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Pastoral Psychol (2008) 56:413419

DOI 10.1007/s11089-008-0123-4

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy and the Kingdom


of God: A Cosmological Integration
Thomas V. Frederick

Published online: 14 March 2008


# Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Abstract The core cosmological dimension of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)


and Christianity emphasizes a similar truththe future is now. As humans live in their
preferred realities, they experience the future, problem free solution for their lives from a
SFBT perspective. The Christian tradition emphasizes the in-breaking Kingdom of God
beginning with the Christ event. The end has entered the now. However, the final
consummation of the end-times is still as yet in the future which means that sin and death
are part of the world. This Christian understanding of sin and fallenness provides humility
to SFBTs inherently positive view of the world (Bidwell, D. R. Am J of Pastor Couns, 3:3
21, 1999), while SFBT encourages Christians to see the kingdom of God in the now instead
of the future.
Keywords Solution-focused brief therapy . Kingdom of God . Cosmology
Cosmology is associated with the view of the world. This dimension of philosophy and
theology attempts to answer questions regarding the nature of the world, its inhabitants
place in the world, and related questions. In expounding both the Solution-Focused Brief
Therapy Model (SFBT) and a Christian eschatological models cosmology, the future
orientation of each will provide considerable integrative overlap. This overlap will provide
a substantive corrective for the SFBT model as well as a renewed Christian emphasis on the
present reality (not end-time) focus on the in-breaking Kingdom of God.
The basic outline of this paper will be to first review historical and relevant integrative
literature on SFBT before focusing on its future-oriented nature. Second, the concept of
eschatology associated with Kingdom of God will be developed. Finally, a future-is-now
integration will be developed fostering a more complete, eschatologically informed sense of
hope and joy for SFBT practitioners.

T. V. Frederick (*)
Department of Psychology & Counseling, Hope International University, 2500 E. Nutwood Ave.,
Fullerton, CA 92831, USA
e-mail: tvfrederick@hiu.edu

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SFBT Research and Basic Assumptions


SFBT is a very popular treatment approach. SFBT is a postmodern, collaborative model
developed by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg at the Milwaukee Brief Therapy Center
in the 1980s. There have been studies suggesting its effectiveness in private practice
(Reimer and Chatwin 2006), its outcomes in a university setting (Beyebach et al. 2000), and
its general effectiveness (Gingerich and Eisengart 2000). This approach has been utilized
with domestic violence offenders (Lee et al. 2003), families dealing with alcoholism
(Linton 2005; McCullum and Trepper 2001), and wider systems consultations and
development (Pichot and Dolan 2003).
Another strand of literature suggesting SFBTs effectiveness regards its integration with
other models and approaches. SFBT has been integrated with person-centered approaches
(Cepeda and Davenport 2006), cybernetic systems and existential approaches (Anchin
2003), rational-emotive behavior therapy (Gutterman and Rudes 2005), strategic couple and
family therapy (Cheung 2005) and spiritual direction (Bidwell 2004). SFBTs integration
with spiritual direction will be discussed at length in the future-is-now section of this paper.
As a postmodern approach, SFBT has been described as minimalist as it focuses on the
conversation constructed by the client(s) and the therapist. This collaborative stance of the
therapist fosters a deep respect for the clients desires and the development of therapeutic
goals through the valuation of the clients own personal expertise in adopting the one-down
position by the therapist (de Shazer et al. 2007; Friedman and Lipchik 1999; see Anderson
and Goolishian 1992). This fosters a not-knowing, non-expert position in the therapist
(Bidwell 2004; de Shazer et al. 2007; Friedman and Lipchik 1999). The SFBT therapist
respects the clients own words by often repeating them in the course of asking curious
questions. The client is viewed as the expert on his or her own experience and this expertise
is used to identify goals (telos) that the client wishes to obtain, sometimes beyond a solution
to the problem. That is, the solution to the problem may have nothing to do with the
problem (de Shazer et al. 2007).
In identifying the cosmology and anthropology inherent in SFBT, Bidwell (1999)
suggests that humans are empowered, purposeful beings trying to live out their preferred
realities. This entails that clients seek out professional services when they encounter
teleological difficulties in their lived experience (Anchin 2003). That is, personal distress
occurs whenever one does not live in integrity to his or her preferred reality. The
fundamental beliefs that the client is expert alongside the view that change is inevitable
provide the context for the therapist co-constructing with the client the exceptions to the
problem that form the solution clients seek.
During the course of SFBT, the focus is on developing with the client a picture of the
solution, not the problem (de Shazer et al. 2007). As clients describe clearer and clearer
definitions of their preferred futures, they begin to live in these futures. This occurs through
the emphasis on exceptions to the problem. That is, problems are never permanent and
pervasive. Through the lens of SFBT, one may always find exceptions when the problem
was not worse, not as pressing, or nonexistent. Exceptions occur when the problem could or
should have been present but was not. The SFBT therapist asks future-oriented questions
eliciting times of exception to the problem in the clients life.
This leads to the SFBT assumption that problems do not impact every area of a clients life;
therefore, if its not broke, dont fix it. This is in addition to the do more of what is working
assumption (de Shazer et al. 2007, p. 12). SFBT assumes that clients are doing those things in
their lives that are important to them. Clients are essentially goal oriented or have an implicit
teleology that SFBT therapists must discover and encourage (Anchin 2003). Combined, these

