Global research on Solution-focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) in schools has grown with a notable increase in published research in Western English-speaking countries and in Asian countries, particularly in China. As a result, there is an opportunity to reexamine the effectiveness of SFBT in schools and to compare the strength of evidence supporting SFBT between the English and Chinese literature. This comparative systematic review and meta-analysis aims to synthesize the effectiveness of SFBT as a school-based intervention as well as compare results from the English and Chinese literature.
A systematic search of literature for English and Chinese studies was conducted following the Cochrane Collaboration Guidelines. The search for English studies included eight electronic databases, five academic journals, two professional websites, and reference lists of included studies. For electronic databases, academic journals and professional websites, the following keywords and logic terms were used: (school* or college* or university*) AND (SFBT or solution* or solution focused or solution-focused) AND (effect* or effic*). The terms were used for title and abstract search. The search for Chinese studies included the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) as the search platform and searched across five electronic databases. For both English and Chinese studies, the search included all available studies from inception to June 2019. Data analysis involved four stages using R software: (1) descriptive statistics of study characteristics, (2) calculating effect sizes and meta- analysis (Hedges’ g), (3) assessing publication bias, and (4) subgroup meta-analysis and moderator analysis utilizing Robust Variance Estimation in meta-regression.
The analysis included 17 English studies and 33 Chinese studies (N = 50). These 50 studies contained 246 effect size estimates and 2,921 participants. Combining both English and Chinese studies, an overall treatment effect size estimate of SFBT for student outcomes was d = 0.149, p < 0.001. Subgroup analyses revealed an overall statistically significant treatment for both English studies (d = 0.108, p < 0.01) and Chinese studies (d = 0.230, p < 0.001), for both peer-reviewed journal articles (d = 0.123, p < 0.01) and graduate thesis or dissertation (d = 0.193, p < 0.001), and for both randomized controlled trials (d = 0.143, p < 0.01) and non-randomized controlled trials (d = 0.154, p < 0.01). The treatment effect of SFBT for student outcomes was significantly greater in comparison to treatment as usual (d = 0.140, p < 0.05) and to waitlist control (d = 1.690, p < 0.01), but not significantly greater than alternative interventions (d = 0.103, p = 0.504).
While both English and Chinese studies reported statistically significant treatment effects for SFBT, higher treatment effects were reported among Chinese studies than English studies, which also has implications for school social work. This result is consistent with the current outcome literature on the use of SFBT with Asian populations that has also shown larger treatment effects for studies with Chinese students. The promising and statistically significant results found on SFBT in this study need further corroboration in future research studies.