Insoo Kim Berg on Brief Solution-Focused Therapy

Insoo Kim Berg on Brief Solution-Focused Therapy

by Victor Yalom and Bart Rubin
The founder of Brief Solution-Focused Therapy discusses why she stopped killing rats, how she developed her unique style of doing therapy, and what she has learned along the way.


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White Rats to Social Work

Victor Yalom: You were not born in this country?
Insoo Kim Berg: You think so? (laughter)
VY: Your vita says that you went to college in Korea.
IB: Yeah, yes I did.
VY: How did you end up coming to this country?
IB: To go to school, of course. To get better educated. I came in 1957. I was a pharmacy major in Korea. I came, supposedly, to continue my pharmacy studies. And my parents let me go.
VY: That was a way to get out of Korea, or get out of the family?
IB: To get out of the family, yes. But I thought seriously I wanted to study pharmacy, further my education. One thing led to the other. I did quite a bit of work as a tech because of my pharmacy and chemistry background. I was very comfortable working in an animal lab. I worked for a guy who did stomach cancer research at the medical school. I was very tempted to stay because I was getting good money. I was writing papers with him. I have to tell you, though, I did a lot of work with white rats—surgery on white rats! And I was very good at it because of my delicate hands. They have such a tiny, tiny veins. And you have to cannulate them.

VY: Which means?
IB: You cut a little slit in the throat and put a tube into the bleeding vein. I was pretty good at it! That kind of stuff is fun. One of the things I learned working with white rats is that the rats die on you sometimes. And if you stop at about 2 p.m. it's too late to get started with a new rat because it takes so many hours for the real experiment to get going. Sometimes I worked there until 8, 9, 10 o'clock at night, because once you get going you really want to stay with it. Sometimes you just say, "I'm so tired...." So I found out that if you put a little air into your vein, it kills you. It does.
VY: Their veins right, not yours?
IB: You know if you shoot air into them it kills them.
VY: So I've heard.
IB: So, I would do that. At 1 o'clock or so, I'd say, "I'm done for the day. I'm going home." That's my confession. I hope I didn't kill too many rats. I didn't keep track. That's one of my secrets that nobody knows about; but here I am telling you!
VY: So you had such a good scam going, what encouraged you to go into social work, which is much harder work?
IB: Yeah, and much less pay! I really did have a good scam going. I could make my own hours, work late if I wanted to.
VY: So how did you get interested in social work and therapy?
IB: I had never heard of social work before. I got into pharmacy studies because my family was in the pharmaceutical manufacturing business. That was one of the reasons I was selected to be the family pharmacist—that was the scheme of things. I was really shocked when I first came to this country and talked to people younger than I was. They would talk about how they decided they wanted to study something.  
I thought your parents decided for you and then you obeyed your parents' wishes. Students in the US had a choice in their area of studies. I was absolutely shocked by that. The idea just blew me away.
I thought your parents decided for you and then you obeyed your parents' wishes. Students in the US had a choice in their area of studies. I was absolutely shocked by that. The idea just blew me away. And so then I got this idea: my parents are 7-8,000 miles away. They have no idea what I'm doing here. So maybe I could do the same. It kind of slowly dawned on me. So I actually switched to social work.
VY: What attracted you to that?
IB: The idea of helping people.
VY: Rather than killing rats!
IB: Rather than killing rats. Make up for all the rats I'd killed! So I switched majors, and I didn't tell my parents. I thought, "They won't know." I didn't tell them for about two or three years. Eventually I did tell them, and they had no idea what social work was. They're dead now, but I think even until they died, they had no idea. Pharmacy they understood. Medicine they understood. The rest of the stuff—all the soft stuff, they had no concept of that. So I got away very easy. They didn't give me any grief. I didn't tell them about anything. Why talk about something? Why create tension? So I just did my stuff. It was pretty nice. Coming to the United States was a good thing personally as well as professionally.

