Solution Focused Approaches
Solution Focused Questions utilize a competency-based model, which minimizes emphasis on past failings and problems, and instead focuses on clients’ strengths and previous successes. There is a focus on working from the client’s understandings of their situation and what the client might want different.


The past success question is a question that can be asked to get the client to reflect on a time when things had been better and what the specific factors were that made that possible. By asking a Past Success Question, the client may remember a time when they were able to deal with a challenge or to solve it. Thinking about these past successes may increase the confidence and hopefulness of the client and can assist them to confidently move forward. "Can you think of a time when things were a bit better?” “Have you ever been able to solve a problem like this before?” “Have ever experienced a situation kind of like this one that you were able to improve by doing something differently? What did you do differently?


Scales used in solution-focused questions are to used to quantify a perception, a concern, or progress. For example: ​"On a scale from 0 to 10, with zero being 'overwhelmed' and 10 being 'calm,' where were you when the social worker talked to you about the concerns of the department?" "You say you feel confident that you'd be more calm the next time your daughter goes against your rules. How confident are you on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being 'not confident at all' and 10 being 'completely confident' that you will be able to remain calm?" Scaling is also used to "scaffold" learning and growth. For example, "On a scale of 0 to 10 with 0 being not confident and 10 being very confident , how confident are you about your ability to move to your placement?" "What would it take for you to be at a __?" "What would be happening? What would it look like?"


Using the Preferred Future Question, the client is asked to describe how he or she would like the situation to become in a "preferred future". The client is asked to use details to describe the preferred future, (or the 'desired situation'). The preferred future should be described in terms of concrete, positive results.

A few ways in which the question can be posed are:
“What if things could be just how you wanted in the future, what would that look like?” “How do you want your situation to turn out at the end of all of this?” “What would you like for your life that would be different than what exists right now?” “What will you need to see to know that things have become better?”


The platform question helps the client to see things as they currently exist. By focusing on what has already been achieved, people can often get a different, more positive perspective both on their current situation (“It is not all bad!”) and on their possible future. Once they take a more optimistic view of their situation, they become more hopeful that they will be able to achieve their change goals.

Examples of Platform Questions are:
​What have you already achieved? What is already there? What has helped to bring you to your current position?


​It is usually safe to assume that the intensity of an individual's problems fluctuates constantly. Most likely there have been situations in which the problem was less intense and when things were better. It can be helpful to identify and process through some of these situations as they will often help to find ideas to solve the problem.

An example of how exception-seeking questions may be asked is:
"Have there been times when the problem did not happen?" "When were these times and what was different?" "What did you do differently during those times that the problem did not happen?"


The miracle question basically asks people to make believe, however fantastical it may be in their particular circumstances, that their life has already dramatically changed for the better. So instead of focusing exclusively on how unsolvable their problem is, and how difficult life is because of it, it switches attention to what will happen after the problem is dealt with – focusing on the desired future rather than the undesired present.

"Imagine that tonight as you sleep a miracle occurs in your life. A magical momentous happening that has completely solved this problem and perhaps rippled out to cover and infinitely improve other areas of your life too…Think for a moment and tell me… how is life going to be different now? Describe it in detail. What’s the first thing you’ll notice as you wake up in the morning?"


Asking the simple question "What's better?" as opposed to something more traditional like, "Did any interesting things happen since our last conversation?" Can feel a bit odd to some professionals. However, it can often be at least equally, or more effective, than the traditional approach. The what-is-better-question is mainly asked in follow-up sessions (second and later sessions) with clients. The advantage of this type of' question is that it helps the client to focus on which progress has been made in the past period. It also helps to identify and examine what has worked well. This can often have a motivating effect, which leads to improved awareness of what works, as well as useful ideas about next steps.

An important element of the 'What's better?' question technique is that you repeat it often ("What else is better?"). Usually you don't just ask it 1, 2, or 3 times, but rather 6, 7, or 8 times. The surprising thing often is that the client indeed manages to mention as many examples as they are asked for (encouragement by the coach is important of course). Also, professionals are often surprised to find out that sometimes the most interesting or important examples of what's better are not the first or the second ones that are mentioned. Sometimes, already 6 examples have been mentioned and then, suddenly, the client mentions a very important improvement, also to his or her own surprise (”Wow, I forgot that has happened but it is actually really important.")


The purpose of the usefulness question (sometimes referred to as the useful-question) is to make conversations as useful as possible for those involved. Professionals may use usefulness questions at any point during a conversation.

