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Obituary: Steve de Shazer

(25 June 1940 - 11 September 2005)

Steve de Shazer, who has died aged 65, was a pioneer of minimal psychotherapy and a primary developer of the Solution Focused Brief Therapy approach.

De Shazer founded the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee with his wife Insoo Kim Berg. 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, he reversed the traditional psychotherapy 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 (what's wrong) to solutions (what's better).

In addition to countless chapters and articles, de Shazer published five ground-breaking books including Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy and Words Were Originally Magic. He had recently completed a new book updating the Solution-Focused therapy approach: More than Miracles will be published posthumously. He lectured widely in the UK and continental Europe, North America and Asia and served on the editorial boards of several international journals. His books have been translated into 14 languages.

Born and raised in Milwaukee, 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 and always before retiring at night. His leisure pursuits included reading philosophical tracts in the original German or French, listening to Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and other jazz greats, and perusing esoteric cook books - he read The Cook's Illustrated from cover to cover every month.

A classically trained musician, he played at a professional level and as a young man earned his living as a jazz saxophonist. A talented visual artist, he was awarded a Bachelor of Fine Arts as well as a Master of Science in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. He also studied at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California where he was mentored by the late John Weakland, himself a pioneer of the interactional view of psychotherapy. 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.

Obituary by Yvonne Dolan & Mark McKergow