Phenomenal Failures

VY: What was your initial training in social work and therapy?
IB: I went in the direction of family therapy. That really attracted me. I commuted to Chicago for a couple of years after I got out of graduate school. Those were exciting days in family therapy—the late '60s and early '70s. Haley's work, MRI work, and on the East Coast people like Lyman Wynne were doing some amazing stuff as well.
VY: So your initial training was in some of the briefer, strategic therapies?
IB: Not at all. During my initial family therapy training I had to keep a family in treatment for a year. That was a condition for graduation. It's very hard to do with a family.
VY: That's a different incentive. Your approach now is to solve the problem as quickly as possible.
IB: Absolutely.
VY: But your mandate at that point was to keep them in treatment as long as possible.
IB: Yes, and I did. I had one family in treatment—I have no idea how I did that. Of course, I didn't meet with them every week. One year could have been maybe 10 times. But I did it.
VY: Today you make a point of not continually asking about clients' problems. Instead, you focus on asking them how they've been solving their problems. But at that time you had to keep making sure they had enough problems to keep them in treatment.
IB: In those days, family therapy was still very much like Murray Bowen's ideas. It's a literal translation from psychoanalytic concepts to family concepts. So, he had stuff like, what was the word? "Undifferentiated ego mass —if that isn't psychoanalytic? So that's what was available in those days. That's all there was. People who were pioneers in family therapy came from that kind of psychoanalytic background themselves. It was a natural transition. Of course, I was trained in that as well, so it was a very comfortable transition for me.
VY: When did you realize it did not fit for you?
IB: I realized that it was just not helping the families, not helping the clients. I pretty much worked with working class families. I don't understand all of it, since I come from a fairly financially well off family background, but I felt so comfortable working with working class families. They're not interested in "insights" or "growth," or "development"—they're interested in getting the problem out of the way. Here I was using a very psychoanalytically-oriented family therapy model with these clients.
It was such a bad fit. It wasn't working very well. So I had some phenomenal failures with families, which disturbed me terribly; I wasn't used to failing.
It was such a bad fit. It wasn't working very well. So I had some phenomenal failures with families, which disturbed me terribly; I wasn't used to failing. Academically all my life I had been successful, and here I was with all this education and I felt like I was such a failure. I couldn't stand it.
VY: Where did your ideas go from there?
IB: So I searched and looked around and came across Jay Haley's writings. It just blew me away. Because I was raised as a Presbyterian. I read the Bible many times, because that's one of the things you do when you're a Korean Presbyterian! Anyway, Jay Haley had this article called, "Power Tactics of Jesus Christ." I said, "What the hell is this?" It's such an upside-down way of seeing the old Bible stories about Jesus that I had grown up with. I thought, wow, what is this? I became fascinated with this. I just kept reading and reading. And then I came across the MRI approach. I lived in Wisconsin and commuted to Palo Alto, California, to train there. That's where I met up with Steve; he was living in Palo Alto at the time. He came from Milwaukee, so somehow we got together.
VY: You're referring to your husband, Steve De Shazer?
IB: Right. He says I put a spell on him. But somehow I convinced him to move to Milwaukee. Can you believe that? Palo Alto to Milwaukee! And he did. And we formed a little group, a team of us. That's how we got started. Our initial goal was to create a Midwest MRI, in Milwaukee.

Solution Focused Model

VY: This is probably difficult, but can you say in a nutshell what are some of the basic principles of solution-focused therapy?
IB: Instead of problem solving, we focus on solution-building. Which sounds like a play on words, but it's a profoundly different paradigm. We're not worrying about the problems. We discovered, in fact, I don't say that just for an audience today, but
we discovered that there's no connection between a problem and its solution.
we discovered that there's no connection between a problem and its solution. No connection whatsoever. Because when you ask a client about their problem, they will tell you a certain kind of description; but when you ask them about their solutions, they give you entirely different descriptions of what the solution would look like for them. So a horrible, alcoholic family will say, "We will have dinner together and talk to each other. We will go for a walk together."
VY: These are the solutions.
IB: Yes. We kept hearing this and we asked, "What is this?" No matter what the problem is, the solution people describe is very similar. Whether it's depressed people or people who fight like cats and dogs, they still describe the solution in a similar way. They will get along, talk to each other.
VY: The solution being the outcomes. But to get from A to B,that must vary a lot from person to person.

