Short-term or Brief CounselingTherapy and the Current Mental Health System
“Short-term” or “Brief Counseling/Therapy” and the current mental health system
seem to be inexorably linked for at least the foreseeable future. This paper discusses
the history, objectives, appropriate clientele, efficacy, and the other benefits, and
short comings, of this therapeutic/counseling modality and its relevance to my
present career direction, College Counseling. Cognitive-behavioral, Psychodynamic,
and Gestalt applications of brief therapy/counseling methods will be addressed.
For a working definition of short-term or brief therapy/counseling I would like to quote a
couple of authors on the subject. Wells (1982) states that, “Short -term treatment, as I shall use the
term, refers to a group (or family) of related interventions in which the helper deliberately and
planfully limits both the goals and duration of contact”(p. 2). Nugent (1994) says that, “In contrast
to traditional therapies, brief counseling and therapies (or time-limited therapies) set specific goals
and specify that the number of sessions will be limited.” He then adds that, “Counselors using brief
therapy approaches help clients develop coping skills that will enable them to anticipate and manage
future problems more effectively”(p. 96). In short, brief counseling/therapy is more directive and
time-limited, regardless of the particular therapeutic theory being employed. The counselor assumes
an active instead of a passive role in his relationship with the client. Due to budget constraints, the
rising cost of mental-health care, and a growing demand for services over the last decade, a large
number of counselors, in a large variety of different work environments, have been using brief
counseling and short-term therapy approaches (Nugent, 1994; Steenbarger, 1992). Short-term therapy
and counseling have consistently proven to be a powerful, efficient, and effective approach for
resolving human emotional and behavioral problems, and it is a major force in the field of
psychotherapy and counseling today (Saposnek, 1984).
Although the overwhelming emphasis on brief counseling/therapy in the mental health
system is a relatively recent phenomenon, the concept itself is at least as old as Freud. Freud
originally viewed psychoanalysis as a research tool that had powerful therapeutic applications.
Although he tried to limit his early analysis to six to twelve months, he had hoped that in time it
would be superseded by more efficient methods (Saposnek, 1984; Nugent, 1994; Phillips, 1985).
According to Small (1979), “Historically, it is clear that Freud first sought a quick cure; when he
began he could not foresee the developments that would lengthen the psychoanalytic process.” Who
would have believed that Freud would have...