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assumptions imply that clients are living the future now in their relationships. Throughout the
therapeutic encounter, SFBT therapists focus the clients language or narratives on their
preferred realitiesthose experiences that are consonant with their personal goals or
teleology. In other words, clients begin to experience the future or small steps of it in their
present experiences.

SFBT and Cosmology


Both of the major SFBT interventions that foster this future-is-now orientation are the
miracle question and scaling questions. The miracle question provides an initial description
of the future without the problem. The miracle question is:
A miracle happens while you are sleepingand the miracle makes the problems that
brought you here disappear. But this happens while you are sleeping so you cant
know it happened. How do you and people close to you discover this miracle
happened? (de Shazer et al. 2007, p. 38)
The client is left to describe life as they wish it or desire it. In other words, the answer to
this question provides the clients preferred cosmos.
As therapy progresses, scaling questions are used to determine client progress toward the
narrative described in the miracle question. Scaling questions allow the SFBT therapist to
develop behavioral anchors for the client in moving toward the miracle. Based upon
Wittgensteins philosophy (de Shazer et al. 2007), personal feeling states are viewed as
assertions about the individual, i.e., I feel better. The SFBT therapist views this as a
statement only. It may only be expounded or interpreted in the total context of ones life.
That is, this statement is an unverifiable speech actit simply is. Similarly, SFBT therapists
view humans as being totally constructed by their social context. Therefore, there are no
internal affect states that are given a superior status. The individual is totally formed by and in
his or her communication context. To understand communication, one must totally verify the
meaning of words by identifying external reference points. For example, how would you act
if you feel better? How would your friends and family know you feel better? Scaling
questions provide an objective anchor that details the subjective meaning of the clients
miracle that also provides a measure of progress towards the clients preferred cosmos.
SFBT is a postmodern, anti-realism model (Walter and Peller 1996; see also a critique of
this philosophy by Held 1996) emphasizing the diverse nature of human experiencing.
Most important are the ways in which human meaning making and experiencing co-create
one another. An individual may experience an event, and the meaning of the event then
becomes a future hermeneutic tool for the individual. The individual then further relies on
the same hermeneutic to organize future experiences. This leads individuals to further story
their experience in accordance with their main interpretive frameworks. The main issue here
is the manifold themes available in human experiencing. Therefore, it may be concluded
that lived experience is too broad and deep to be completely accounted for by any single
narrative (Bruner 1986). Treatment allows individuals to re-story their experience and live
apart from the problem. In other words, treatment allows individuals to live their futures in
the present apart from any problematic story constructions.
Based on the above, SFBT views the world as a multiplicity and diversity of experiences.
There are no moral judgments, i.e., any experience is not deemed morally good or bad
(Bidwell 1999). Behavior is also not judged. The only criterion for evaluation occurs in the
course of teleology. That is, problems occur based upon the dissatisfaction one has with

