Brief Focal Therapy for Stress

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

These days cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice for anxiety-related conditions and stress. It's effective, well-researched, safe and time limited. In a previous post I mentioned that it does not however meet with everyone's needs. In this post I'm outlining an alternative approach that provides the structure of CBT but where the emphasis and approach differs. This approach is often referred to as brief focal psychotherapy, but like CBT, there are variants.

The process of therapy involves various techniques and tools, some of which I'm outlining in this post. Compared with CBT, brief focal therapy uses less directive and more exploratory methods that help the patient to recovery. Even so, brief focal therapy as the name implies, is time-limited and averages around 20 sessions.

Working through is the process of examining the way a patient interprets events. Invariably the therapist will keep revisiting the same issues, looking at them from different angles so that feelings are released and understood more fully.

Transference is a process where powerful emotions and desires begin to unconsciously shift towards the therapist. A skilled therapist will help the patient identify and work through these feelings whilst in the safety and security of the therapeutic setting.

Defence mechanisms are the variety of overt or subtle ways we use to protect ourselves. We tend to use these at an unconscious level, which of course distances us from becoming fully aware of troubling and unpleasant thoughts and feelings. The more primitive mechanisms such as denial may be associated with adults who haven't learned more adaptive ways of coping with stress. Mature defense mechanisms tend to be thought of as repression, intellectualization and rationalizing (to mention just three). During therapy the defense mechanisms used, their origins and the ways they are now harming the patient can be explored.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of