The Miracle Question

IB: That's where we learned the miracle question, as the quickest way to get there.
VY: And the miracle question is?
IB: "Suppose a miracle happens overnight, tonight, when you go to bed. And all the problems that brought you here to talk to me today are gone. Disappeared. But because this happens while you were sleeping, you have no idea that there was a miracle during the night. The problem is all gone, all solved. So when you are slowly waking up, coming out of your sleep, what might be the first, small clue that will make you think, 'Oh my gosh. There must have been a miracle during the night. The problem is all gone?'" And that's the beginning of it. People start to tell you, and they add more and more descriptions.

"How could your husband tell that there was a miracle for you during the night? What about your children? What would your colleagues do?" You keep expanding the social context wider and wider.

VY: So then they can start to visualize some concrete steps that could get them to a better place?
IB: Right. Then the followup is, "What do you have to do to get this started?"
VY: To play devil's advocate, these people may have had other people in their life give them very sensible advice, or asking them, "Why don't you try this?" or "Why don't you stop drinking?" Evidently, they have not been able to make those changes, up to the point of seeing you.
IB: Right. That's why they show up.
VY: So, it sounds so simple.
IB: It is.
VY: So, but why haven't they made those changes already? How does asking these questions help?
IB: Because we are asking them about their own plan. Not my agenda for you, but your plan. You didn't even know you have a plan. You actually don't when you first walk in. You tell me you have no idea what to do. And then in the process of talking, you start to gradually, through this building process, to develop a blueprint.
VY: So you think people have some kind of blueprint to help them grow and change?
IB: No, I think they have all the necessary bricks and lumber, somewhere lying around, but they don't know how to put it together. I think that talking to me helps them figure out how to put it together. Not only create the blueprint, but which lumber goes where, which piece goes where. That's how I see it.
VY: Isn't this somewhat similar in its underlying philosophy to, say, a humanistic approach to therapy? That people have these innate abilities inside them for growth that somehow are blocked.
IB: Yes, I suppose. I'm not familiar with the humanistic approaches. As I said, my background is very psychodynamic.
VY: Well, even from a psychodynamic point of view, people have various strengths and capabilities. But the psychodynamic approaches tend to focus on what the defenses are, or what the blocks are, to people growing and blossoming, and then attempt to help clients remove those blocks. And that's very different than your approach. You don't focus on the blocks.
IB: Right. We assume people want to have a better life. We trust that people want to have a better life.
VY: Some people would criticize your approach by saying that clients may not be ready to make those changes, or they may not feel understood. They're feeling depressed and hopeless, and you're talking about all the things they can do—or you're helping them talk about it. But perhaps they need you to first understand how depressed and hopeless they feel. When I see you on videotapes, you're very optimistic, you're very enthusiastic. Some people would say you're not meeting clients where they're at. How would you respond to that?
IB: That's not my experience of clients.
Clients don't complain to me, "You don't understand. Why don't you listen to me?" They feel very listened to.
Clients don't complain to me, "You don't understand. Why don't you listen to me?" They feel very listened to. Because I think that when they decide to do something about their problem, they already recognize that whatever they're currently doing is not working. So there is this hopeful side of them. If they didn't have any hope that this could be solved, for example, they wouldn't even bother. But they must have hope, otherwise why would they go to the trouble of calling up for an appointment, showing up, and paying for it. So I am addressing the hopeful side of them. Otherwise they would have given up a long time ago. Some of these people have been suffering from the same kind of problem for years and years.
VY: So you are allying with their strengths and their hopes.
IB: Absolutely! Right.
VY: I think you have an unusual ability, because you have a natural kind of energy, enthusiasm, and hopefulness that is contagious.
IB: I'm not aware of that. People tell me that, but I'm not aware of that.
VY: I guess another danger that could occur in Solution Approaches is that it is focused so much on techniques: the miracle question, scaling, and so on. Do you think there's a risk that, like any technique, a therapist could grab onto the technique and apply it without a greater context?
IB: Sure, but that's the first step. When you learn piano, you have to teach finger technique first. Then after they master that, then go to the next level, the artistic side of it. But without the technique, how can you get to the artistic side of it?
VY: You work with some very difficult clients. Do you think this approach is generally useful for all types of clients? Or do you think there are some types of clients it's not as useful for, who would benefit more from longer-term approaches?
IB: Steve talks about this. I wasn't there, but he was doing a workshop for two or three days, and at the end of the workshop somebody raised their hand and said to Steve, "Does this work with people with normal problems?" (laughter) So Steve said, "No," with his usual humor, "It will never work with normal problems."

