The Long & Short of It

Edwin Tan Therapy The Long & Short of It.jpg

Within the field of counselling and psychotherapy, ‘brief therapy’ – or time-limited/short-term therapy – has become a loaded term provoking both support and disdain amongst practitioners. In Psychosynthesis, particularly, the concept of short-term work continues to be regarded as novel, unlikely or even impossible. Whilst training to be counsellor, I recall that my peers and I often thought in terms of working with long-term clients, and even today, I speak to many current trainees who subscribe to the view that Psychosynthesis works best over a considerable period of time.

Whatever the reasons for this perspective, the marketplace reality indicates that brief therapy is fast-becoming the norm – counselling departments in educational institutions, Employee Assistance Programme providers and especially the UK's National Health Service [NHS], have made brief therapy very popular, even though there continues to be some disagreement about whether it is effective enough for most clients. With this in mind, I spoke with Dragana Djukic, who teaches Brief Therapy using Psychosynthesis, for her thoughts and insights on this topic:

In your experience, how effective is the Psychosynthesis model in short-term work?

The Psychosynthesis model is very effective in short-term work. (In Psychosynthesis), we see the client as a unique human being who has a purpose in life, and challenges and obstacles to meet in order to fulfil that purpose. The client ultimately has all the answers needed within and our task is to evoke this inner knowing. 

Change is fundamental to all psychotherapies. In Psychosynthesis, we place the (client's) will at the centre of our work. Our aim is to encourage the client to become aware of their hidden potential and to evoke the client’s will so that they make their own choice and take positive steps forward.

How important is brief therapy in today’s therapeutic landscape?

Nowadays, brief therapy is recognised by the NHS, universities, schools and providers of EAPs, and for many people who seek therapy it is becoming a personal choice. I believe that both approaches, the long-term and the short-term, have a place in today’s therapeutic landscape. I like to use the metaphor of a novel for long-term work and a short story for brief therapy. Similar to the two literary genres, the two therapeutic modalities have different goals. In long-term therapy, the goal usually involves the restructuring of the whole personality. In short-term therapy, the goal is more specific, and related to an emotional difficulty which the client has brought in and is unable to deal with on his or her own. 

The on-going debate among therapists and in the media regarding which approach is ‘better’ is quite unhelpful. We have to look at which approach would best serve the individual client and their need for therapy. There are clients who need long-term work and are ready to engage in it. On the other hand, many clients come to therapy to resolve a particular issue and are not ready to go deeper.

Clients usually seek therapy at critical moments in their life journey, when they feel stuck, in pain or crisis. Our role as therapists is to help them deal with the crisis by giving it a meaning, finding a resolution and aiding them to move on their path. It is useful to look at brief therapy as a ‘chapter’ in the narrative of the client’s life, which ends when brief therapy comes to an end. This means that the client may have other experiences of brief or long-term therapy on their life journey, if needed.

In brief therapy there is a specific focus and goal, and our aim is to facilitate change. The change can be very small but it has to be significant, meaningful and positive, which is different from just removing the symptoms. It means helping the client to gain a new way of seeing things, a new perspective, a new learning or to have a new experience. From the systemic perspective, the part represents a whole in some way, and a small, positive change in one selected area of the client’s life or their inner world will lead to other positive changes in the overall picture.

More of my interview with Dragana can be found here.