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Brief interventions

Evidence-based support

Primary care is often the first point of contact for people presenting with mental health or addiction issues.

As a GP or nurse in a busy practice environment, what can you do to help?

Brief interventions can be provided for people with mild to moderate mental health and addiction problems. Te Pou has developed Te Hikuwai: Resources for wellbeing to support the capacity and capability of primary care services to deliver brief and effective interventions to people presenting with early and mild to moderate signs of mental health and/or addiction problems.

This page provides background information about brief interventions and the evidence base to support this approach.

About brief interventions

Brief interventions are suitable for people with mild to moderate levels of problems, whereas people with more severe or complex problems are referred to specialist services (Matua Raki, 2012).

Brief intervention, as discussed here, refers to first responses to people presenting at lower levels of stepped care. This differs from brief therapy which refers to the targeted, higher intensity interventions that can be delivered at higher levels of stepped care.

Using brief interventions in primary care

Brief interventions appropriate for use in primary health care settings commonly include:

  • giving people feedback and raising awareness following screening and identification of mental health and/or addiction issues
  • building positive options for the person, aimed at enhancing wellbeing and resilience
  • assessment of motivation and readiness for change
  • problem-solving, goal setting and/or relapse prevention
  • education for the person (and family and whānau) about the problems/disorders and treatment options
  • advice about addressing lifestyle risk factors, for example, sleep hygiene, relaxation strategies and self-care
  • cognitive behavioural based self-help resources (either guided by a professional or not)
  • behavioural activation techniques
  • active monitoring of symptoms to identify whether more intensive treatment is required
  • short courses of talking therapy.

Evidence base for brief interventions

Evidence shows that brief interventions for anxiety and depression are effective during the emerging stages of people's mental distress. There is also strong evidence to support the use of brief interventions for people with alcohol use problems, and the use of opportunistic screening and referral to treatment for common mental health and addiction issues among adults (SAMHSA, 2011).


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