In addition to the physical effects of multiple sclerosis (MS), people living with the disease may also experience conditions affecting their emotions, such as anxiety and depression. Multiple studies and meta-analyses have revealed an increased prevalence of anxiety and depression among people living with MS. These conditions can impair a person’s problem-solving abilities, impacting their quality of life and ability to set and achieve goals.
Fortunately, many treatment options are available for anxiety and depression. In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and family therapy, there’s a type of psychotherapy called solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT). This therapeutic approach can empower people living with MS with problem-solving skills by teaching them how to be goal-oriented and solution-focused.
Solution-focused brief therapy — also known as solution-focused therapy — was developed in the late 1970s by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg at the Milwaukee Brief Family Therapy Center. The basis of solution-focused brief therapy is simple: Individuals are taught to focus on how to formulate solutions rather than dwelling on their problems. This type of therapy uses a short-term, goal-focused approach to instill hope in people facing challenges — which is integral to effective problem-solving. It places emphasis on what is changeable and possible rather than what is impossible. SFBT also teaches people that change is an inevitable and constant factor in life.
Studies suggest that solution-focused brief therapy is effective for treating anxiety and depression, including in MS. Studies have found that people living with MS and generalized anxiety disorder had improved symptoms following SFBT, compared to the control group that did not receive therapy. Many clinical studies have also demonstrated that SFBT has positive effects on individuals in the general population.
A licensed mental-health worker, such as a psychotherapist, counselor, or social worker trained in solution-focused problem-solving, can administer this type of therapy. Someone living with MS may also want to look for a mental-health care provider with experience treating people with MS.
Once you are ready to begin solution-focused problem-solving through SFBT, your practitioner may incorporate the following elements into your treatment.
Goal setting is a major component of solution-focused brief therapy. A solution-focused therapist will ask several goal-development questions. Once you have identified a goal, the therapist will help you imagine what your life would be like should you accomplish that goal. This process may include using something called the “miracle question,” in which the therapist will ask you to envision what life would be like if your problem were gone.
Exception questions are used in solution-focused brief therapy to help you think of experiences that went well, despite the challenges you were facing. A solution-focused therapist may also ask you to think of previous problems and how you solved them. This can remind you of your previous problem-solving successes and may help you devise new ideas for solving current problems.
A solution-focused therapist will use compliments to validate and encourage you. Compliments can also help you recognize positive qualities in yourself that you can use to solve your problems.
The physical and cognitive symptoms of MS can make everyday activities difficult and frustrating. These difficulties can have an impact on many areas in a person’s life. Undergoing SFBT may help someone living with MS set goals for solving the problems associated with their disease. The therapy may also help them identify new ways to do things and develop a more positive outlook on life by focusing on the solutions, not problems. Working with a licensed solution-focused therapist may help improve the quality of life for someone living with MS.
MyMSTeam is the social network for people with MS and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 165,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.
Have you tried solution-focused therapy or other types of therapy for MS? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyMSTeam.