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In Brief Therapy With Adolescents, John Littrell, EdD, demonstrates his approach to working with teenage clients. This approach seeks to shorten the length of therapy by looking at the client's patterns of behavior and helping to change the patterns that do not fit the client's goals.
In this session, Dr. Littrell works with a 17-year-old boy who is having problems with grades and getting into trouble in school. Dr. Littrell helps the client increase his sense of agency and see that he has more choices than he is currently aware of, which helps the client develop a concrete set of goals for change.
Brief counseling has nine defining characteristics (Littrell & Zinck, 2004). These are not mutually exclusive from characteristics of other counseling approaches, but taken together they give brief counseling its uniqueness.
The nine characteristics are:
What is the nature of goals in brief counseling? Brief counselors find that helping clients set goals is a valued process that enhances client movement from where they currently are to a desired state in the future.
Goals that meet six criteria are valuable in the change process. These criteria are:
stated in the positive
meaningful to the client
under the client's control
specific and concrete
short-term versus long-term
The counselor and client mutually negotiate the goals of counseling. Goals are reached when the client indicates one of the following: "I no longer have a problem," or "This is something I can live with."
The nature of the counseling relationship is the defining aspect of all forms of counseling. If the facilitative conditions of warmth, genuineness, and empathy are present, counselors increase their chances of being the helpers they want to be, even as they use some powerful brief counseling techniques, such as employing scaling, finding exceptions, asking the miracle question, and eliciting clients' sense of humor.
Brief counselors have numerous maps to guide their thinking about change. The three maps Dr. Littrell has found most useful are:
Prochaska's stages of change model (Prochaska, Norcross, & DiClemente, 1994)
the problem-focused brief counseling model developed at MRI (Fisch, Weakland, & Segal, 1982; Watzlawick, Weakland, & Fisch, 1974)
the solution-focused brief counseling model (Berg & Steiner, 2003; de Shazer, 1985, 1988)
While these maps form the basis of his work, Dr. Littrell has also been influenced by cognitive–behavioral therapy, person-centered therapy, Gestalt therapy, neurolinguistic programming, and acceptance and commitment therapy.
Dr. Littrell finds that most people he sees as clients are struggling with developmental concerns and issues, such as making transitions, learning new skills, and enhancing relationships. When describing these issues and concerns to counselors, most clients engage in problem talk, not solution talk. Dr. Littrell helps clients focus on what they want, rather than on what they don't want. He and the client focus on the client's strengths, not his or her weaknesses. Finally, Dr. Littrell works with clients to generate ways to achieve their goals, rather than drown in problem talk or stay stuck in their histories.
Referred clients are often in the precontemplation stage of change; the counselor's challenge is to help them move to the contemplation stage of change—these clients challenge the counselor's flexibility and resources. Clients with severe problems requiring medication are not prime candidates for brief counseling.
About the Therapist
John M. Littrell, EdD, is a professor and program head of counseling and career development at Colorado State University. He received his doctorate in counseling from Indiana University in 1975. Littrell was a Fulbright professor in Malaysia during the 1985–86 academic year.
Over the last 30+ years, Littrell has specialized in ways to speed up the process of change. He has published more than 40-refereed articles and book chapters, as well as producing five brief counseling videotapes. His two books are Brief Counseling in Action (1998) and Portrait and Model of a School Counselor (2005; co-authored by Jean S. Peterson). The latter is based on an ethnographic analysis of a school counselor who facilitated changing the culture of a school.
Dr. Littrell has been a featured presenter on the topic of brief counseling at 25 American Counseling Association professional development workshops. He is currently writing a counseling practicum and internship textbook to help students integrate theories, strategies, and skills.
In his spare time, Littrell writes short story mysteries based on famous counselors and therapists who solve murders that occur in their practice. Dr. Littrell's delightful sense of humor and tenacity in seeking clients' solutions make this DVD informative, practical, and memorable.
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Littrell, J. M., Malia, J. A., & Vanderwood, M. (1995). Single-session brief counseling in a high school. Journal of Counseling & Development, 73 (4), 451–458.
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Zinck, K., & Littrell, J. M. (2000). Action research shows group counseling effective with at-risk adolescent girls. Professional School Counseling, 4 (1), 50–59.
Zinck, K., & Littrell, J. M. (2002). A peaceful solution. In L. B. Golden (Ed.), Case studies in child and adolescent counseling (3rd ed., pp. 108–117). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.