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About 2 decades ago, I watched a documentary on the making of the album The Unforgettable Fire by U2. At the helm of the mixing desk, producer Brian Eno uttered the following words to the team: 

Brevity is the essence of wit. [1]

Ever before I started being conscientious with my note-taking, those words stayed in my memory bank (For more on the value of capturing ideas, retrieving and synthesising them, see the Deep Learner course).

One of the taken for granted domain that clinicians can strive to improve is brevity. 

Brevity = Clarity + Concise [2]

Brevity is not only about being concise and brief, it’s first being clear, and then being concise.

In fact, the equation is better expressed as 

Clarity –> Concise –> Brevity


Many of us stumble on our own words, trying to explain a formulation, express an idea or even make an emphatic conjecture. 

We can benefit from not diluting our questions, reflections or feedback by learning not only to say less, but to think clearly and give voice to them in a manner that promotes not only clarity for the other person, but also to touch, move and inspire. 

This is important because brevity creates impact.

Supervisors as Editors

Supervisors play a vital role in helping therapists in brevity.

To be clear, I do not mean to speak flawlessly without erms, an uhs. what I mean by brevity is toable to get to the heart of the intention and giving it voice. 

In other words, supervisors can help with the pursuit of brevity by helping therapists sharpen clarity and create conciseness. And to this, we need to listen to the recordings of a session. We need to directly listen to the interaction and exchange within the conversation. Otherwise, any talk about the session is just abstractions that might be removed from the emotionally charged endeavor in therapy…and we might just default into explainoholism (for more about this, see this blogpost). 

Here’s what I wrote in The First Kiss book on the role of a coach: 

Probably the most under-appreciated position in the film industry is the film editor. In Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism, he points out that the two Oscar awards for “Best Picture” and “Best Film Editing” are highly correlated: “Since 1981 not a single film has won Best Picture without at least being nominated for Film Editing. In fact, in about two-thirds of the cases the movie nominated for Film Editing has gone on to win Best Picture.” What is the implication for coaching in psychotherapy? Look for guidance on what to subtract from, not add …


Brevity takes time and effort [3]; it rarely happens by default.

Brevity is praxis. This may be an area that you can take into deliberate practice. Brevity requires clarity of thought shaped into form through the conversational art of therapy.

Brevity is to be considerate of the other person. 

p/s: Enrollment’s open for the 10th cohort of the Reigniting Clinical Supervision (RCS) course. We begin this journey with clinical supervisors from all over the world on the 12th of April 2021.

Footnotes:

[1] I later learned that Eno was paraphrasing Shakespeare “Brevity is the soul of wit.” I knew nothing of Shakespeare’s work. I was asked to drop Literature midway in secondary school because I was in a slower stream (5 yrs instead of 4), and the teachers were convinced that it would pull down my grades, even though it was one subject I loved. Bummer. 
[2] Listen to this podcast interview with Joseph McCormack, author of Brief. .
[3] For instance, this 2-min article took approximately 2hrs to write and re-write.
Photo by davide ragusa

2 Responses

  1. Carol says:

    I have become increasingly aware that I talk more when I am tired or less comfortable in sessions. Always a warning for me to take 5 and slow down – more I talk less I hear and less person understands. Something I know but have to keep working on – deliberately!

    • Ester says:

      I hear you Carol! I have noticed similar issues in my own practice. I’m working on being more mindful and deliberate in sessions in order to address that. Who knew slowing down could take so much effort!?

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