Brief Strategic Therapy: what it is and how it works

Many people believe that going to psychotherapy involves exploring aspects of the past that have defined our personality and even our psychological vulnerabilities. In fact, the most frequent stereotype of the typical psychologist is that of an individual who constantly asks questions about how our childhood was, over a long series of sessions that become a habit, rather than a necessity.

However, this vision of psychotherapy is outdated: today, most mental health professionals put a lot of effort into addressing the patient’s problem as it is presented here and now, in order to provide quick solutions No need to reconstruct the past.

The Brief Strategic Therapy, which is currently based primarily on the work of Giorgio Nardone and Paul Watzlawick , is a sample of these efforts to help patients by focusing on the issue at present. In this article we will see what it is and on what principles it is based.

  • Related article: ” History of Psychology: authors and main theories

What is brief psychotherapy?

To understand what Short Strategic Therapy is, it is important to know that it is included in a broader category, that of brief psychotherapy.

The concept of brief psychotherapy is used to refer to a wide variety of therapeutic proposals whose objective is to obtain concrete and objective results in a period as limited as possible , so that patients can benefit from the satisfaction of their needs as soon as possible.

That said, the rationale for brief psychotherapy seems to be due to pure common sense. Doesn’t it always try to get satisfactory results in the fastest way? In theory, the answer to this question is yes. In practice, however, this is somewhat more complicated than it seems, especially if we focus on what psychotherapy has historically been.

And it is that although today the work of applied psychology (and, consequently, of psychological therapy) does have to do with obtaining results optimizing the use of resources and the time available, a few decades ago this does not It was so clear.

From the perspective of psychoanalysis, for example, which became the dominant paradigm in psychotherapy in the first half of the twentieth century, to help patients, they had to dig deeply into their unconscious processes, and even question that their true reason for He goes to therapy, whatever he says he is. And beyond the direct followers of Sigmund Freud , other forms of psychotherapy influenced by psychoanalysis also adopted part of this work philosophy according to which psychotherapy is a process of change without a clear end, or even for a lifetime.

In opposition to these approaches, brief psychotherapy is much more pragmatic and focused on solving specific and defined problems from the first sessions through dialogue between therapist and patient. Therefore, the Brief Strategic Therapy inherits this way of working and tries to give concrete answers to very limited needs.

What is Brief Strategic Therapy?

Brief Strategic Therapy is a model of psychological intervention in patients developed by researchers Paul Watzlawick and Giorgio Nardone in the second half of the twentieth century and is currently still being studied to find out what kind of psychological problems and disorders can be used effectively .

The working mechanism by which Brief Strategic Therapy is governed consists in detecting which is the vicious circle of behaviors that is keeping alive the problem to be treated, in order to “undo” that wheel that turns alone by its own influence on the actions of the patient, and give this person the opportunity to adopt new habits to start from scratch.

That is why the Brief Strategic Therapy concentrates its efforts on the present , because if it pointed mainly towards the past, the development of the problem to be addressed would always be several steps ahead of the therapist’s inquiries and that loss of time would increase the risk of failure. By helping the patient.

Thus, Brief Strategic Therapy requires having a global vision on the way in which the psychological disorder or behavioral dysfunction is expressed in the present, on the one hand, and a plan to intervene in the present problem without forgetting that it is a vicious circle in which you have to take into account all its parts at once (hence the word “strategic”).

Ideas and principles of this psychological intervention

In summary, the ideas from which the Brief Strategic Therapy starts are as follows.

1. Perception is key

As in cognitive behavioral therapy , in Brief Strategic Therapy it is assumed that the way in which the patient interprets reality explains at least in part why the disorder or dysfunctionality to be treated arises.

2. The problem maintains itself

Another characteristic aspect of Brief Strategic Therapy is that it sees what needs to be solved as a combination of three types of behaviors that feed each other: behavioral patterns of perception, behavioral patterns of emotional management, and cognitive maladaptive patterns.

3. The problem is in the present

As we have seen, from this type of psychotherapy it makes no sense to become obsessed with what happened in the first years of the patient’s life , but it is more practical to know how the problem is in the present, since that is what should be solved In addition, this will allow to see what behaviors the patient puts into practice to try to weaken his problem have the opposite effect, reinforcing it.

The two reference researchers

As we have seen, there are two names that stand out especially when it comes to understanding what Short Strategic Therapy is: Giorgio Nardone and Paul Watzlawick. Finally, let’s see a couple of small summaries about who they are.

Paul Watzlawick

The psychologist Paul Watzlawick (1921 – 2007) was one of the main exponents of radical constructivism, a philosophical current that emphasizes subjectivity and the way in which it creates apparently objective phenomena. Therefore, he wanted to investigate how the different ways of perceiving things affect our actions.

In addition, Watzlawick was one of the most prominent researchers at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto , California, and one of the founders of the Brief Therapy Center.


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