So that's what makes me laugh. So, yes and no, it depends on what you mean by work. If work means, they are going to be living happily ever after, then no. We have a very narrow sense of the goal. We really insist on that from the beginning: very small, achievable, realistic goals. So our job is to carry the client to there. No happily ever after. Then, at least we got them on the right track. The rest of the journey is on their own.

VY: And what happens if someone wants to shoot for a larger change, say, someone who has never been in a successful relationship due to character difficulties. They want to make some more fundamental changes in how they relate to people so they can have a successful, intimate relationship. Would you work with someone like that? Or do you think other types of therapies may be better suited for that?
IB: I would work with that person. Let me give you an example of how I would do it with such a client. I would say something like: "You want to have a good relationship with someone of the opposite sex. So tell me what's been good about the relationships you've had. How did you get that to happen? (Then I negotiate with that.) So you know how to get involved with a relationship?"

The client might say: "I am able to get into relationships but they never work out. The beginning is fine, I know how to do that."

I would respond with something like: "So it's the middle part of the relationship and onwards that's bad. Okay, I want you to go out and meet someone that you are serious about. Come back and talk. You do the first part, and we'll do the second part together."

That how I do it. So I don't have to hold their hand every step of the way. Why would I hold her hand when she knows how to do the first part?

VY: Why not?
IB: Why? Why would you want to do that?
VY: It can be helpful. If someone never had a positive, trusting relationship in their life and they can spend 50 minutes a week with one person who can help them, what's the harm?
IB: I suppose. So if a female client were coming to me with that kind of problem I would say, "How do you know this is a positive relationship? What will tell you that it's a positive relationship?"

And she responds, "Well, he would not steal money from me. He will not two-time me."

Leading me to say, "That sounds pretty reasonable. So you know how to look for those?"

She says, "Yeah, I think I can tell how to look out for those."

So I'm trying to be as minimalistic as possible, not so intrusive: "What you have going is wonderful. It just needs a little helping hand." That's what I do. I'm not interested in overhauling personality, because what's wrong with her personality? Most people just have a little quirk here or there that doesn't work.

Dr. Rubin Joins In

VY: Are there other areas of your work with solution focused therapy that I have not addressed that you think are relevant?
IB: I don't know. I can't think of any. (Dr. Berg then turns to speak to Bart Rubin, Ph.D., a psychologist and family therapist who has been observing the interview). Do you have any questions you'd like to ask?
Bart Rubin: Starting where Victor was at when he was playing devil's advocate. The solutions model is so different than traditional models, and for you it makes so much sense. You throw out so much. You don't bother with it. And other people are bothering with that stuff as if it's really important. So I guess I wonder what do you know that they don't know? What do you make of all these other people who are doing that other stuff?
Insoo Kim Berg: I don't try to persuade them or try to compete with them. What they're doing works, and that's helpful for some people. What I do works and it's helpful to some people. I'm not 100% successful. We're still trying to figure out what is the other 20% that it's not successful with. We have no idea.
BR: When you have self-doubts about the model, what are the doubts that you have? Can you critique it yourself?
IB: Well, self-doubt has to do with, let's the middle of December there was this brief therapy conference in Orlando. I felt that these people would be really similar to where I am, to how I'm thinking. I tried to attend as many of the other people's presentations as possible. Those are the kind of times that make me doubtful, when it seems like the whole world thinks like this. And I'm way out here all by myself.
VY: Even among brief therapists?
IB: Yes, I'm way out on the left side. But at the same time there were some disturbing things about what I was seeing and hearing. They were just doing case presentations, going on about what's wrong with these people.
Especially the panel discussions I watched—it was like they were competing with each other about how much they each knew about what's wrong with the client.
Especially the panel discussions I watched—it was like they were competing with each other about how much they each knew about what's wrong with the client. I was very discouraged by that. That we're still, in this day and age, we're still talking about what's wrong with people. So on the one hand I got very upset and discouraged by it, and on the other hand, I thought, "Do they know something I don't know? Do they know something I should know?"

