Solution-Focused Brief Therapy and the EAP

by Deborah Edgefield LCSW-A

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) was developed in the 1980s by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg. It is an approach that focuses on the client’s strengths, resources, and goals. The model is meant to be “solution-building” and short-term. Through SFBT the therapist does not focus on the client’s problem or past, but instead focuses on the client’s goal and moving forward in a positive way.

“SFBT is based on the respectful assumption that clients have the inner resources to construct highly individualized and uniquely effective solutions to their problems.” “….shift the focus from reducing distress and merely surviving to building success and positively thriving.”

An employer contracts with the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to provide counseling services to their employees. Depending on the company, the EAP may provide anywhere from 3 to 12 sessions. As a result, if an employee is referred to EAP sessions then there is a precise number of sessions that the therapist and employee have to address the presenting issue. The EAP has adopted the SFBT model due to the limited amount of counseling sessions that are provided by the program. Since it is meant to be short-term the SFBT model allows the therapist to work effectively with the employee to achieve their goal.

Most employees request EAP counseling to address anxiety, stress, depression, or grief. SFBT has be shown to be effective for all of those topics. Through SFBT the therapist assists the employee with increasing positive affect to help them better the situation. This is done by using solution-focused questions and scaling (What would you like to see instead of the problem? What exactly did you do differently? What are your best hopes? If a miracle happened what would be different and how would you know?). In 1993, a study was done female college students suffering from depression. The study demonstrated that a single SFBT session reduced depressed mood. Another study involved using SFBT on 10 clients with depression and 9 of them showed significant improvement. In 2016, a student was conducted with 30 women who also suffered from depression. In the study the Beck Depression Inventory was administered before and after undergoing 8 weekly sessions of SFBT. The study resulted in the significant decrease pf depression scores. These studies show that SFBT can be very successful with clients who present with mild to moderate mental health/emotional symptoms. The SFBT model and short-term counseling can be helpful, efficient, and cost-effective.

As internal and external providers it is our responsibility to make sure we practice within the scope of treatment being provided to employees. In a short-term setting SFBT is shown to be most effective.

Bannink, F. (2015). 101 Solution-Focused Questions for Help with Anxiety. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Employee Assistance Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved from
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