What is Brief Therapy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 15 July 2019
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Brief therapy is a form of psychotherapy where the focus is short-term work, helping the patient accomplish specific goals, rather than the creation of a long-term therapeutic relationship. This approach may not work for all patients, but can be appropriate for people who need to work on specific issues and are willing to focus on short and intensive therapy. People can approach brief therapy from a number of perspectives and philosophies, and if one therapist does not meet a patient's needs, she may want to consider someone else before giving up on brief therapy.

In brief therapy, the therapist takes a much more active role. Traditional psychotherapy places a heavy emphasis on listening to patients, reflecting their words, and helping them slowly come to realizations about their pasts, and ways to modify their current behavior patterns. This process can last for weeks, months, or years, as patient and therapist work together to delve into various aspects of a patient's life.

At the start of brief therapy, the therapist and patient will talk about what a patient wants to accomplish, such as feeling more confident at presentations or conquering a phobia. Rather than probing extensively into the patient's past and creating a series of building blocks to use in therapy, the therapist works with the patient to address the immediate problem. Various topics may come up during therapy, and it is possible to address them, but the goal is to treat a specific problem.


A strategic approach is part of brief therapy, to identify problems and come up with solutions for them. The presence of a clear goal makes it easier to determine when therapy is successful. When patient and therapist are satisfied with the outcome, they can terminate the therapeutic relationship. A single session may be enough in some cases, and in others, people may need to meet several times. In all cases, the goal is not to form a lasting therapeutic relationship. If a patient wants to pursue more intensive therapy, the therapist may be able to provide it or offer a referral to a more suitable practitioner.

People who want brief therapy can look up therapists in their area to see if anyone practices this approach. Professional organizations often provide member listings and can be a good resource to start with for finding a therapist. It is a good idea to meet with therapists briefly to talk about their approach to see if they are a good match; many therapists offer brief consultations free of charge to give potential clients a chance to meet them before committing to a full therapeutic appointment.



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