That used to be the way I thought about clients, but I have since I rejected all of that, turned my back on all of that. I have tried not to look back. Most of the time I don't. But the big name therapists and presenters, they all seemed to be there. In a way, we have come a long way, but in another way we haven't come very far. So that was pretty discouraging, and at the same time it made me wonder, "Oh, my God. Am I so way out there?" (laughter)

BR: Am I a radical pioneer, or am I missing the boat?
IB: Right. I was thinking about that. I still come back to, "No, I don't want to join that pack." It's so distasteful. They were just going on and on and on and on about what was wrong with this client and that client. How is that going to be helpful? If the client were sitting there in the audience, listening to them talk about him, I wonder what he would say? I think he would get very upset. That's not how they see themselves.
BR: In your work the therapeutic relationship seems to be important to the extent that you need to do the work.
IB: What's the relationship for? It's to do your work better. To do your job better. That's what it's for. You're not paid to bond with someone. You and I are never going to be bonding for life, why would I want to do that? You should go out and have some real life out there.
VY: But when you're doing longer-term work where you're doing character or personality change, for lack of a better term, you can examine the relationship. It can give you a lot of data that can help you understand more what's going on in that person's relationships.
BR: One model assumes understanding is terribly useful; and another model would see understanding as not necessarily useful.
IB: You're right. But you get a lot of feedback from the people around you, right? Your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends tell you about how you come across to them.
VY: People don't usually tell you as directly as in therapy.
But people let you know you're an ass, right?
But people let you know you're an ass, right? You get the clue that you're an ass, that they think that. They don't invite you to go out to lunch together, that kind of stuff. So you don't think that you get that?
VY: Well, yes, I do think people in life can give you feedback if you're an ass. People usually don't know why they don't have friends. They may know something very basic. But say in a relationship you find that that person is very dependent, they're always looking to you for the answers, or they put themselves above other people. Experiencing and understanding that relationship in the room with the client can really bring those issues alive to really help them in their life outside therapy.
BR: I think that in a long-term model, one would spend a lot of time talking about why you don't have friends, whereas in your model you'd be focusing to get them to started on making friendships work.
IB: Yes, for the most part, we want to get them moving.

Cultural Similarities Matter More than Differences

VY: Let's switch gears. You travel around the world a lot and teach in many different cultures. And you're from a different culture originally than most of your clients, I assume.
IB: Yes.
VY: So what have you learned about applying these techniques in different cultures? How do you have to modify them?
IB: I think there are some modifications. Small ones. Again, I have a lot of gripes about the way that cultural differences are talked about in this country.
My main gripe has to do with emphasizing the differences between cultures—what is different between you and me, instead of talking about what is similar between you and me.
My main gripe has to do with emphasizing the differences between cultures—what is different between you and me, instead of talking about what is similar between you and me. That we are all human beings with the same aspirations, same needs, same goals. When I look at those things, it's very easy to translate. It's the same everywhere you go. Everyone wants to be accepted, validated, supported, loved, and to belong to a community. That's not different at all, no matter where you go.

It's a different way of belonging to the group, but that's a small difference. But even among the same culture, like among the white middle class, there's so many variations. Just because you went to college and I went to college doesn't mean we came from the same kind of families. Even some Jewish families, some Korean families are so different.

So I think too many people talk about culture/ethnicity as being a bigger difference than is necessary. I feel very comfortable no matter what culture I go. I just look at you as another human being rather than I am this group and you are that group. I think it's very divisive. So that's my main gripe.
VY: So you don't pay a lot of attention to it.
IB: I don't pay attention to that. People ask me, "Aren't you feeling discriminated against because you're Asian, and a woman?" I think "so what?" Some people get discriminated against for being too short, too tall, too blond. So what? It's not that different from any of those things. I don't really pay attention to that.
VY: So you focus on the solutions.
IB: Yes, on what works. Because that works. If you didn't like me, if you really hated where I come from and couldn't stand it, we probably wouldn't be good friends very long anyway. I know there are some friends I like, I'm thinking of a couple I know; I love the wife but I can't stand the husband. So I don't see the two of them together very often. So we solved that problem that way! There are different ways for getting around that.

