There are generally considered to be two main theoretical bases for psychotherapy.

Psychoanalytic – based off of the work of Sigmund Freud, and has evolved since the late 1800s. The underlying idea is that there is an unconscious part of everyone’s mind that has a powerful and meaningful effect on our thoughts and everyday actions. By trying to examine the unconscious, a person can better understand their life and gain more control over the things they think, feel and do.

Cognitive Behavioral – focuses more on the present, accessible thoughts and behaviors of people rather than the subconscious and seeks to address them directly in order to make positive change.

Brief Therapy falls under Cognitive Behavioral psychotherapy. In brief therapy, the therapist takes responsibility for working more pro-actively with the client in order to treat clinical and subjective conditions faster. It also emphasizes precise observation, utilization of natural resources, and temporary suspension of disbelief to consider new perspectives and multiple viewpoints.

Various psychotherapies have been used to treat many conditions including mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, Personality disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and addictions. The problems addressed are psychological in nature and of no specific kind or degree, but rather depend on the specialty of the practitioner.

Psychotherapies are also used to treat people who may not have a diagnosed mental illness, but need help coping with some kind of life stressor, such as stress from work or family, dealing with disease or health problems, or any kind of major life change, such as the death of a parent, divorce or personal trauma.

Brief Therapy is specifically used to treat current disturbances of personality and current episodes, such as mild depression and anxiety, rather than long term personality disorders.

Brief therapy is often highly strategic, exploratory, and solution-based rather than problem-oriented. It is less concerned with how a problem arose than with the current factors sustaining it and preventing change. Brief therapists do not adhere to one "correct" approach, but rather accept that there being many paths, any of which may or may not in combination turn out to be ultimately beneficial.

Rather than the formal analysis of historical causes of distress, the primary approach of brief therapy is to help the client to view the present from a wider context and to utilize more functional understandings (not necessarily at a conscious level). By becoming aware of these new understandings, successful clients will de facto undergo spontaneous and generative change.

Pros for this therapy

Brief psychotherapy probably is best limited to patients of reasonably mature personality and adequate motivation whose emotional disturbance is focal, acute (rather than chronic), of less than extreme intensity and associated with fairly apparent situational factors. It is highly desirable that the patient, despite his distress (which, in some instances, may be very great) still be able to function in his accustomed social role. In short, this means, primarily, neurotic patients, not grossly incapacitated, who see their previous functioning as reasonably satisfactory, or at least not troublesome enough to warrant more extensive investigation. Those who suffer mainly from anxiety, moderate depression or minor hysterical conversions frequently respond remarkably well. Yet, more significant than any one particular symptom or diagnosis is the patient's accessibility and his capacity and readiness for rapid involvement with the therapist.

Cons for this therapy

On the other hand, brief psychotherapy is of limited value whenever the person is no longer able to function in his accustomed social role. Here, one specifically wishes to include psychotic patients, those with massive character disorders of long standing (e.g., alcoholics, drug addicts, and the severely unstable and self-destructive), and those with chronic, complex and disabling "psychosomatic" illnesses (e.g., ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis and the like). Brief treatment of this group, I think, mainly serves to highlight the need for more prolonged treatment. In fact, with these patients brief psychotherapy often serves as an entree into, and preparation for, more definitive long-term treatment. Special care must be taken with some depressed patients who are a suicidal risk; brief treatment frequently offers them neither enough protection nor enough time to resolve their difficulty. Schizoid patients who are bland, detached and disenchanted, have trouble becoming involved in brief treatment and often show a very limited response. Patients who are decidedly dependent need the continuing support of an extended relationship. Finally, long-term treatment is called for whenever there is clear and patent indication for personality reconstruction.

Psychoanalysis was perhaps the first specific school of psychotherapy, developed by Sigmund Freud and others through the early 20th century. Trained as a neurologist, Freud began focusing on problems that appeared to have no discernible organic basis, and theorized that they had psychological causes originating in childhood experiences and the unconscious mind. Techniques such as dream interpretation, free association, transference and analysis of the id, ego and superego were developed.

Behaviorism developed in the 1920s, and behavior modification as a therapy became popularized in the 1950s and 1960s. Notable contributors were Joseph Wolpe in South Africa, M.B. Shipiro and Hans Eysenck in Britain, and John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner in the United States. Behavioral therapy approaches relied on principles of operant conditioning, classical conditioning and social learning theory to bring about therapeutic change in observable symptoms. The approach became commonly used for phobias, as well as other disorders.

During the 1950s, Albert Ellis originated Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). A few years later, psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck developed a form of psychotherapy known as cognitive therapy. Both of these generally included relatively short, structured and present-focused therapy aimed at identifying and changing a person's beliefs, appraisals and reaction-patterns, by contrast with the more long-lasting insight-based approach of psychodynamic or humanistic therapies. Cognitive and behavioral therapy approaches were combined and grouped under the heading and umbrella-term Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in the 1970s. Many approaches within CBT are oriented towards active/directive collaborative empiricism and mapping, assessing and modifying clients core beliefs and dysfunctional schemas. These approaches gained widespread acceptance as a primary treatment for numerous disorders. A "third wave" of cognitive and behavioral therapies developed, including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Dialectical behavior therapy, which expanded the concepts to other disorders and/or added novel components and mindfulness exercises. Counseling methods developed, including solution-focused therapy and systemic. During the 1960s and 1970s Eugene Heimler, after training in the new discipline of psychiatric social work, developed Heimler method of Human Social Functioning, a methodology based on the principle that frustration is the potential to human flourishing.

Postmodern psychotherapies such as Narrative Therapy and Coherence Therapy did not impose definitions of mental health and illness, but rather saw the goal of therapy as something constructed by the client and therapist in a social context. Systems Therapy also developed, which focuses on family and group dynamics—and Transpersonal psychology, which focuses on the spiritual facet of human experience. Other important orientations developed in the last three decades include Feminist therapy, Brief therapy, Somatic Psychology, Expressive therapy, applied Positive psychology and the Human Givens approach which is building on the best of what has gone before. 

Brief therapy was significantly influenced by Milton H. Erickson. Erickson is credited with coining the term brief therapy for his approach of addressing therapeutic changes in relatively few sessions. Paul Watzlawick was also influential in the development of brief therapy. Watzlawick was one of the three founding members of the Brief Therapy Center at MRI. In 1974, members of the Center published a major work on their brief approach, Change, Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution (Watzlawick, Weakland, Fisch). 

Psychotherapy is a general term referring to therapeutic interaction or treatment contracted between a trained professional and a client or patient; family, couple or group. The problems addressed are psychological in nature and of no specific kind or degree, but rather depend on the specialty of the practitioner.

Psychotherapy aims to increase the individual's sense of his/her own well-being. Psychotherapists employ a range of techniques based on experiential relationship building, dialog, communication and behavior change that are designed to improve the mental health of a client or patient, or to improve group relationships (such as in a family).

Brief Psychotherapy or Brief therapy is an umbrella term for a variety of approaches to psychotherapy. It differs from other schools of therapy in that it emphasizes a focus on a specific problem and direct intervention.

Primary Therapy: 
Review Date: 
February 15, 2012