What Is Brief Psychotherapy?

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  • Written By: A. Reed
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2019
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Established out of a need for psychotherapy treatment with a shorter duration, brief psychotherapy includes several methods used by psychiatrists and psychologists to help people suffering from mental illness or personal problems. Therapies within this category includes cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Besides being brief, with all of these therapies, initial assessment is done quickly, goals are generally established at the beginning, and the therapist plays a huge role, unlike with psychoanalysis which allows for free association.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a way of treating psychopathology, generally phobias and mental disorders involving anxiety as a symptom, which works to bring perspective and unconscious thoughts and statements into balance. Developed by psychiatrist Aaron Beck, CBT uses re-patterning techniques referred to as cognitive restructuring, in which clients learn how to change limiting beliefs, thereby affecting how they view the world. The objective is to show clients how to transform thoughts and beliefs so that they are more useful, having an improved effect.


In psychodynamic therapy, the client is treated by working with the unconscious mind, breaking through barriers or defenses created by the client in an effort to protect himself or herself, but is causing him or her personal problems. Brief psychotherapy of this type has traditional psychoanalysis at its core, but, instead of lasting for a period of years, successful results can occur in only a few sessions. The way this is accomplished is through concentration on one significant problem and this is expected to generate further healing regardless of the therapist's involvement.

John Grinder and Richard Bandler are the founders of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a brief psychotherapy method involving the application of several methods aimed at producing extraordinary change in clients, namely applicable to relationships and careers. NLP is also used to help those suffering from certain mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, and addictive behaviors. Neurolinguistic programming practitioners train individuals to master modeling, a technique by which someone models what another person does who is an expert in a particular behavior. It is thought that, by modeling, a person can produce useful behaviors or states modeled by others. Anchoring is another NLP technique that utilizes a stimulus inadvertently directed to provoke highly desirable feelings, thoughts, or behavior patterns.

Often used in combination with NLP, Eriksonian hypnosis is a form of brief psychotherapy introduced by Milton Erickson. Through the use of stories and anecdotes rather than direct induction and suggestion, clients are placed in a trance state and are unknowingly hypnotized. Helpful in treating addiction and phobias, Ericksonian hypnosis is particularly useful for those who are resistant to traditional hypnotherapy.


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