18 Brief Psychotherapies

Clinical Psychology


  1. Stanley B. Messer PhD1,
  2. William C. Sanderson PhD2,
  3. Alan S. Gurman PhD3,4

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop208018

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Messer, S. B., Sanderson, W. C. and Gurman, A. S. 2012. Brief Psychotherapies. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 8:II:18.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Rutgers University, Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Piscataway, NJ, USA

  2. 2

    Hofstra University, Department of Psychology, Hempstead, NY, USA

  3. 3

    The Family Institute at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

  4. 4

    University of Wisconsin, Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program, Madison, WI, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


Brief therapy is by far the most frequently employed kind of therapy in the United States, with fewer than 10% of clients receiving more than 20 sessions. Brief and effective therapy typically relies on six features or techniques of practice: (1) client selection, (2) formulation of an individualized clinical focus, (3) a deliberate time limit (or sensitivity to time) that sets in motion therapist and patient expectancies as to when change will occur, (4) active techniques, (5) attention to the termination stage, and (6) goal setting that requires setting priorities so that time is used efficiently. This chapter describes six brief therapies, each stemming from a different theoretical tradition: psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, couple/family systems, experiential, strategic, and integrative. The models are described under the following headings: Historical Introduction, Selection Criteria (including diagnosis, problems treated, and focus), Techniques of the Therapy, Theory of Change, Supporting Research, and Current Trends and Future Directions. In general, there is good empirical support for several of the therapies covered. One current prominent trend in the field of brief therapy, as in the field of psychotherapy in general, is the integration of techniques drawn from one therapy and assimilated into another.


  • brief therapy;
  • short-term therapy;
  • time-limited therapy;
  • focus;
  • goal-oriented