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De Shazer, Berg, and the Origins of SFBT

Steve de Shazer

  • Steve de Shazer was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1940, where he would later co-found the Brief Family Therapy Center with his wife, Insoo Kim Berg.
  • De Shazer trained initially as a musician; however, he earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and published several books, including Patterns of Brief Family Therapy: An Ecosystemic Approach in 1982, which discussed solution-focused applied psychology as a meaningful tool in understanding the philosophical underpinnings of solution-focused brief therapy.   
  • De Shazer died in 2005.

Insoo Kim Berg

  • Insoo Kim Berg was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1934, where she initially studied for a pharmacy career at Ewha Woman’s University.
  • After moving to the United States in 1957, Berg earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. In 1978, she co-founded the Brief Family Therapy Center with her husband, Steve de Shazer.
  • Berg provided extensive training workshops on solution-focused therapy internationally, bringing SFBT to at least a dozen countries. She also published several books that apply a solution-focused approach to topics including treatment of substance use disorders, child protective services, coaching, and interviewing.   
  • Berg died in 2007.

The Origins of SFBT

  • In the 1970s, de Shazer and Berg, along with a multidisciplinary team of educators, sociologists, linguists, engineers, and philosophers, created the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, intending to study and develop methods of psychotherapy that would be more effective and efficient with clients.
  • Writing with Peter DeJong in 1997, Berg described a pivotal moment in the development of SFBT that occurred in 1982. A family seeking services at the Brief Family Therapy Center provided the team with dozens of problems; however, rather than remain focused on those problems, the BFTC team prompted the family to write another list of the things they wanted to continue to happen. The approach – to focus on what was working well – was very effective and illuminated the idea that solutions do not necessarily have to be related to the problems they solve.  
  • SFBT was rapidly popularized across the United States in the decades following its emergence, spreading to the United Kingdom in the 1990s and 2000s. Today, SFBT is among the most popular therapeutic modalities worldwide and is the only form of therapy applied by some agencies. Treatment is typically three to eight sessions, sometimes only a single session.   
  • SFBT is goal-oriented, future-oriented, optimistic, and anti-deterministic. The fundamental assumption of SFBT is that the client is the expert on their own life and what is best for them. It already possesses the ability to achieve their goals, while the therapist is the expert on articulating questions that will elicit the change process. SFBT practice requires a high level of awareness from the therapist to respond effectively to the client’s verbal and nonverbal communication in a manner that is both disciplined and direct while still validating the client’s feelings.

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