Why Brief Psychotherapy works:


I know, both terms together could sound contradictory at first. How is it possible that these problems I have been stuck with, some of them forever, could be improved without years of Psychotherapy, and several sessions a week? No way.

The initial answer is that Psychotherapy, as the rest of the sciences, has evolved since it was first formally created a couple of centuries ago. Improvement means achieving the established goals without taking an excessive period of time. When it comes to improvement, Psychotherapy is the science that should keep time frame as a priority since it is dealing with the suffering, unhappiness and desperation of human beings.

When the psychiatrist Donald Jackson founded the Mental Research Institute (M.R.I.) in 1959 in Palo Alto, California, the time frame of Psychotherapy was one his priorities. He and his team started to research for different ways to understand problems and therefore to intervene on them. One of the concepts they applied to Psychotherapy for the first time was "interaction." It has two aspects:

1. the way we interact with others and vice versa: family members, partner, coworkers, etc.

2. the way we interact with ourselves through our thoughts, which makes us see life in a certain way and directs us on how we feel and act.

One of the outcomes of this new concept of "interaction" is that the person attending Psychotherapy becomes an active element in her/his process of change, instead of a passive component advised and guided by the profesional. It becomes active because in Brief Therapy, we consider our clients the experts in their concerns and we treat them as such. They are the ones experiencing them and, in many cases, for an extensive period of time. When we start the therapy asking what are the problems that brought them to us, we ask them for examples, specific situations that best represent their concerns. This way, the client and the therapist can see the role the client is playing in their troubles, in other words, how the client interacts within his/her problem.

If the client says, "My partner and I have communication problems; we don't understand each other," it's difficult to change this situacton until we understand how it works for this particular client. It is more helpful if the client says, "When anything goes wrong at home - like dinner is not ready, children are not in bed, etc.- my partner blames me right away when he comes back home from work. He doesn't contemplate what my day has been like." In this case, the client has identified a specific example of her frustration related to her communication with her partner; awareness is the firts step to take control over it and improve it. When the client is able to express her needs to her partner in a way that he listens to them and is able to meet them, it will be an example of the achievement of good communication. In other occasions, getting out of a relationship that has been making the client very unhappy for a long time, will be the satisfying outcome. You become the witness and protagonist of your own change.

Parents often complain about raising a teenager. "I don't know what to do with her anymore; she is such a handful, hopeless." These terms paralyze the possibility of maneuvering towards improvement. Finding out that the parent is frustrated with the teenager's "manners," "drop in grades," or "despair when she is not back home until very late at night," opens the path towards change.

A crucial tool in Brief Therapy is assigning homeweork to the client between sessions. Especially at the beginning, it's very hard for clients to think of especific situations that reflect their problems since they are caught up in their unhappiness. Homework allows the clients to take their time at home to pay close attention to what is really bothering them, and which ones are the most representative situations of their concerns.

This is one of the aspects of how Brief Therapy operates. It works with the situations that, brought by clients through homework, better represent their troubles. This engagement with the process of therapy leads to the empowerment of the clients which has a profound impact on them. In the same way you are dealing with your problems in a manner that doesn't work for you, you can accomplish to deal with them in a satisfactory way. This accomplishment stays with you for ever because, although problems will be very different that the one treated in the therapy, you have learnt that it is not just about the problem itself, but it is also about the way you deal with it, and that knowledge is not a reversible process.

Taking charge and being active in your process of change is not easy. To feel empowered can be tough and painful. The path of awareness and road to changing those patterns can be a bumpy ride. New ways to deal with problems is exciting and rewarding, but it is also scary since is unknown at first, and also has an impact in other people. The therapist will be there next to you, not only promoting the change you want, but supporting you in the difficulties of the process.

If you believe that this approach could be helpful to you, please feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail, and I'll be very happy to answer any of your questions before you make the decision to start.

Mercedes González


Mercedes González, M.A.