At the beginning, of conversations questions like these can be used:
“How can we make this conversation as useful as possible?” “What do you want to come out of this conversation?” “How would you notice afterwards that this conversation has been worth your time?”
During the conversation, questions like these can be used: “So far, has this conversation been useful to you?” “What was useful?” “How was it useful?” “What are your ideas about how we can make the conversation more useful?” “How can we make the remaining time as useful as possible?”
At the end of the conversation, questions like these can be used: “Has this conversation been useful to you?" “How is what we talked about useful to you?”
Asking usefulness questions provides some clarity about what clients want to come out of a conversation. By reflecting on the question, they will consider their goals and connect the conversation to those goals.


One way for clients to imagine how their situation will be different once their situation once their situation is better is the perspective change question. Here are some examples of ways that this question can be asked: ”How will other people notice things are better?” “How would your friends notice that you are doing better in your daily life?” “How will family members notice that the your situation is improving?” "How will your children notice that your situation is improving?" "How will your partner know that you are making progress in how you relate to them?" “How would your Social Worker notice that some of your services may no longer be necessary?” The perspective change question helps the client to develop a broader view on themselves and their situation and to look more objectively so that they can build clearer goals.


Many professionals find it helpful to use coping questions when clients are experiencing a challenging time and can hardly find the motivation to do anything about their situation. A coping question is often used in combination with a scaling question when a client says that they are at a zero on a particular scale (see the scaling question). The basic theme of the question is: “How do you manage to keep going?” There are many other ways of phrasing coping questions, however, including:
"What keeps you going under such difficult circumstances?"
"How do you manage to deal with such difficult situations each day?" "What helps you to keep going even though things are really hard?" "How do you explain to yourself how you are able to do so well while the circumstances are so hard?" "It's impressive how you have been able to keep on going under such difficult circumstances.... how did you do that?" "How did you manage to cope before you gave up?
The coping question can help people in difficult situations to find new energy to continue dealing with their problems. Using this technique helps clients to recognize that they are in fact managing their situation, at least to some extent. This helps them to see that they are still able to do some things well and that their desire to be successful has not faded completely. By exploring how they do cope, clients can become more aware of what specifically keeps them going.


The purpose of the Continuation Question is to identify things that do not necessarily need to change. Some examples of this type of question can include: “What currently happens in your situation that you want to continue to happen?” “What doesn't have to change because it is already going well ?” By asking this question you make it clear to the client that they do not have to change more than necessary and you acknowledge that there are, in fact, things that are going well. Asking clients to focus on what does not have to change helps them to feel like they are being taken seriously and appreciated because the professional acknowledges that there are things that are already going well. After thinking about things that do not have to change, clients can sometimes find it easier to focus their attention on the things that they do need to change.


The optimism question helps clients to identify reasons for optimism. Here are some ways of asking this question: "What makes you optimistic?” “What indications do you have that you will be able to achieve ...?” “What small signs do see that indicate you will succeed in ....?” Even in very difficult circumstances both clients and professionals can sometimes be surprised by the fact that still some reasons for optimism can be identified. When this happens, clients’ hopes are often lifted. The optimism question makes use of the phenomenon that, often, what you focus on becomes more important.

Solution Focused Techniques
Solution Focused Techniques use a realistic, goal-driven approach, with emphasis on clear, concise, realistic goal identification that assumes all clients have some level of knowledge of what would make life better, and that anyone seeking help already possesses the minimal skills necessary to create solutions for themselves.



Reframing allows the client to change their perspective on a given situation to give it a more positive or beneficial meaning. It can be used to help remove limiting beliefs, to help appreciate positive moments that they might otherwise miss, or for any other negative thought that is identified and targeted for change. As a result, the client sees their situation differently, and may even find solutions in ways that she did not expect. Reframing is a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives.


Statement: "You're trying to change me into something YOU want."
Reframe: "What if we worked on your changing to something that your children want."

Statement: "This whole thing is just such a mess."
Reframe: "Would it be OK to call it a challenge instead of a mess? Any challenge can be overcome.

Statement: "I've never been in a situation like this before. I don't know what to do."
Reframe: "You and your family have everything you need to deal with this situation right now."


Complimenting indirectly is a way to invite the client through a question to describe what was good about what he or she has done and what has worked well. An example of an indirect compliment is: “Wow, how did you manage to finish that task so quickly?" These types of questions are also sometimes called ‘affirming questions’. It is also possible to include the perspective of other people in indirect compliments. An example may be: “What does your family like most about the way you interact with them?” An advantage of complimenting through questions is that you activate the other person. Also, there is less chance that he or she will feel embarrassed or will turn down the compliment ("It was nothing special"). Instead, you challenge the other person and make them reflect (“Actually, how did I do that.... let's see.....?”)


