Comparing the Assumptions and Techniques of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy and Narrative Therapy

In the field of psychotherapy, there are various approaches that therapists employ to help individuals navigate their emotional challenges and achieve personal growth. Two popular therapeutic modalities that have gained recognition for their effectiveness are Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) and Narrative Therapy. While both approaches share the common goal of empowering individuals to overcome difficulties and find resolution, they differ in their underlying assumptions and techniques. This article aims to provide a comprehensive comparison of SFBT and Narrative Therapy, exploring their unique characteristics and highlighting their respective strengths.

Understanding Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)

What is SFBT?

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is a goal-oriented and future-focused approach to therapy that places emphasis on finding solutions rather than dwelling on problems. It was developed by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg in the late 1970s and has since gained popularity among therapists worldwide.

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Key Assumptions of SFBT

SFBT operates on several fundamental assumptions:

  1. Solution-oriented focus: SFBT believes that individuals already possess the necessary resources and strengths to overcome their problems.
  2. Focus on the present and future: The therapy concentrates on exploring the preferred future and identifying steps to achieve it, rather than analyzing the past.
  3. Collaborative approach: The therapist and client work together as equals, with the therapist facilitating the client’s self-discovery and change process.
  4. Small achievable steps: SFBT encourages setting realistic, incremental goals to create positive change and build momentum.

Techniques Used in SFBT

SFBT utilizes a range of techniques that promote change and facilitate progress:

  1. Miracle question: The therapist asks the client to envision a future where the problem is resolved miraculously, allowing them to explore possibilities and generate potential solutions.
  2. Scaling questions: Clients are asked to rate their current situation and their progress on a scale, encouraging self-reflection and identifying areas for improvement.
  3. Exception finding: Identifying instances when the problem is less prevalent or absent helps clients recognize their strengths and resources.
  4. Compliments and validation: The therapist highlights the client’s efforts, strengths, and successes, fostering a sense of empowerment and self-worth.
  5. Task assignments: Clients are assigned specific tasks between sessions to encourage active engagement and reinforce positive behaviors.

Understanding Narrative Therapy

What is Narrative Therapy?

Narrative Therapy is an approach that views individuals as the authors of their own lives and focuses on exploring and reshaping the stories they tell about themselves. Developed by Michael White and David Epston, Narrative Therapy recognizes the power of language in shaping identity and meaning.

Key Assumptions of Narrative Therapy

Narrative Therapy operates on several core assumptions:

  1. Multi-storied nature of identity: Individuals have multiple stories that shape their sense of self, and therapy involves exploring and revising these narratives.
  2. Externalization of problems: Narrative Therapy encourages clients to separate themselves from their problems, viewing them as external influences rather than integral aspects of their identity.
  3. Social and cultural context: The therapy acknowledges the influence of social and cultural factors in shaping individuals’ experiences and challenges.
  4. Meaning-making through re-authoring: Clients can rewrite their life narratives, constructing empowering and preferred stories that align with their values and aspirations.

Techniques Used in Narrative Therapy

Narrative Therapy utilizes various techniques to facilitate change and promote narrative exploration:

  1. Externalizing conversations: Clients are encouraged to objectify their problems, creating distance between their identity and the issues they face.
  2. Re-authoring: Clients actively engage in reinterpreting their life stories, focusing on strengths, values, and alternative perspectives to foster personal growth.
  3. Mapping influence: The therapist assists clients in identifying the social and cultural influences that have shaped their narratives, leading to a deeper understanding of their experiences.
  4. Unique outcomes: Clients explore exceptions to the dominant problem narrative, identifying moments when they were able to overcome challenges or exhibit resilience.
  5. Documenting conversations: Writing or recording sessions allows clients to revisit and reflect upon the progress made, reinforcing new narratives and insights.

Comparing SFBT and Narrative Therapy

Focus and Orientation

While both SFBT and Narrative Therapy aim to facilitate change, they differ in their focus and orientation. SFBT directs attention towards identifying and implementing solutions in the present and future, emphasizing the client’s existing strengths. In contrast, Narrative Therapy explores the stories and meanings that clients attribute to their experiences, empowering them to rewrite their narratives and construct more desirable identities.

Time Perspective

SFBT prioritizes the present and future, considering the past as less relevant. The focus is on setting achievable goals and taking incremental steps to reach them. On the other hand, Narrative Therapy acknowledges the influence of past experiences and the importance of understanding their impact on the present. It encourages clients to reframe their past narratives and find alternative meanings to create new possibilities.

Therapeutic Relationship

In SFBT, the therapist and client work collaboratively, with the therapist adopting a position of expertise in facilitating the client’s self-discovery and change process. Narrative Therapy also emphasizes collaboration but places greater emphasis on the client as the expert of their own experiences. The therapist acts as a facilitator, assisting the client in exploring alternative narratives and perspectives.

Language and Meaning

Language and meaning play a crucial role in both approaches. SFBT focuses on problem-solving language, exploring solutions and setting goals using precise and concrete language. Narrative Therapy emphasizes the power of language in constructing identity and meaning. Clients are encouraged to engage in re-authoring their narratives, using language to create empowering stories that align with their values and aspirations.


In conclusion, Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) and Narrative Therapy are two distinct approaches to psychotherapy, each with its own set of assumptions and techniques. While SFBT concentrates on goal-oriented problem-solving and utilizing existing strengths, Narrative Therapy focuses on exploring and reshaping the narratives individuals construct about their lives. By understanding the unique characteristics of each approach, therapists can tailor their interventions to best meet the needs of their clients. By utilizing the diverse tools offered by SFBT and Narrative Therapy, therapists can empower individuals on their journey towards personal growth and well-being.

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