Solution-focused work

Focusing on the solution rather than the problem

The solution-focused approach was developed as a type of therapy. It is based on the observation that it is more effective to support a person’s existing strengths than to concentrate on the aspects of their lives that are not working. This approach makes it possible for affected youth to free themselves from their own feelings of powerlessness. The work of terre des hommes schweiz enables young people to become experts on their own lives.
Eine junge Frau aus Moçambique flechtet Schilfrohr.

The solution-focused approach (SFA) was developed by psychotherapists Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Bergas a form of therapy. They were working in Milwaukee, USA, primarily with people who were struggling with issues such as unemployment, violence, drug abuse and disease. They noticed that a problem-focused approach was not prompting these people to change their behaviour. So they began focusing on their clients’ strengths – the things they could do well, the things that worked. The counselling model they developed is now also used in education, economics and social work.

Experts on their own lives
For terre des hommes schweiz, taking a solution-focused approach means that communities in the project countries cannot simply be presented with ready-made solutions. It is necessary to listen to the partners and people, ask questions, value and build on their unique strengths and resources. These principles have also proven highly effective in the youth counselling work carried out by the partner organisations. Instead of assuming responsibility for the young people’s lives and providing expert advice, the counsellors and support staff view the youth as experts on their own lives and encourage them to adopt this role. By mobilising their own strengths, young people are able to change their situation – they do receive assistance, but are ultimately responsible for their own progress.

Many organisations have realised how important it is to involve youth in their projects. Young people volunteer to run youth groups and often they are the first to hear about cases of abuse and have to organise the appropriate support. Usually they only receive brief training to prepare them for these demanding tasks. However these young group leaders find out by using the skills they have learnt, not the necessary long-term support. The lack of skills and trained professionals who can provide psychological and social assistance in many project countries prompted terre des hommes schweiz to develop its own training programme.

Department for psychological and social assistance
During the search for a suitable approach, the SFA was found to be a viable option. terre des hommes schweiz was the first organisation to use SFA in development cooperations, thanks to a collaboration with Dr Therese Steiner. The child psychiatrist and author learnt this technique from de Shazer and Berg. With their help, she developed a version of SFA that is suitable for working with children and youth. Together with terre des hommes schweiz’s department for psychological and social assistance, she developed, implemented and supervised the Youth2Youth training programme.

Since 2008, terre des hommes schweiz has been training employees and young people from its partner organisations to become multipliers of the solution-focused approach, as part of its regional programmes in southern Africa, Central America and South America.

The Youth2Youth training programme for multipliers takes place in two modules over the course of one year. During that time, course participants practise using a solution-focused approach. The solution-focused counselling techniques involve specific methods that encourage people to recognise their own abilities, set realistic goals and find creative solutions for achieving them.

Theory as an extension of practice
People practising SFA learn even more effective and sustainable ways to do the things they were already doing: helping young people find a roof over their heads, making sure there is enough food available, talking to their peers about HIV/Aids prevention and motivating those who have dropped out of school to resume their education. Experience has shown that the programme participants first make changes in their own lives. They report having more self-confidence and that the communication within their families has improved. They make decisions about their lives and find ways to implement them. They share their own experiences and successes with their peers. During the programme, they write down these changes privately for themselves and document the projects in reports, which they have to submit in order to receive their certification.

Training new trainers
Future SFA multipliers are selected by the partner organisations to take part in programmes to become trainers. These programmes feature an additional two modules spread across one year and enable the participants to become SFA multipliers.

Desk for solution focused work

Irene Bush
Desk for PSS and SFA
061 338 91 42 | Irene.Bush(a)terredeshommes.ch
Irene BushDesk for PSS and SFA

061 338 91 42 | Irene.Bush(a)terredeshommes.ch