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ones experience. SFBT offers the possibility of living in a more satisfying and diverse
sense of experience and narrative. Clients are allowed to image and live into a future that is
the solution in therapy now. The only criterion is based on the clients view of her future
miracle. The miracle question answer provides the reality that clients may live out in the
present.

Christian Eschatology
The Kingdom or Reign of God has been an important dimension of theology (Beale 1997).
For Beale (1997), theology is eschatology. Beale suggests that eschatology should be the
overarching theme of theology. Because Christs life, and especially death and
resurrection through the Spirit, launched the glorious end-time new creation of God
(Beale 1997, p. 20, italics in original), theology must use eschatology or new creation as its
central focus. New creation focuses on the healing and redemption inaugurated at the Christ
event.
Jesus Christ is the first sign of Gods future Kingdom. Gods Kingdom straddles both the
present and the future (Kreitzer 1993). However, God intervenes from the future to impact
our present (Anderson 1997). That means God has sent His only begotten Son to enter into
the human world and begin to initiate Gods Kingdom beyond the expectations of Gods
people. This intervention occurs without the human world being able to (a) predict or (b)
achieve or strive for it. A human or creaturely perspective is that time is oriented from the
past to the now to the future. Human planning can be evaluated from the past (where he or
she was) to the now (current functioning). Based on the current level of functioning,
humans strategize to obtain the next steps associated with achieving their goals. This is the
core of telos.
Based on an eschatological understanding of the Kingdom of God, the future is now as a
result of the Christ event. Gods divine revelation is an act of ministry, and the fullest
expression of this revelation is Jesus Christ. The God of creation speaks in power, ex nihilo,
and creation is formed. Similarly, God sends the divine logos into the world (John 1), and
the world experiences the in-breaking of the Kingdom through this logos. Through the
incarnation of the divine Logos (John 1:14), ministry of bringing the Word of God to
human creatures was accomplished as well as the bringing of the human creature into
conformity with that Word (Anderson 1999, p. 47).
In healing, Christ establishes the reversal of the experience of curse found after the fall
of humanity in Genesis 3 (Beale 1997). Christ removes the curse of sin and death through
his life of healing. He ultimately reconciles the creation to God as evidenced in His
resurrection. This type of Christological view is called the AdamChrist typology that Paul
uses to expound his theological anthropology (Kim 2002).
Paul had to reevaluate his theological system after his encounter with Christ on the
Damascus road (Kim 2002). From Pauls application of image of God language and
metaphor to Jesus Christ, he develops the AdamChrist typology. Adam was created in the
image of God (Gen. 1:2628; Gen. 2), but he exalted himself as a God unto himself that
resulted in his ultimate dehumanization. Christ in distinction to Adam humbles himself and
obeys God (see also Bidwell 2004; Philippians 2:511).
Only after the in-breaking of the eschatos is one able to enter into the telos of the
Kingdom of God. The Christ event is the initial harbinger of the Kingdom of God. This
event ushers the future into the present outside of time. As humans are called into the
kingdom, they participate in the continued formation of this kingdom. That is, the Christ

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event ushers in a new timethe future. While the cosmos awaits the final consummation of
the future, Christians continue the telos of this community through discipleship or
becoming more Christ-like. This forms the telos of the Kingdom of God (Foster 1998).
The Kingdom of God is based on the in-breaking of the future into the now. The advent
of this end-time experience of the future is the Christ event. Christ is the harbinger of this
new reality that fosters Christian hope and joy based on the ultimate redemption of the
entire created order. In other words, Christ ushers in the new creationthe new future
through his birth, life, death, and resurrection.

