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Three Minute Therapy

Three Minute Therapy’s (TMT) comprehensive approach works best for individuals desiring a scientific, present-focused, and active treatment for coping with life’s difficulties, rather than one which is mystical, historical, and largely passive. TMT works, as shown by research, and it is a form of cognitive behavior therapy, but has its own distinctive features.

Three Minute Therapy differs in many ways from therapies which are more traditional and which have their roots in Freudianism. Some of these differences are that Three Minute Therapy (TMT):

  • Rejects the view that our emotional or behavioral disturbances are caused by childhood traumas.
  • Rejects the view that our mind has a heavily disguised yet extremely powerful “Unconscious” part.
  • Rejects the view that our dreams conceal deep, dark secrets which prove too threatening for us to face candidly.
  • Finds much to agree with in ancient Stoic philosophers like Epictetus, and with Buddhism.
  • Rejects the notion that anger can be healthy.
  • Opposes the cultivation of self-esteem and sees it as a “feel good” trap.
  • Enables you to act as your own therapist, empowering you to identify and solve your current problems and future problems.

Three Minute Therapy is based on a few powerful principles:

  1. You are responsible for your own emotions and actions,
  2. Your harmful emotions and dysfunctional behaviors are the product of your irrational thinking,
  3. You can learn more rational views and, with practice, make them a part of you, and
  4. You’ll experience a deeper acceptance of yourself and greater satisfaction in life by developing a reality-based perspective.

How Does Three Minute Therapy Work?

Three Minute Therapy distinguishes clearly between two very different types of difficulties: practical problems and emotional problems. Your flawed behavior, unfair treatment by others, and undesirable situations, represent practical problems. Regrettably, your human tendency is to upset yourself about these practical problems, thereby unnecessarily creating a second order of problems — emotional suffering. TMT addresses the latter by describing in detail special exercises which enable you to:

1. Take responsibility for your distress. The first lesson in healthy emoting and relating was stated by the Roman philosopher Epictetus more than 2000 years ago, and popularized by Dr. Albert Ellis in the form of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT): only you can upset yourself about events — the events themselves, no matter how undesirable, can never upset you.

Recognize that neither another person, nor an adverse circumstance, can ever disturb you–only you can. No one else can get into your gut and churn it up. Others can cause you physical pain–by hitting you over the head with a baseball bat, for example — or can block your goals. But you create your own emotional suffering, or self-defeating behavioral patterns, about what others do or say.

2. Identify your “musts.” Once you admit that you distort your own emotions and actions, then determine precisely how. The culprit usually lies in one of the three core “musts:”

  • “Must” #1 (a demand on yourself): “I MUST do well and get approval, or else I’m worthless.” This demand causes anxiety, depression, and lack of assertiveness.
  • “Must” #2 (a demand on others): “You MUST treat me reasonably, considerately, and lovingly, or else you’re no good.” This “must” leads to resentment, hostility, and violence.
  • “Must” #3 (a demand on the Universe): “Life MUST be fair, easy, and hassle-free, or else it’s awful.” This thinking is associated with hopelessness, procrastination, and addictions.

Ascertain what you’re demanding of yourself, of your significant others, or of your circumstances. Not until you have discovered the “must” can you then go on effectively to reduce your distress.

3. Dispute your “musts.” The only way you can ever get undisturbed about adversity is by vigorously and persistently challenging one of these three “musts.” Once you’ve bared them, relentlessly confront and question your demands.

Begin by asking yourself: “What’s the evidence for my ‘must?’ ” “How is it true?” “Where’s it etched in stone?” And then by seeing: “There’s no evidence.” “My ‘must’ is entirely false.” “It’s not carved indelibly anywhere.”

Make your view “must”-free, and then your emotions will heal. The book more clearly lays out effective ways to achieve this most important step.

4. Reinforce your preferences. Conclude, therefore:

  • Preference #1: “I strongly PREFER to do well and get approval, but even if I fail, I will accept myself fully.”
  • Preference #2: “I strongly PREFER that you treat me reasonably, kindly, and lovingly, but since I don’t run the universe, and it’s a part of your human nature to err, I, then, cannot control you.”
  • Preference #3: “I strongly PREFER that life be fair, easy, and hassle-free, and it’s very frustrating that it isn’t, but I can bear frustration and still considerably enjoy life.”

Assuming that you take the above suggestions to heart and thereby greatly reduce your anxiety, hostility, depression, and addictions, what remains? Will you exist robot-like, devoid of human feeling and motivation? Hardly! Without your turmoil, you’ll more easily experience love, involvement, and joy. And without your addictions, you’ll be freer to engage in the gratifying experiences of spontaneity, commitment, and self-actualization.

As you can see, Three Minute Therapy: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life will appeal to you if you relish quickly taking control of your own life, rather than remaining dependent upon a therapist for years. By giving you tools for identifying and overcoming the true source of your difficulties, it will prepare you to act in many ways as your own therapist. And by helping you to reinforce realistic, self-beneficial beliefs, it will enable you to eliminate present emotional and behavioral problems, and to avoid future ones.

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Dr. Michael R. Edelstein, a licensed clinical psychologist with over 25 years experience, is in private practice in San Francisco. He is the author of Three Minute Therapy: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, a self-help book for overcoming common emotional and behavioral problems. He was awarded Author of the Year for the book. In his practice, Dr. Edelstein specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and addictions, and is one of the few practitioners of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) in the Bay Area. Dr. Edelstein lectures nationally and internationally, appears on radio and television, and is published in psychological journals. He writes the advice column, “Ask Dr. Mike,” which appears in the San Francisco Intelligencer.

Three Minute Therapy

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Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D.

APA Reference
Edelstein, M. (2018). Three Minute Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.