What is the correct term: Single session therapy or psychotherapy?

What is the correct term: Single session therapy or psychotherapy?

psicoterapia a seduta singola

Can a name make a difference?

Considering the weight of the words and the value attributed to them, I think so!

So let’s try to qualify the reason for our choice to translate Single Session Therapy into Single Session Therapy, rather than Psychotherapy.

Let’s start with a definition taken from Wikipedia:

Psychotherapy is a therapeutic practice of clinical psychology and psychiatry, by a psychotherapist (psychologist or doctor, adequately specialized), who deals with the treatment of psychopathological disorders of a different nature and entity, ranging from modest maladjustment or personal discomfort up to severe symptoms, and which can manifest themselves in neurotic or psychotic symptoms such as to harm a person’s well-being to the point of hindering their development, causing effective disability in the individual’s life.
Etymologically, the word psychotherapy – “cure of the soul” – leads back to the therapies of the psyche carried out with psychological tools such as the interview, interior analysis, comparison, relationship, etc., in the purpose of changing the psychological processes on which malaise depends or inadequate lifestyle, often characterized by symptoms such as anxiety, depression, phobias, etc. To this end, psychotherapy makes use of application techniques of psychology, from which it takes its specification in its various theoretical orientations: psychodynamic psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral psychotherapy, Adlerian psychotherapy, Ericksonian psychotherapy, systemic psychotherapy, psychosynthesis, humanistic psychotherapy, etc..

Psychotherapy as a treatment process that addresses all situations of discomfort aiming at changing the psychological processes underlying the malaise.

Returning to the choice of using the term Single Session Therapy, it would be enough to return to the original name Single Session Therapy (SST), to solve the initial dilemma.

The term “Single Session Psychotherapy”, used for the Italian translation of Talmon’s first book on the subject, is instead less appropriate, because it limits the context of action of Single Session Therapy to the field of psychotherapy only, an elective but not exclusive field .



First interview: what value?

Do you remember your studies?

In the years of study, the culture breathed in, university and post-university training have certainly characterized the modus operandi of many professionals in the help relationship, paying particular attention to the first interview and to the fundamental phases such as anamnestic collection, evaluation and examination of the person with whom you are talking.

Therefore a thoughtful, I would dare to say very thoughtful, assessment process aimed primarily at diagnosis and therefore at planning the most effective and efficient intervention which results in psychotherapy courses that are not always short.

A modus operandi that risks focusing on the diagnosis, therefore the label, rather than on the person and her resources.



But leaving out this basic framework, let’s go back to the initial question: Therapy or Single Session Psychotherapy?

What moved us, as the Italian Center for Single Session Therapy (the first Italian Center for the study of Single Session Therapy), to use the term Therapy rather than Psychotherapy stems from the research and evidence found by TSS in different contexts, which they always and only concern psychological malaise.

In other articles we have described – and we will always describe better – how Single Session Therapy can be practiced in contexts that are not only medical or aimed at care, combining well with a series of interventions, from work psychology to sport, which is why we prefer the term Therapy: these are interventions aimed at maximizing, in a single encounter, the potential and resources inherent in each person, according to the principle that “When the patient heals, the therapist should be able to say: ‘My intervention has helped nature ‘”(E. Berne, 1966).

In addition, other authors have chosen to use even broader terms in this vein. In addition to the considerations just made, the Italian Center has in any case chosen to use the term “Therapy”, both because it remains the most used on the international scene, and to avoid creating confusion in the Italian public, where TSS must be still assimilated in all its potential.

The idea of ​​focusing on the first, and often unique, session with practices and strategies aimed at maximizing its effect, distances us from the often widespread practice, for which the first interview is a “non-treatment or a consultation” that gives incipit to a path, very often long, aimed at solving problems and, speaking of psychotherapy, at profound and lasting personality changes.

In spite of the most skeptical, the numerous researches, which we will discuss in the various articles, confirm that Single Session Therapy generates profound and lasting changes, which can be aligned (if not superior) to a longer psychotherapy path.

The use of the term “Therapy” does more justice to an intervention aimed both at aspects of the psychological culture and at approaches oriented in different areas.

The idea of ​​structuring an intervention framework in which a single session is enough to bring about radical changes seems increasingly appropriate and current considering the cultural context and current times. And this not only in a purely psychotherapeutic field, but in different contexts in which to focus on the resources of the person, on the present time and on the restitution of power to the interlocutor, resulting in avalanche improvements even if they arise from a single work session.

To underline the reason for “Therapy” rather than “Psychotherapy”, returning to the initial definition that “in the purpose of changing the psychological processes on which the malaise or inadequate lifestyle depends” and considering the variety of settings in which the Therapy a Single Session is practicable, let’s use and we will use the term Therapy, recalling, by way of example only, some situations in which to spend TSS (in addition to those already indicated in the article “Where can you practice Single Session Therapy?”):

  1. School and University Orientation Centers
  2. Human Resources Management
  3. Companies
  4. Basic medicine services
  5. Sports clubs
  6. Employment agencies
  7. Carrier counseling
  8. Parental support
  9. Childcare services
  10. Health facilities




I want to conclude by quoting the anecdote reported by Talmon (1990, pp. 25-26) where at the beginning of his research he proposed to Rosenbaum (of psychodynamic training!) To be part of the research on Single Session Therapy. The latter’s resistances were overcome during a walk:

[Rosenbaum:] Maybe changes can occur in a single session, but definitely not a significant change. A definitive change requires the gradual processes that shape the mountains: time, slow erosion, wind and rain carving the surface of the rock a little at a time… ”At this point the trail turned into a curve. He faced an immense avalanche. Half a mountain had collapsed into the valley the previous winter, changing both the mountain and the valley forever, all in less than thirty seconds.

On the other hand, a well-known character should have made us reflect on the concept of time and its relativity, don’t you think !?


Federico Piccirilli

Psychologist, psychotherapist

Co-founder of the Italian Center

for Single Session Therapy


Bibliographical references

Berne, E., (1966). Principles of Group Treatment. New York, Oxford University Press, (Tr. It. Principi di terapia di gruppo. Roma, Astrolabio, 1986).

Hoyt, M.F. & Talmon, M. (eds.) (2014). Capturing the Moment. Bancyfelin, UK: Crown House.

Rosenbaum, R., Hoyt M.F & Talmon, M. (1990). The challenge of single session therapies: creating pivotal moments. In R. Wells & V. Giantetti (eds.) The Handobook of Brief Psychotherapies. New York: Plenum.

Talmon, M. (1990). Single Session Therapy. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers, (Tr. It. Psicoterapia a Seduta Singola. Trento: Centro Studi Erickson, 1996).


Wikipedia. Psicoterapia. https://it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psicoterapia

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