Living and Dying with Meaning

VY: I heard that you're 68 years old, although, I would never have...
IB: Don't say that! (laughs)
VY: One would never know it by your energy and enthusiasm!
IB: Yes, I am.
VY: So what do you think you know about life and about therapy that you didn't know 20 years ago? Or 30 years ago?
IB: Oh, a lot. There are good things about getting old. You are much more comfortable with yourself.
Take me or leave me, I'm an old hag. What do you expect? I'm old. Take it or leave it. I feel more comfortable with myself than when I was younger.
Take me or leave me, I'm an old hag. What do you expect? I'm old. Take it or leave it. I feel more comfortable with myself than when I was younger. That's very nice. I figure if you don't like me, well, that's too bad, I'll somehow go on, and you will go on. That's kind of a comfortable feeling. I think you get a different perspective about life, too. You become much more aware of your body; it's not what it used to be. I get tired easier. I used to be a very energetic person. I still am, but used to be even more so. I'm one of these very high-energy people; I'm just made that way. But I can tell I need to slow down a little bit more than I used to. You think about end of life more.
VY: What kind of thoughts do you have about that?
IB: How do I want to die? As if I have any control over that. I don't have any control over that, unless I decide to commit suicide. That's the only control I could possibly have. But I don't think I would do that. I don't have any control.
So I'm still trying to accept that, that I don't have control over how I die.
So I'm still trying to accept that, that I don't have control over how I die.
VY: You learned the trick with the white rats!
IB: I suppose I could use that! I may do that, because it worked! But you think about what is the meaning of life in a very different way when you get older.
VY: For example?
IB: What am I living for? What is the purpose of living on? What do I want to do with the time I have left? That kind of stuff. I'd like to be able to... I don't know whether I'll have the opportunity or not... to say on my deathbed (this picture of one dying, surrounded by friends and family...who knows? It may never happen that way). I'd like to be able to say I had a good life. And what's the definition of a good life? I made some difference. That's it. If I could just say that. I've made some difference because I've been here in this world. Life is a little bit better and I contributed to that. I think that would be a good life.
VY: You look a little bit emotional right now as you say that.
IB: Yeah,
I'm getting tearful about that because I think it's really important. I'd like to be able to say that to myself, and believe it, that I lived a good life. I don't know if I'm going to do that or not. We'll see.
I'm getting tearful about that because I think it's really important. I'd like to be able to say that to myself, and believe it, that I lived a good life. I don't know if I'm going to do that or not. We'll see.
VY: If you had to answer that using the scaling question that you ask so many people, on a 1 to 10 scale, where would you place it right now?
IB: I don't know about people like you... you learn something and then you quickly turn it! (laughter)
VY: I didn't think I was turning it against you!
IB: I don't know about that.
VY: You can take a pass. You can email me your response.
IB: I am going to take a pass on that, for now at least.
VY: To step back to your life's work, what do you see as the qualities that therapists need to become really seasoned, skilled therapists, and what are the ways to develop these qualities?
IB: Just keep doing it, doing it, doing it. Like a pianist, for hours and hours and hours. We did that. We used to work from 9 am to 10 pm at night; we'd have cases, cases, cases. We'd be exhausted, go home and collapse, and start over again the next day. Again and again. I tell you, we did that for years. I think that's what it takes.
VY: How have you used whatever life learnings or wisdom that you've acquired to become a better therapist?
IB: Oh, God. You assume that I've acquired some wisdom.
VY: Well, some, I would certainly imagine. How do you think you're a better therapist than you were 20 years ago?
IB: When I was younger I used to think that I was very accepting of people, because of my training. I'm realizing that I still have to learn a lot, and to let people be themselves and let go of that idea. If anything, I think I'm still learning to be more accepting of other people as they are. I'm just learning all the time.
VY: So maybe being less confident that you know so much makes you a better therapist.
IB: Maybe. I think that's one of the marks of our profession is being very accepting of the other person, where they're at right now. That's been something that we try to instill in our students in our trainings. Golly, it's really hard.
VY: You can't learn that in a weekend workshop.
IB: I don't think so. It's a lifelong learning.

