Brief Dynamic Therapy

Format: DVD [Closed Captioned]
Running Time: Over 100 minutes
Item #: 4310786
ISBN: 978-1-59147-790-7
List Price: $99.95
Member/Affiliate Price: $69.95
Copyright: 2007
Availability: In Stock
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For individuals in the U.S. & U.S. territories

APA Psychotherapy Training Videos are intended solely for educational purposes for mental health professionals. Viewers are expected to treat confidential material found herein according to strict professional guidelines. Unauthorized viewing is prohibited.

In Brief Dynamic Therapy, Dr. Stanley B. Messer demonstrates his approach to short-term, focused therapy. This treatment is distinguished by its emphasis on finding an issue on which to focus in therapy, a characteristic intrinsic to its brevity (therapy generally runs 12–25 sessions). In this session, Dr. Messer works with a woman named Nancy whose father recently died and whose mother is experiencing dementia and Parkinson's disease. In this typical first session, Dr. Messer actively seeks to determine whether Nancy will be a good candidate for brief dynamic therapy and what might be a suitable focus.


Brief dynamic therapy is a modification of traditional psychoanalytic work that has existed in some form since the 1930s–1940s. Arguably, Freud practiced what amounted to brief dynamic therapy in that he rarely saw a client for more than a year. Brief dynamic therapy differs from traditional psychoanalysis in that it is quite brief—anywhere from 1 to 40 sessions, with a typical range of 12 to 25 sessions. It draws on psychoanalytic theory to understand the client and psychoanalytic techniques to conduct the therapy.

Although its recent popularity has been fueled in part by the demands of managed care, this approach has been widely used since the 1970s and has been empirically proven to be effective. It is most useful for clients with depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders, and minor personality disorders; it is not recommended for clients with the more serious mental disorders (e.g., schizophrenia).

Aside from being short and the therapist being quite active, brief dynamic therapy's most distinguishing trait is its emphasis on finding a focus for the therapy: that is, an area or dynamic issue that the client and therapist can work on in an affectively meaningful way throughout the therapy. This emphasis helps to maintain the brevity of the work. In contrast to long-term psychotherapy, in which several issues may be handled over the course of therapy, brief dynamic therapy focuses on one or two issues so that the work with the client is as efficient and effective as possible. It is important that the therapist develop the ability to help the client find the key issue on which to focus, as doing so makes this therapy especially powerful.

There are three stages in brief dynamic therapy:

  • Find the focus of the therapy and build therapeutic alliance (initial sessions).
  • Work toward resolving the focal issue (bulk of therapy sessions).
  • Prepare the client for termination of therapy.

The termination phase is important in brief dynamic therapy because it often arouses feelings of separation and loss. The therapist encourages clients to experience and express their mixed emotions about termination and helps them to recognize what they have (and have not) accomplished in the time available.

About the Therapist

Stanley B. Messer, PhD, is professor and dean of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University. He is coauthor of Models of Brief Psychodynamic Therapy: A Comparative Approach, with C. S. Warren, and coeditor of several volumes, including Theories of Psychotherapy: Origins and Evolution, with P. L. Wachtel; History of Psychotherapy: A Century of Change, with D. K. Freedheim et al.; Hermeneutics and Psychological Theory, with R. L. Woolfolk and L. A. Sass; and Psychoanalytic Therapy and Behavior Therapy: Is Integration Possible? with H. Arkowitz. Dr. Messer has also written many articles on psychotherapy integration, brief psychodynamic therapy, and case formulation in relation to psychotherapy, and he has conducted empirical research on the process of psychotherapy. He was associate editor of the American Psychologist and is on the editorial board of several journals. Dr. Messer also maintains a clinical practice in Highland Park, New Jersey.

Suggested Readings
  • Arkowitz, H., & Messer, S. B. (1984). Psychoanalytic and behavior therapy: Is integration possible? New York: Plenum Press.
  • Freedheim, D. K., Freudenberger, H., Peterson, D. R., Kessler, J. W., Strupp, H. H., Messer, S. B., & Wachtel, P. (1992). History of psychotherapy: A century of change. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Messer, S. B. (2001). What makes brief psychodynamic therapy time efficient. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 8, 5–22.
  • Messer, S. B., Sanderson, W. C., & Gurman, A. S. (2003). Brief psychotherapies. In G. Stricker & T. A. Widiger (Eds.), Handbook of psychology: Vol. 8. Clinical psychology (pp. 407–430). New York: Wiley.
  • Messer, S. B., Sass, L. A., & Woolfolk, R. L. (Eds.). (1988). Hermeneutics and psychological theory: Interpretive perspectives on personality, psychotherapy, and psychopathology. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Messer, S. B., & Warren, C. S. (1995). Models of brief psychodynamic therapy: A comparative approach. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Wachtel, P. L., & Messer, S. B. (1997). Theories of psychotherapy: Origins and evolution. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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