can see all the other new bundles I’ve created here.
- Super excited to announce that my publisher ordered a second printing Get Your Goal On Volumes One AND Two! This means updated and revised editions from me! Here’s a link to the 2nd edition of both books if you’d like to check them out.
- It occurred to me last week that I’ve NEVER done a giveaway of my Youthlight video game, Stars of Social-Emotional Learning!! So, stay tuned by following me on Facebook and Instagram because I’ll be doing a giveaway next month!!! Here’s the link if you want a free introduction that you can use with your students!!!
That brings me to the end of this March counseling post. Please leave a comment because I’d love to hear about your opinions on SFBC! You can catch up with me again in April for my monthly counseling post that I share during the first weekend of every month! In the meantime, you can find out about my latest promotions, free stuff, or counseling adventures by following me on my School Counselor Stephanie Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest pages!!
Murphy, J. (2008). Solution-focused counseling in schools. 2nd edition. Virginia: American Counseling Association.
Sklare, G. (2014). Brief counseling that works. 3rd edition. California: Corwin Press.
I started using scaling with every individual student I see and in group counseling this year and it has helped to keep my students more focused AND reflect on their goals and progress. It really is a valuable tool!
Thanks for sharing- your students are so lucky to have you doing this with them!! I LOVE scaling! I find myself doing it everywhere- even with myself! Like if I’m having an unmotivated evening or weekend, I’ll ask myself, “Am I feeling lower than a 4?” (A yes to this means putting the work/chore aside and SELF-CARE!!!).
Stephanie I just love your work. Your guidance lessons are always great.
Thanks so much for your kind words- they just made my day! I am thrilled to hear that you find the lessons helpful. Thanks for all you do for kids!