Steve de Shazer (June 25, 1940-September 11, 2005)

Steve de Shazer passed away September 11, 2005, in Vienna, Austria several hours after being admitted to the hospital. His wife, Insoo Kim Berg, was by his side.
Widely recognized as the author of the first book on Solution-focused Brief Therapy, as a pioneer in the field of Family Therapy, and as a primary developer of what subsequently became the internationally recognized SFBT approach, de Shazer was sometimes addressed as “the grand old man of family therapy,” when lecturing at conferences in his later years.
In addition to countless chapters and articles, de Shazer published five ground-breaking books : Patterns of Brief Therapy, Keys to Solutions in Brief Therapy, Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy, Putting Difference to Work , and Words Were Originally Magic (W.W. Norton). He had recently completed a new book intended to update the Solution-focused therapy approach. Entitled More than Miracles: the State of the Art of Solution-focused Therapy, it will be published posthumously by The Haworth Press. Co-founder of the Milwaukee Brief Family Therapy Center, he lectured widely throughout Europe, Scandinavia, North America, and Asia while serving on the editorial boards of several international journals. His books have been translated into 14 languages.
An iconoclast and creative genius known for his minimalist philosophy and view of the process of change as an inevitable and dynamic part of everyday life, de Shazer reversed the traditional psychotherapy interview process by asking clients to describe a detailed resolution to the problem that brought them into therapy, thereby shifting the focus of treatment from problems to solutions.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, de Shazer was the son of an electrical engineer father and an opera singer mother. An avid baseball fan, and gourmet cook, he took long daily walks, typically early in the morning, always before retiring at night. His leisure pursuits ranged from reading philosophy tracts in original German or French, listening to Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk and other Jazz greats, to perusing esoteric cook books, Gourmet Magazine, and The Cook’s Illustrated which he read cover to cover every month.
A classically trained musician, he played several instruments at a professional level, and as a young man earned his living as a saxophonist on the jazz circuit. A talented visual artist as well, he earned a B.F.A. prior to receiving a M.S.S.W. from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. He also studied at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, CA where he was mentored by the late John Weakland. They shared a lifelong friendship
Steve de Shazer is survived by his wife, Insoo Kim Berg, his step-daughter, Sarah Berg, his sister and several nieces and nephews.
written by Yvonne Dolan

Insoo Kim Berg : 1934 - 2007
By Brian Cade
On the afternoon of 10 January 2007, in Milwaukee, Insoo Kim Berg died unexpectedly, sixteen months after the death of her husband and colleague Steve de Shazer. After exercising at a local gymnasium, she went into the steam room to relax and was later found, looking as though she was peacefully sleeping. I had spoken to her one day earlier and she had said she was fit and in good health and was looking forward to doing a lot more writing this year. With her death, the field has lost one of its most innovative, creative and inspirational practitioners. Together with Steve de Shazer and other colleagues at the Brief Family Therapy Center, Milwaukee, she was involved in the development of an approach that was to be called "solution-focused" and that was to influence profoundly the work of thousands of practitioners all over the world.

Insoo was born in South Korea where she grew up during the devastation of the war and its aftermath. She was the second oldest of five children and, being a girl, was responsible for looking after the three younger. She moved to the United States in the mid-fifties. Sarah her daughter was born in 1958.

"Initially I began my college education in pharmacy in Korea and I came to U. S. with the intention of doing graduate work in pharmacology and/or study of hormones. One thing led to another and shifted from natural science to studying, practicing clinical practice of psychotherapy in late '60's and early "70's." (Berg, I. K., 2007)

Insoo received her masters in social work from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee in 1969 and in 1974 became a graduate of the Family Institute of Chicago/Center for Family Studies. In 1975 she trained at the Brief Therapy Center, Mental Research Institute, Palo Alto, CA. While she was there, John Weakland suggested she go to see somebody called Steve de Shazer, who had " hung his shingle up down the road " and was doing some " interesting work". I understand that Insoo did not like him at first. She clearly must have changed her mind because they were married in 1977.

"When Steve de Shazer joined the team in Milwaukee, the informal, loosely formed team became energized and we began to talk about our dream of establishing " the MRI of the Midwest" and the team of five set out to study the most effective, efficient ways to help clients. We experimented with a variety of approaches and argued a great deal about what made sense to us. The team also struggled with many, many issues that we never thought existed but somehow we were determined to make it. We opened our own offices in 1978 with a small bank loan, using our modest house as a collateral and our office was equipped with a one-way mirror, a telephone hook-up between therapy and observation rooms, a videotape recorder, and a team of observers. We deliberately selected the team members with diversity in mind, personal background and academic disciplines which included, philosophers, educators, sociologists, physicians, linguists, even engineers, along with usual mental health professionals. We called our training and research group: Brief Family Therapy Center." (Berg, I. K., 2007)

The original Milwaukee group also included James Derks, Marvin Weiner, Elam Nunnally, Eve Lipchik, Alex Molnar and Marilyn La Court. Members who joined later include Wallace Gingerich, Michele Weiner-Davis, John Walter, Kate Kowalski, Ron Kral, Gale Miller, Scott Miller and Larry Hopwood.

They became increasingly interested in what clients were already doing to ease or to solve their problems, and in the client's own ideas about how things could be different and what it would take to bring about changes. A focus on solutions and on the future, rather than on problems or failed solutions, led to the realisation it was not necessary to know much or anything about the problem or its origins to begin the process of change. They began to see the client as the expert in their own lives. They went on to develop the hallmark techniques of the approach; the eliciting of exceptions to the problem; the miracle question; scaling questions; relationship and coping questions; and the use of compliments. An important development was also the use of the break before the final summary and homework suggestion, taken whether there was a consulting team or not.

Insoo always listened very carefully to her clients, was infinitely patient, and extremely respectful. She was a very clear thinker and clear about the direction in which she was heading. She was very determined, in fact, doggedly so. She wrote extensively about the approach and taught widely and seemingly tirelessly. She rarely seemed to stop.

I knew Insoo for about a quarter of a century and often stayed with her and Steve. She was always open and welcoming. Once when I visited with some colleagues, she cooked a steak and kidney pie (a traditional English dish). It was very good. In spite of a punishing workload, she was also generous with her time. Anybody, from a peer to a student, could call her to seek advice about a paper or a presentation they were preparing, or for help with a case. She would sometimes talk to people for an hour or more, always deeply respectful.

However, her determination and stubbornness could occasionally lead to her being difficult to negotiate with, and it put her offside with some audiences. She didn't like the word "no". Yes, even that old grump Steve was cautious at times. I remember him saying one morning, "Insoo is working on the last draft of a book, we'd better get out of here. It will be more than our lives are worth to interrupt her in any way today." We drove through beautiful autumn Wisconsin until the late afternoon.

The field has lost a brilliant innovator who has influenced generations of practitioners, many of whom believed almost that she would live for ever. Her absence will very much be felt.

References: Berg, I. K. (2007) For Students Only. A paper available on

Brian Cade
Brief Therapist and Family Therapist
Private Practice, Sydney, AUSTRALIA.