“We used to think long-term therapy was the starting point for measuring all pyschotherapy.
Today it appears that a single session of therapy may become
the basis on which to evaluate the duration and type of results therapy should have.”

Jay Haley

Is Single-Session Therapy a brief therapy?

This is a very frequent question.

Some writers have defined methods and interventions such as Single-Session Therapy as “ultra-brief therapies”. We consider this term to be inappropriate, inaccurate and, frankly, damaging.

Single-Session Therapy is first and foremost a method, while when we talk about brief therapy in general we’re dealing with approaches.

The main difference is that an approach usually involves an etiopathogenic theory and/or a theory of change, which have been widely researched. Normally, this gives rise to a structured series of techniques. A method, on the other hand, is a systemised set of manoeuvres and interventions which, when followed, can lead to the desired result.

The astonishing power of SST is precisely this: on the one hand it manages – on its own – to bring success in a broad series of cases; on the other, when incorporated in the therapist’s own model of reference (whether they are a psychotherapist or a consulting psychologist), it can maximise its effectiveness.

In practical terms, this means that many people experience the effects of brief therapy: in a small number of sessions, often in just one, they succeed in achieving the goal they have set themselves.

Some people wonder whether a training in brief therapy is actually necessary in order to practise Single-Session Therapy. In fact there are some Single-Session therapists who are trained in various brief therapy approaches (such as strategic therapy, solution-centred therapy, brief psychodynamic therapy etc).

However, our workshops – and those held in other countries – are attended by many therapists from other approaches, from systemic therapy to cognitive behaviour therapy, from traditional psychodynamic therapies to humanistic therapies, right up to gestalt therapy and Ericksonian hypnosis.

Furthermore, we should remember that in several parts of the world the principles of SST are also taught to other healthcare workers, in order to improve and maximise the effectiveness of their relations with patients. And these people are definitely not trained in brief therapy.

In conclusion, Single-Session Therapy is not a brief therapy and can be learned by psychologists, psychotherapists and other professional figures, although – like brief therapy – it allows the effectiveness of every session to be maximised, lowering the risk of the patient abandoning treatment and reducing the duration of therapy, sometimes to one single session.

Can a single session of psychotherapy be enough?

This was the question asked by Moshe Talmon, Michael F. Hoyt and Robert Rosenbaum to initiate their research into Single-Session Therapy, opening the way to an approach which has now been studied all over the world for more than 30 years.

Single-Session Therapy is primarily a way of operating in psychotherapy and consulting psychology which aims to achieve as much as possible in every therapy session. It can easily be integrated into any approach and the practice of any professional working in healthcare and psychological/physical wellbeing, reducing treatment times and thus waiting lists, providing immediate and concrete help for patients and maximising the effectiveness of every meeting.

Moreover, the principles of Single-Session Therapy have always been applied in contexts outside psychotherapy, which require the practitioner to intervene in a person’s problem in a short time period in order to obtain the desired result quickly.

Thirty years of research

The first studies got underway in 1968 at Kaiser Permanente in California, one of the largest healthcare organisations in the USA. These established what would become three basic assumptions:

1. One is the most frequent number of sessions completed in psychotherapy

2. Between 20 and 50% of people choose to attend just one session

3. Up to 80% of these report they have solved their problem or feel better thanks to the single session attended.

Just one session?

This and subsequent studies confirmed what was already known: a single session can be more than enough in a large number of cases. This actually applies from simple difficulties to incapacitating problems, right up to full-blown psychotic disorders, including urgent cases and emergencies, as well as more common therapy situations. And this is true when working with individual patients, couples or families, regardless of age, gender or cultural level.

However, what all SST academics underline is that Single-Session Therapy does not mean always and only having one session! Instead, it means considering factors which allow us to enhance the effect of every single (and often only) session.

The revolution started here

Since that initial research, numerous studies have been conducted all over the world: the USA, the UK, Ireland, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Israel, Chile, Turkey, China… Today, thanks to the work of the Italian Center for Single Session Therapy, research and the systematic spread of information have reached Italy, and for the first time it is possible to train in Single-Session Therapy in our country too.

If you’d like to keep up with SST, you can visit the website’s blog: here you’ll find constant updates about new publications in the field of Single-Session Therapy, as well as recent research into the approach.