September 5, 2007

Antecendents of the solution-focused approach

Granted, Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg were the main originators of the solution-focused approach as we know it now. But just like SF keeps on developing currently, it also has had its antecendents, sometimes in far pasts. Some of the predecessors of the solution-focused approach have in many publications been mentioned like Milton Erickson, Gregory Bateson, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Weakland, Jay Haley, Paul Watzlawick, and Kenneth Gergen. Occasionally, someone from a more distant past has been mentioned as a direct influence on the development of the solution-focused approach, like William of Ockham, Confucius and Lao Tzu. I like to find more sources. I am convinced ingredients of the solution-focused approach have been around for a long time. I have found remarks by people like Winston Churchill, Niels Bohr, Leonardo da Vinci, Blaise Pascal, and even Bruce Lee, which fit very well with some aspect of the approach. I have a question for you, reader: do you know of other antecedents of the solution-focused approach? (philosophers, statesmen, authors, scientists, .....). Let me know...


  1. Coert - There is a very important antecedent, or perhaps source, of solution-focused therapy. Steve de Shazer, Insoo Berg, Eve Lipchick and perhaps others from the original Milwaukee team, have acknowledged that they were at a lecture given in 1978 in Milwaukee by one of their colleagues, Don Norum, who gave a talk based on a paper he wrote called, "The Family Has The Solution." The premise of this paper was that if the therapist only asked, many families have solutions to their problems. Even though Steve acknowledged he was there, he said he doesn't remember what the content of the paper was and it did not influence his later development of the approach. I also had many correspondences with Steve in the late 1970s and early 1980s that were acknowledged by him in early drafts of several papers and then dropped out in the later published versions of those papers.

    Steve and Insoo were not very generous in the acknowledgments of their more direct influences, often dropping out references to the contribution of colleagues with whom they had broken from later versions of papers (Michele Weiner-Davis and Scott Miller being prominent examples). I can hold my own, after 28 books of my own work, but I feel bad for Don Norum, who has not been widely acknowledged as the innovator who first articulated this approach in therapy. His email was and perhaps still is

  2. Hi Bill,
    Thank you for sharing this. I think it's great to learn about these kind of sources. I will google "Don Norum". I had not heard this name before.
    I am hoping to get more responses by readers and will then make an extende compilation of pioneers and sources (I will include names like Eve Lipchick, Michele Weiner-Davis, Scott Miller and yourself).
    More anecdotes and names are most welcome.
    Thanks for contributing,

  3. Hi Coert, there was a historical plenary session at the EBTA conference in Malmö this year. Harry Korman invited Eve Lipchick, Dan Galaher, Brian Cade, John Walter, Gale Miller and Wally Gingerich on stage after a short skype interview with Scott Miller (who couldn't make it to Sweden). Brian Cade hosted the conversation on the early days at BFTC and where they went after their collaboration with Steve and Insoo had ended. Paul Z Jackson posted a blog on this plenary here:

  4. Hi Anton, thanks. I saw Paul's post. What did you think of the session? Was it interesting?


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