Years ago, I worked with a large health insurance company conducting outcome research for short-term, solution-focused therapy. For therapists — and mostly for insurance companies — the focus was on proving that short-term therapy was as effective as long term therapy. It came as no surprise to me that the outcomes were mixed; there are many of variables, including patient engagement and highly varied clinical issues.

One unexpected outcome of this method I found, though, is that some of these methods could easily be used in coaching. The Institute of Solution Focused Therapy states that Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is “a practical, goal-driven model… a hallmark of SFBT is its emphasis on clear, concise, realistic   goal negotiations. The SFBT approach assumes that all clients have some knowledge of what would make their life better, even though they may need some (at times, considerable) help describing the details of their better life and that everyone who seeks help already possesses at least the minimal skills necessary to create solutions.”

Looking Forward

The questions asked by SF therapists are usually focused on the present or on the future. This reflects the basic belief that problems are best solved by focusing on what is already working, and how a client would like their life to be, rather than focusing on the past and the origin of problems. For example, they may ask, “What will you be doing in the next week that would indicate to you that you are continuing to make progress?”


Compliments are another essential part of SFBT. Validating what clients are already doing well and acknowledging how difficult their problems are encourages the client to change while giving the message that the therapist has been listening (i.e., understands) and cares. Compliments in therapy sessions can help to punctuate what the client is doing that is working. In SF therapy, compliments are often conveyed in the form of appreciatively-toned questions of “How did you do that?” that invite the client to self-compliment by virtue of answering the question.

Inviting Clients to do More of What Works

Once SF therapists have created a positive frame via compliments and then discovered some previous solutions and exceptions to the problem, they gently invite the client to do more of what has previously worked, or to try changes they have brought up which they would like to try – frequently called “an experiment.”

About the Author

Felice Tilin is an author, professor, executive coach and consultant. She is an Associate Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and is President of GroupWorks Consulting LLC, where she focuses on executive coaching, organizational change and leadership development. She is the Executive Director of the Coaching Leader Program which takes a multi-model approach to executive coaching.

Felice holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Development from Temple University. She serves on the Lower Merion Human Relations Commission. Her most recent book publication is The Interprofessional Healthcare Team: Leadership and Development 2nd ed. (2018).