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Solution-Focused Subsance Abuse Treatment

As a Recovery Specialist with over 25 years of experience working with clients who have substance abuse and/or co-occurring disorders I have used several treatment methods that have had varying degrees of success. For the past 6-7 years I have found that solution-focused brief therapy has been truly effective with my clients. This method was introduced and developed by Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer.


The basic principals and interventions worked for the clients they were seeing in Milwaukee in the 1970’s. These clients were a lower socioeconomic, intercity, minority, and multi-problem clientele. Their work has spread around the world and is now integrated into a wide collection of settings that include child welfare, mental health centers, substance abuse treatment facilities, jails, correctional departments, domestic violence shelters, business coaching and education to name a few. The principles of solution-focused therapy are found throughout the literature and are summarized in various locations. Here is one list of principles provided by Pichot, T. and Dolan, Y. (2003, p.13):


  1. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

  2. If something is working, do more of it.

  3. If it is not working, do something different.

  4. Small steps can lead to large changes.

  5. The solution is not necessarily directly related to the problem.

  6. The language requirements for solution development are different from those needed to describe a problem.

  7. No problem happens all the time. There are always exceptions that can be utilized

  8. The future is both created and negotiable.


For those of us who work with clients who experience co-occurring disorders, learning a new approach is both challenging and, often, rewarding. I have found that especially true since I was introduced to this method. For more information go to www.sfbta.org and note where the next International Conference will be held. If you are interested in learning more about this multi-faceted method, a short article on how SFBT is specifically applied will be submitted to the Transformer in future.

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