The Future-is-now: Implications for Integration


As discussed above, SFBT has been utilized in the integration process with various degrees
of success. The most germane for the purposes of this paper is the adoption of SFBT for
spiritual direction by Bidwell (1999, 2004). To begin with, Bidwell (1999) identifies the
somewhat optimistic anthropology that emphasizes the solution in most, if not all, client
problems. Humans are assumed to be capable and resourceful in managing their daily
existence. Therefore, SFBT fosters this capacity by focusing on the solution, not the
problem. Bidwell (1999) deftly critiques this position as not seriously considering the
human penchant for sin. Humans do have the penchant to do moral good; however, they
also are quite capable of doing moral evil. A Christian concept of sin modifies, dare one say
humbles, this core assumption of SFBT.
Second, the promotion of non-moral good is critiqued based on Brownings (1988)
conception of the ethics of obligation derived from the metaphors of ultimacy contained in
SFBT. If SFBT views the world, and the humans in it, as ultimately good (as Bidwell
(1999) cogently argues), then the ethics of ones behavior or how one behaves, implied in
the model concerns the reduction of the evil or morally bad in ones experience without
necessarily increasing moral good. Bidwell (1999, p. 12) continues:
The right thing to do is whatever produces a behavioral change significant enough
to either eliminate the problem, keep it from happening often enough to be troubling,
or create a change of perception so that the problem is no longer considered a
problem.
In building on the integration of SFBT with Christian theology, Bidwell (2004) focuses
on the parallels between the not-knowing position (Anderson and Goolishian 1992; de
Shazer et al. 2007) and two strands of Christian tradition for the spiritual director. First, the
unknowing position in contemplative spirituality emphasizes the central aspect that human
knowledge may never fully comprehend God. This emphasis focuses upon the emptying of
and reluctance to rely on ones preconceived notions in order to experience God. The
unknowing position reflects the humble recognition that human epistemology is incapable
of apprehending being itself.
Second, Paul uses kenosis or emptying language in speaking about Jesus in the Christ
hymn in Philippians 2:11. There are two key aspects to the Christ-hymn in Philippians
(Bidwell 2004). To begin with, this passage speaks of Christ humbling himself by emptying
himself in becoming human. In other words, Christ did not assume how humans are and
what they experience. He became human in order to enter fully into their frame of
reference. That is, he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being
made in human likeness (Phil. 2:7). Christ did not (and does not) impinge upon the created
humans. Christ does not exercise power over others even though he is equal to God;

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however, it is in his humility and obedience that he is glorified and glorifies God the father.
Additionally, humans are to model this same attitude or mindset that Christ has. Humans
are to do likewise. Humans should not impinge or impose on others. Instead, they should
seek to enter into relationships with others and understand them from their perspective.
Acting in a Christ-like manner means forgoing ones own set of assumptions about the
other and entering fully into his or her frame of reference. Spiritual directors utilize these
processes in short-term spiritual direction from an SFBT perspective. SFBT emphasizes the
not-knowing position; spiritual directors may draw on both Christian tradition and Holy
Scripture to adopt a similar relationship with directees.
The cosmology of both SFBT and the Kingdom of God overlap considerably as well.
The Kingdom is here and now. Of course, this present world is not perfect as death, disease,
and evil of various forms plague human existence. However, life, grace, hope, peace, and
justice do occur. Goodness occurs as a result of the in breaking Kingdom of God. Christ the
harbinger of this Kingdom inaugurates the end times. To the extent that individuals
experience life, healing, peace, and goodness, they are experiencing the redemption found
in the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is a future that one may experience now.
The core cosmological dimension of SFBT emphasizes a similar truththe future is
now. As humans live in their preferred realities, they experience the future, problem free
solution for their lives. One can assume that humans hold the resources for living in their
solutions regardless of the problem. The Christian understanding of sin and fallenness
provides humility to SFBTs inherently positive view of the world (Bidwell 1999), while
SFBT encourages Christians to see the kingdom of God in the now instead of the future.

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