The solution focused approach is characterised by being goal and action orientated; a shift away from the previous therapeutic focus on the past and the problem.

Solution focused coaching is based on the assumption that clients know the best way to approach the achievement of their goals. It is the role of the coach to assist clients in developing effective goal setting strategies and to help generate alternative ways of approaching goal achievement.

Main Concepts

The solution focused approach is underpinned by twelve (12) assumptions that are interrelated and guide the coach’s conversations and interactions with their clients.

Assumption 1: Focusing on the positive facilitates change in the desired direction

As solution-focused coaches engage in conversation with clients about what they are doing that is working or about what they will be doing, the clients are able to form mental pictures of themselves solving their problems. By focusing on positive situations rather than negatives (such as problems) a client is more likely to be energised into making changes.

Assumption 2: Exceptions help to build solutions

This assumption highlights that people sometimes get stuck into only one set of expectations of what the solution will look like. Exceptions may be seen as inconsequential because, to their way of thinking, the ‘exceptional’ times do not represent ‘real’ solutions or because the ‘exceptional’ times are inconsistent.

The solution-focused approach emphasises the benefits and significance of all exceptional times. By identifying instances when a problem did not occur the client can develop a more positive outlook and may begin to see the potential for building solutions.

Assumption 3: Nothing is always the same

Clients are not ‘stuck’ in the problem situation but every moment their problems are changing and they are able to move from one state to another. A solution-focused coach can use change, whether positive (in the direction of the goal) or negative (moving away from the goal), to generate client awareness.

Assumption 4: Small changing leads to larger changing

People usually use the same attempted solution for all problems. By making a small change in the attempted solution to the problems, clients can change in several different situations simultaneously. Recognising their previous exceptions or changes, clients are empowered with the belief that they can find solutions to other, more difficult issues.

Assumption 5: Clients show us how they think change occurs

If clients don’t do what coaches say, or if they do something else instead, we do not believe that they are ‘resistant’ but rather that in their thinking this is the best thing to do at the time. Coaches take clients ‘at their word’. Coaches are in touch with the client’s ‘approach to change’ not their own.

Assumption 6: People have all they need to solve their problems

The emphasis of the Solution-Focused approach is not upon the cause or maintenance of the problem, but upon the faith that each individual is capable of solving their problems. The responsibility is upon the coach to be flexible and to facilitate change toward what the client wants. The client is not dependent on the coach, but has within themselves the ability to reach their goals.

Assumption 7: Meaning is created through our interactions

Meaning is created through interaction with the environment. Meaning changes depending on the context. Meaning is not imposed on us but is rather a result of interpretation.

Assumption 8: Actions and descriptions are circular

There is a circular relationship between how one describes a problem or goal, what action one then takes, how one describes these actions and results, what further actions one might take, and so on.

Assumption 9: The meaning of the message is the response you receive

Despite the sender’s intention when sending a message the actual meaning of the message is found in the response that s/he (the original sender) receives back.

Assumption 10: Coaching is a goal or solution-focused endeavour, with the client as expert

The Solution-Focused approach assumes that the client is able to decide what it is that they want or, at least, what they don’t want. The client has the store of data which will be examined in coaching for traces of solutions that have already worked. The client is the expert who finally decides what they want to work on.

Assumption 11: Any change in how a goal is described affects future interactions with all others involved

The meaning we ascribe to a problem, solution or goal affects the way in which we approach it. By conceptualising a problem, solution or goal differently we can modify the approach we take with it in the future.

Assumption 12: The involvement of external parties is dependent on whether they share the same goals and desire to make something happen.

This Solution-Focused assumption states that membership of the treatment group is dependent upon whether the individuals share the same coaching goals and the desire to make it happen.


A coach using solution focused techniques works with the client to identify goals which then guide the coaching/counselling process. The coach focuses on what the client wants, not what the coach thinks he/she needs. In using solution focused techniques, coaches are encouraged to be flexible with their approach.

The use of appropriate language is an important factor in the success of the solution focused approach. In particular, the coach should remain enthusiastic about the clients’ exceptions and accomplishments.

We will be focusing on three of the techniques used in the solution focused approach:

  1. Miracle question
  2. Exception question
  3. Scaling question

Miracle Question

The miracle question is a technique used to paint a picture about what the client wants. Here is an example of the miracle question from a coaching session.

Coach: So you are thinking about leaving your current occupation as a firefighter to do something else. However, you are not sure what you want to do?

Client: That’s correct. I’m just not sure what I want to do anymore!!!

Coach: “Suppose you were to go home tonight, and while you were asleep, a miracle happens. This miracle means that when you wake up tomorrow, everything will be different. How will you know the miracle happened? What will be different?”

Client: Well, I suppose I would be waking up and leaving for work happy. I would not have to work different shifts anymore and could feel like I’ve got time to have a social life.

The miracle question has been adapted from: Bertolino, B., & O’Hanlon, B. (2002). Collaborative, competency-based counseling and therapy. Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Exception Question

Another technique used is the exception question. The exception question is employed to find out what strengths the client may have from past experiences. These strengths may then be applied to the client’s current situation rather than teaching the client new skills.

Examples of exception questions include:

  • “Tell me about times when you felt happy at work.”
  • “Tell me about times when you felt you were achieving things.”
  • “When was the last time that you felt you had a better day?”
  • “What was it about that day that made it a better day?”
  • “Can you think of a time when the problem was not present in your life?”
  • “When was a time that you were the most happiest in your life?”

Exception questions adapted from: Corcoran, J. (2005). Building strengths and skills: A collaborative approach to working with clients. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Scaling Questions

Scaling Questions are used to invite clients to rate an issue on a scale of one (worst the problem may be) to ten (no longer a problem).

There are three ways the scaling question may be used:

The progress scale for example:

  • “On a scale of zero to ten where ten is your life the way you would want it to be and zero is where things are as bad as they could possibly be, where are you right now?”

The next step for example:

  • “What would have to happen for you to notice a small improvement so that you could say things have moved up a little bit on the scale?”

Willingness and confidence scale for example:

  • “On a scale of zero to ten how willing are you to do something to make things better?” or
  • “On a scale of zero to ten how confident are you that things are going to get better?”

These questions may be used to determine how the client sees things, how willing or confident the client is to implement change and if small amounts of change has occurred already.

Scaling questions adapted from: Turnell, A., & Hopwood, L. (1994). A “Map” for doing solution-focused brief therapy. Case Studies in Brief & Family Therapy, 8(2), 39-75.