A technique used by many professionals is to summarize what clients have said while using their own choice of words, or, "language matching". Some benefits to this approach are that the client will feel taken seriously. Also, it helps to give them some time to think about what more they should share. After a summary, it is often not even necessary for the professional to ask a question because clients already know how they would like to proceed.
Some important functions of progress-focused summaries are: The summary reassures the client that the professional was listening carefully The summary reassures the professional that he has heard the client accurately By using the client's words in the summary the professional shows respect for the client's frame of reference The summary (if done descriptively and in a spirit of openness) has the effect of inviting the client to say more (correct, revise or add) The summary has the effect of putting the client in control of how to describe their experiences The summary assists the professional in formulating the next question based on what the client has just revealed. (Peter De Jong and Insoo Kim Berg)


Normalizing is used to "depathologize" people’s concerns and present them instead as normal life difficulties. It can help people to feel less stressed about their problem. It can also help them to realize that they are not abnormal for having this issue. This is important, because if they felt angry and they also felt that their anger was pathological, they'd have two problems, their anger and the fact that they behaved pathologically. Normalizing helps to prevent this surplus problem from happening. By saying something like: "Of course, you're angry, I understand. It's normal to be angry right now." You can help people to relax and to move on relatively quickly beyond their anger.


In situations when clients have difficulty identifying examples of earlier successes or exceptions to the problem, observation suggestions can be useful and help to move the conversation along. An example might look something like this:

“In the next week or so, could you pay attention to situations in which things are a little better? When you notice that things seem better, pay close attention to what is different about that situation and to what you do differently? Also try to notice exactly what is different and what you do that helps so that we can discuss it the next time we meet.”

This task can be very effective for the client in helping them to be more conscious of the things that go right in their lives. This can have the effect of helping them to become more optimistic about their lives and to gain more confidence in how they are progressing.


The concept ‘yes-set’ refers to a technique with which the professional conducts the conversation in such a way that the client is tempted to say ‘yes’. One way of doing this by summarizing what the clients has said in the words of the client. Another way is to ask a question which the client can very easily say ‘yes’ to.

Another description of the yes-set structure is that it consists of asking several questions where the answer is easy to say 'yes' to. Then the professional can add on a question at the end for which they really want the answer to be 'yes'.The minimum set is usually three questions. However, the professional also should not over-do this, so it is advisable to either space out the questions or limit the number. If necessary, the question can be hidden by burying it amongst other questions.

A few examples of such questions are:​​
“Would you like your situation to become a bit better?” "Are you hoping to spend more time with your children?" "Are you looking forward to spending the holidays with them?" "Do you think they will be excited about your plans?" "Will you be able to return all of your paperwork to me by Friday?" ”Is it alright if I ask you a question?”


Prediction suggestions are based on the idea that what a person expects to happen is more likely to happen once the process leading up to it is in motion.

"Each night, before going to bed, predict whether or not you will succeed in ............. (whatever it is the client wants to accomplish) the next day." This line of questioning encourages the client to set in motion the processes involved in having a better day. No matter what prediction the client suggests, the idea that they might have a good day is bound to cross their mind. Most likely, having a good day is what they really want, and ideally a self-fulfilling prophecy might develop which may prompt "better day behavior" the next day.


The optimism question helps clients to identify reasons for optimism. Here are some ways of asking this question: "What makes you optimistic?” “What indications do you have that you will be able to achieve ...?” “What small signs do see that indicate you will succeed in ....?” Even in very difficult circumstances both clients and professionals can sometimes be surprised by the fact that still some reasons for optimism can be identified. When this happens, clients’ hopes are often lifted. The optimism question makes use of the phenomenon that, often, what you focus on becomes more important.


Mutualizing can simply be thought of as the reframing of issues or goals in a way that all parties can agree to. For example, if one parent says: 'I want the child living with me full time because that's what's best for my daughter." The other parent may then say: ''I want our daughter living with me half time and half time with you because that would be best for her." The professional then might say: 'It's pretty clear to me that both of you want to develop a plan that will be best for your daughter--you disagree at this point about what plan would be best but you share the common goal of making the best plan for her. Can we all agree about that?'" Instead of emphasizing the different positions and goals the solution-focused professional mutualizes the preferred future.