The Mental Research Institute (MRI) is one of the founding institutions of brief and family therapy. Founded by Don D. Jackson and colleagues in 1958, MRI has been one of the leading sources of ideas in the area of interactional/systemic studies, psychotherapy, and family therapy.
A brief look at MRI brief therapy
The MRI approach to brief therapy originated out of the serendipitous coming together of several incredibly creative minds that resulted in a form of psychotherapy in which the major goal was to make psychotherapy more efficient and more effective. It evolved out of research project on communication begun by anthropologist Gregory Bateson that soon involved the work of hypnotherapist Milton H. Erickson and psychiatrist Don Jackson. John Weakland, Jay Haley, Paul Watzlawick and Richard Fisch began to publish the ideas that resulted from the early research findings and in doing so developed a particular set of assumptions about the formation and resolution of human problems that differed significantly from traditional treatment models of the time. Further refinements through the clinical application of these methods resulted in a model of treatment that was a pioneer of the brief psychotherapy movement. It is based on a non-normative and non-pathological way of viewing people with problems; it looks at people in the context of their living situations; it resists the idea of client resistance, it places great emphasis on the use of language; and it seeks to amplify client assets and resources and minimize client liabilities and shortcomings. Brief therapists assume a willingness to be an active change agent for the benefit of their clients. They accept responsibility for creating an atmosphere of respect, patience, and creativity in which clients can find alternative ways to think and behave. They believe they have a set of tasks to perform that will hopefully result in the resolution or, as a minimum, the diminishment of the problem situation for which the client originally sought help. These tasks consist of a combination of ways of thinking and acting that are designed to increase the likelihood that the client will experience relief from a painful problem. One of the main tasks for a brief therapist is to find ways to construe the problems presented by the client so that a solution can be found. Brief therapists inquire into the interactional systemic aspects of a problem, the context or environment in which the problem occurs, the people involved in the problematic situation, and the ways the client has attempted to resolve the problem thus far. Another very important task is to identify and gain access to the persons who are the most interested in and willing to work toward changing the problem situation. The idea here is to spend the bulk of the therapeutic time and effort working with the person who is most invested in the change process. Brief therapists find ways to appeal to this person's values and belief systems so that (s)he will engage in activities and/or alter her/his behavior in ways that are likely to change the problem situation. A third task on which brief therapists concentrate is the establishment of clear, concrete, and doable goals of treatment. They collaborate with the client to determine what the client hopes to gain from treatment and when the client will know she is ready to handle life on his/her own, this assumes an emphasis on the client's present and the possibilities for the client's future rather than his/her past. The fourth task brief therapists focus on is the development of ways of intervening in the way the presenting problem is being handled in the present time. This is based on the central assumption that one of the main goals of psychotherapy is to induce clients to change the way a problem is handled. Such intervening is the result of thoughtful and careful consideration of many factors surrounding the problem situation and involves the use of a variety of skills. A final task for the brief therapist is to find ways to remove him/herself from the client's life in such a way that the client has faith in her/his own ability to function effectively without the therapist. This treatment model offers clinicians an opportunity to work in positive, goal-directed ways that clients find helpful and therapists find challenging and satisfying. It calls upon clinicians to develop keen observation skills, the ability to see things from a variety of perspectives, and an appreciation for the vast resources clients bring with them to therapy. While it is a simple model of treatment, it is by no means an easy one to master. It requires clinicians to step outside their usual frames of reference in the pursuit of creative solutions to difficult human problems. It rewards them with a greater sense of accomplishment and increased client satisfaction. In the ever-changing world of mental health, this is no small achievement.
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