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Solution Focused Brief Therapy Basics: Meet Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer

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Perhaps the most famous professional therapist couple in the field of marriage and family therapy is Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer (Berg & Dolan, 2001; Berg & Miller, 1992; de Shazer, 1985; de Shazer, 1988; de Shazer, 1994; de Shazer et al., 2007; de Shazer & Dolan, 2007; Dolan, 2007).

Steve de Shazer (1940 – 2005) is widely recognized as the writer of the first book on Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, as a pioneer in the field of systems therapy, and as a primary developer of the Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) approach (de Shazer, 1985; de Shazer & Dolan, 2007). As a therapist, “He [de Shazer] simultaneously demonstrated respect and invited hope while using language carefully and intentionally.  And (like his partner and wife, Insoo Kim Berg), he managed to make it look easy” (de Shazer & Dolan, 2007, p. xi).

Insoo Kim Berg (1934 – 2007) was also a primary developer of the SFBT approach (Berg & Dolan, 2001; Berg & Miller, 1992; de Shazer et al., 2007; Dolan, 2007).  Dolan (2007) wrote:

Insoo remains, to this day, the best clinician I have ever seen, and one of the wisest. Her impressive intellect was balanced by an abiding compassion for others, and a modest, informal demeanor. After watching her work with clients at the BFTC that first week, I remember thinking, ‘Even if it takes my whole life, I want to learn to do therapy the way she does.’ (p. 129)

An internationally known psychotherapist, lecturer, and author, she was co- founder and Executive Director of the Brief Family Therapy Center (BFTC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Insoo Kim Berg has traveled the globe to train therapists in the SFBT approach.

Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer met in Palo Alto, California, when she was studying at the Mental Research Institute (Duvall, 2005).  Kim Berg complained to her mentor, John Weakland, that she had nothing to do after their training seminars were complete for the day.  Kim Berg stated:

He [Weakland] said there’s this guy across town who’s doing some strange things, why don’t you go see what he does. I was desperate to learn more, so I went to the agency where Steve [de Shazer] was working. He was there seeing cases all alone. So, I spent a lot of hours behind the mirror every day watching him see cases. Actually, that’s how we met. Then he invited me over to his house for dinner. (p. 3)

Kim Berg and de Shazer were married for twenty-eight years.  Kim Berg passed away only sixteen months after her husband preceded her in death (Dolan, 2007).  Their life’s work was the development of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy.

The Solution-Focused Brief Therapy model is considered a second-generation model of marriage and family therapy, and is part of the postmodern movement (deShazer & Dolan, 2007).  Founders Insoo Kim Berg and Steve deShazer co-constructed this model and were greatly influenced by the work of The Mental Research Institute Team, Milton Erickson, and Buddhist philosophy (Bateson, Jackson, Haley, & Weakland, 1956; Erickson, & Keeney, 2006; Fisch, Weakland, & Segal, 1982; Gyatso, 2011; Haley, 1967; Haley, 1973; Jackson, 1957; Jackson, 1965a; Jackson & Weakland, 1961; Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1967; O’Hanlon, 1987; Watzlawick, Weakland, & Fisch, 1974).

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Solution-Focused Brief Therapy has several foundational tenets (de Shazer & Dolan, 2007).

  • First, if it is working, do not fix it.  There is no need to alter a useful pattern of behavior, and it may be helpful to apply this to another area of difficulty.
  • Second, if something is working for you, do more of what works.  This allows for the client to build on already established and constructed solution behaviors.
  • Third, if it is not working, try something different.  A client may be actively perpetuating the problem with their attempted solutions.
  • Fourth, small steps can often lead to bigger changes.
  • Fifth, solutions are not necessarily directly related to problems.  SFBT begins with the client describing what will change when the problem is resolved. Both client and therapist then work backwards to achieve these goals.  The therapist does not typically address the origin of the problem.
  • Sixth, the languaging required for solution construction is dissimilar from that which is needed to describe a problem. SFBT therapists speak in a hopeful and future oriented way.
  • Seventh, problems do not happen all of the time, and these exceptions that can be utilized in therapy.  For example, a client cannot always be depressed.
  • Finally, the future is both created and negotiated across time, and clients can define their own futures.

These tenets of SFBT represent a significant contribution to marriage and family therapy (Hoffman, 1981).  Solution-Focused Brief Therapy was born and initially developed out of the interactions between Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg.  The field of marriage and family therapy would not be where it is today without their work.  Getting to know the people behind the theory more personally provides us with a new level of understanding how it developed.  To counseling professionals, have any of you also been influenced by SFBT?