"I am Korean... You Dumb Ass"

BR: In terms of you learning over the course of your career, are there ways in which your earlier experiences with psychodynamic work affects your work now, or lead to your being more solutions-focused?
IB: Yes. Having been there, it's easy for me to turn my back on that. Having had that experience, and those failures with cases.

One experience was especially important. It was in the mid 1970s when soldiers started coming back from Vietnam. I went to Menninger for training in group therapy to work with a Vietnam vets group. We had a horrible case. One young man thought that the Viet Cong was coming after him. So he always slept with a shotgun under his pillow. And in the middle of the night, he shot his wife who was sleeping next to him. I thought, my God. I was a teenager when the Korean War started and was in the middle of it. So I had some experience of being in the middle of a war. I volunteered to work with these returning Vietnam vets because they would not go to VA hospitals. I organized this group. I sit with them week after week after week, and they tell horrible stories. About how they themselves killed women and children, how their buddies next to them had their heads torn off, and that kind of stuff.
VY: What did you do with these groups?
IB: I didn't know what to do with them. So I made a videotape of a session and took it to Menninger, to a supervision group. This very famous psychoanalytic supervisor was there. I showed him the tape and said, "I need help. I don't know what to do for these people."

He turns to me and says, "What is your countertransference issue?" I said, "What? What are you talking about?"

I was sort of shocked by this because I was asking for help. He said, "These are veterans, these are people who shot and killed your kind of people." I was just absolutely floored. Never expected something like that. To turn my plea for help, to turn it around and suddenly it became my problem, that it was my countertransference issue. I thought, "You ass. My kind of people — I'm Korean! These are Vietnamese! You dumb ass."

I thought, that's it. That was the beginning of my end with psychoanalysis.
VY: Well perhaps it's good that you walked away from that, because it allowed you to create a model of therapy that obviously has helped many people, and resonates with your personality. It's been a pleasure talking with you today.
IB: It's been a lot of fun.

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Insoo Kim Berg

Insoo Kim Berg, MSSW (1934-2007), was co-founder and director of the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, WI. She developed the Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) model with her partner, Steve de Shazer. A native of Korea, Insoo balanced her heritage with Western scientific training in her clinical practice and teaching.

Berg served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Family Psychology and Counseling Series, Families in Society, and Family Process. She was a founder of the Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Association, clinical member and approved supervisor for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and was also active in the Wisconsin Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the National Association of Social Workers, and the European Brief Therapy Association. She was a frequent keynote speaker at international conferences and regularly conducted seminars and workshops on SFBT throughout the U.S., Canada, South America, Asia, and Europe.

A prolific writer, Insoo published eight highly acclaimed books in ten years, including More than Miracles: The State of the Art of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (2007), Tales of Solutions (2001), Building Solutions in Child Protective Services (2000), and Interviewing for Solutions (1997 and 2001, 2nd ed).

See all Insoo Kim Berg videos.

Victor Yalom Victor Yalom, PhD is the founder and resident cartoonist of He maintained a busy private practice in San Francisco for over 25 years, but now sees only a few clients, devoting the bulk of his time to creating new training videos for He has produced over 100 videos, conducted workshops in existential-humanistic and group therapy in the US, Mexico, and China, and currently leads consultation groups for therapists.  More info on Victor and his artwork and sculpture at

Bart Rubin is the Founder and  Executive Director of The Family Institute of Pinole.  He has been involved in the teaching and training of family/child therapists for the past twenty years.  Currently, he is Adjunct Professor at Alliant International University-San Francisco.

CE credits: 1

Learning Objectives:

  • Discuss the foundations of Solution-Focused therapy
  • Apply flexible applications of the Solution-Focused approach
  • Describe Berg's perspectives on the role of ethnicity in psychotherapy

Articles are not approved by Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) for CE. See complete list of CE approvals here