In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Brief Therapies in Social Work: Task-Centered Model and Solution-Focused Therapy

  • Introduction
  • Specialized SFT Organizations

Social Work Brief Therapies in Social Work: Task-Centered Model and Solution-Focused Therapy
Cynthia Franklin, Krystallynne Mikle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0188


Brief therapies serve as evidenced-based practices that place a strong emphasis on effective, time-limited treatments that aid in resolving clients’ presenting problems. The resources presented in this article summarize for professionals and educators the abundant literature evaluating brief therapies within social work practice. Brief therapies have appeared in many different schools of psychotherapy, and several approaches have also evolved within social work practice, but two approaches—the task-centered model and solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT)—stand out as being grounded in research and have also gained international acclaim as important interventions for implementation and further study. These two approaches are the focus of this bibliography. The task-centered model and SFBT were developed by social work practitioners and researchers for the purposes of making clinical practice more effective, and they share a common bond in hoping to improve the services delivered to clients. Since the development of the task-centered and solution-focused approaches, brief therapies have become essential to the work of all types of psychotherapists and clinicians, and many of the principles and practices of brief therapy that are a part of the task-centered and solution-focused approaches are now essential to psychotherapy training. Clinical social workers practicing from the perspective of the task-centered model and SFBT approaches work from several brief therapy assumptions. The first regards the client/therapist relationship. The best way to help clients is to work within a collaborative relationship to discover options for coping and new behavior that may also lead to specific tasks and solutions for change that are identified by the client. Second is the assumption that change can happen quickly and can be lasting. Third, focus on the past may not be as helpful to most clients as a focus on the present and the future. The fourth regards a pragmatic perspective about where the change occurs. The best approach to practice is pragmatic, and effective practitioners recognize that what happens in a client’s life is more important than what happens in a social worker’s office. The fifth assumption is that change can happen more quickly and be maintained when practitioners utilize the strengths and resources that exist within the client and his or her environment. The next assumption is that a small change made by clients may cause significant and major life changes. The seventh assumption is associated with creating goals. It is important to focus on small, concrete goal construction and helping the client move toward small steps to achieve those goals. The next regards change. Change is viewed as hard work and involves focused effort and commitment from the client and social worker. There will be homework assignments and following through on tasks. Also, it is assumed that it is important to establish and maintain a clear treatment focus (often considered the most important element in brief treatment). Parsimony is also considered to be a guiding principle (i.e., given two equally effective treatments, the one requiring less investment of time and energy is preferable). Last, it is assumed that without evidence to the contrary, the client’s stated problem is taken as the valid focus of treatment. The task-centered model and SFBT have developed a strong empirical base, and both approaches operate from a goal-oriented and strengths perspective. Both approaches have numerous applications and have successfully been used with many different types of clients and practice settings. Both approaches have also been expanded to applications in macro social work that focus on work within management- and community-based practices. For related Oxford Bibliographies entries, see Task-Centered Practice and Solution-Focused Therapy.

Task-Centered Model Literature

The task-centered model is an empirically grounded approach to social work practice that appeared in the mid-1960s at Columbia University and was developed in response to research reports that indicated social work was not effective with clients. William J. Reid was the chief researcher who helped develop this model, and he integrated many therapeutic perspectives to create the task-centered approach, including ideas from behavioral therapies. The task-centered model evolved out of the psychodynamic practice and uses a brief, problem-solving approach to help clients resolve presenting problems. The task-centered model is currently used in clinical social work and group work and may also be applied to other types of social work practice.

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