Therapy Does Not Have to Last Forever: An Introduction to Brief Therapy

Over the years since becoming a therapist, I have encountered people with many misconceptions about psychotherapy. Some believe that weekly sessions will last for months or years before problems are overcome, or that it is always necessary to delve into childhood issues in order to resolve current challenges. Others believe that psychotherapy consists of laying on a couch while a therapist scribbles on a notepad nearby. Before learning more about the therapy process and becoming interested in becoming a clinician myself, I also had these ideas about counseling.

Like many people, I thought psychotherapy consisted of weekly sessions of laying or sitting down while talking about your feelings, childhood and problems while a trained clinician sits nearby and scribbles notes. The therapist may occasionally ask a question or two, or add an “hmm” or “I see” from time-to-time. When the session is over, you schedule another appointment for the following week, go home, and continue the same routine for several years. Somehow, through this process of venting, one eventually overcomes the problems that brought them to treatment.

It’s not that this stereotype of therapy does not exist in the counseling world. In fact, there are a surprising number of therapists that still rely on the cliché “lie-on-the-couch” method of therapy, despite its failure to be shown to be effective in scientific studies. However, there have been many advances in psychotherapy over the years since the idea of counseling was first introduced, and we now know that therapy does not have to last forever. There are therapies that have been researched and shown to be helpful, and they do not require weekly sessions for years on end. In fact, some problems can be resolved in 1 to 6 sessions using models of therapy that are “evidence-based”, or simply put, scientifically proven to work.

A article published in the NY Times in 2013 asserts that treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT) and family-based therapies like brief solution-focused therapy, have been proven to be effective in treating a wide range of problems (Brown, 2013). The article outlines a 2009 study that found that very few psychiatric patients actually receive evidence-based therapies.

Fortunately, it is possible to find treatment that works and learn to cope with and quickly resolve problems through short-term treatment. One type of brief treatment that is especially effective is Solution-Focused Therapy, which is a future-oriented, goal-directed approach that focuses on solutions, rather than the problems that brought one to treatment (Institute for Solution-Focused Therapy).

Below is a list of some of the problems that could be resolved using solution-focused therapy:

Panic attacks
A phobia
Mild depression
A relationship problem
Conflict with a family member or members
Difficulty making an important decision
Budgeting/Financial difficulties                                                                                                                                                     Obtaining assistance in making a lifestyle change such as losing weight, quitting smoking, eating healthier, changing careers or going back to school

If you or someone you know is interested in a resolving a problem through treatment without making a commitment to months or years of counseling, solution-focused therapy might be the best choice. A simple internet search for “solution-focused therapy” in your area can provide you with a list of resources of therapists that offer this type of treatment.

Brown, H. (2013, March 25). Looking for Evidence that Therapy Works.  The NY Times. Retrieved from