References

  1. Bateson, G., Jackson, D., Haley, J. & Weakland, J. (1956). Toward a theory of schizophrenia. Behavioral Science, 1, 251-264.
  2. Berg, I., & Dolan, Y. (2001). Tales of solutions: A collection of hope-inspiring stories. New York, NY: Norton.
  3. Berg, I., & Miller, S. D. (1992). Working with the problem drinker: A solution-focused approach. New York, NY: Norton.
  4. de Shazer, S. (1985). Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy. New York: Norton.
de Shazer, S. (1988). Clues: Investigating solutions in brief therapy. New York, NY US: W. W. Norton & Co.
  5. de Shazer, S. (1994). Words were originally magic. New York, NY US: W. W. Norton & Co.
  6. de Shazer, S. & Dolan, Y. (2007). More than miracles. Binghampton, NY: Haworth Press.
  7. de Shazer, S., Dolan, Y., Korman, H., McCollum, E., Trepper, T., & Berg, I. (2007). More than miracles: The state of the art of solution-focused brief therapy. New York, NY US: Haworth Press.
  8. Duvall, J. (2005). Ordinary man, extraordinary critical thinker: An interview with Insoo Kim Berg. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 24(4), 2-4.
  9. Erickson, B., & Keeney, B. (2006). Milton H. Erickson, M.D.: An American healer. Sedona, AZ: Ringing Rocks Press.
  10. Fisch, R., Weakland, J., & Segal, L. (1982). The tactics of change: Doing therapy briefly. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  11. Gyatso, G. (2011). Modern buddhism: The path of compassion and wisdom. Glen Spey, NY: Tharpa.
  12. Haley, J. (1973). Uncommon therapy: The psychiatric techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. Oxford England: W. W. Norton.
  13. Haley, J. (1976). Problem-solving therapy. San Francisco, CA US: Jossey-Bass.
  14. Hoffman, L. (1981). Foundations of Family Therapy.
  15. Jackson, D. (1957). The question of family homeostasis. The Psychiatric Quarterly Supplement, 31, 1957, 79–90.
  16. Jackson, D. (1965a). The study of the family. Family Process. 4(1), 1-20.
  17. Jackson, D. & Weakland, J. (1961). Conjoint family therapy: Some considerations on theory, technique and results. Psychiatry, 24(2), 30-45.
  18. O’Hanlon, W. (1987). Taproots: Underlying principles of Milton Erickson’s therapy and hypnosis. New York, NY: Norton.
  19. Watzlawick, P., Beavin, J., & Jackson, D. (1967). Pragmatics of human communication: A study of interactional patterns, pathologies, and paradoxes. NY: Norton.
  20. Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J., & Fisch, R. (1974). Change: The principles of problem formation and problem resolution. NY: Norton.

*Courtney Stivers, PhD, earned her doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, and she is licensed as Marriage and Family Therapist and Professional Counselor in Arkansas.  Additionally, she is an adjunct professor for Liberty University and has a passion for teaching family systems theory and professional issues.

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About Courtney Stivers, PhD (25 Articles)
Courtney Stivers, PhD, LMFT, LPC is a subject matter expert in Marriage and Family Therapy. Her professional experience includes residential adolescent addiction, school-based therapy, community mental health, teaching, research, public speaking, professional consultation, missionary fieldwork, youth ministry, and administrative positions in a juvenile drug court, marriage and family therapy clinic, and a residential treatment center. She has a passion for teaching family systems theory and professional issues.

5 Comments on Solution Focused Brief Therapy Basics: Meet Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer

  1. Of course, I will send you a private email. We have left our address off here to prevent spam, but we do have a contact form. Thanks!

    Like

  2. Hi Courtney,
    I translate all English posts to Spanish and now I’m starting to include the original in English as well. I tried looking for your email address but couldn’t find it. Is there a better way to contact you?
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That is very interesting to hear about how the field is developing in different countries. I do not speak Spanish, but might be interested in guest blogging in the future. We have several followers from different countries around the world. Thank you for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi! I just found our blog an have enjoyed reading your articles!!

    I found SFBT useful but did not use it very often at the collaborative care setting I was working at in SD, CA. I found CBT and other empirical approaches to be better suited for the type of population I was working with.
    However, now that I am in Germany I have seen that family therapists do tend to use more of SFBT (although MFT as a field is still not regulated and the term used at this moment is Systemic Advice [Systemisches Beratung]).

    I write a blog in Spanish about therapy, if you’d like to take a look, I’m always looking to have guest posts!

    Liked by 1 person

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