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What is Brief Structured Recall?

Procedure Manual
Client Event Recall Form
Client One Month Review Questionaire
Therapist Event Recall Form
Therapist One-Month Review Questionaire

Similar to the HAT Form, tape-assisted recall methods, also attempt to access participants’ internal experience of moments in therapy. In such procedures, tapes of therapy sessions, or parts of sessions, are played back for the participant while the researcher assists in eliciting descriptions of the experiences and perceptions of particular conversational events (Elliott, 1986). Through cued recall procedures, people are able to recollect the fleeting impressions and reactions that are normally lost as they integrate them into episodic memory. The covert processes that can be recollected through such procedures include therapist intentions and decision-making processes, as well as client intentions, feelings and immediate reactions (Elliott, 1986). It is this level of detail that makes this such an exciting and potentially valuable method for understanding a variety of aspects of the therapeutic process. Linking these covert processes with observable events (Elliott & Shapiro, 1988), gives researchers a way of linking reported experience to observed action.

In tape-assisted recall, or Interpersonal Process Recall (IPR; Elliott, 1986; Kagan, 1975), playing the session tape back for the client or therapist provides retrieval cues for recall, making it much more powerful than free recall. Carrying out the recall procedure soon after the session capitalizes on the recency effect and optimizes access to the relevant memories. The therapeutic experience is slowed down by allowing participants to stop and replay sections of the interaction. This allows the participants the opportunity to put fleeting, subtle experiences into words. The informant is encouraged, through instructions, to put him/herself back into the moment of the interaction, not to “reevaluate” the moment in question. Distinguishing “here and now” from “there and then” thoughts and reactions is emphasized (Elliott, 1986). Additionally, the process of replaying the moments and “refreshing” the memory allows the participant to reflect on and develop a more accurate and complete representation of within-session experiences.

Brief Structured Recall (BSR; Elliott, 1993; Elliott & Shapiro, 1988) is a particular form of tape assisted recall. BSR is used for event identification and description, and utilizes both qualitative and quantitative collection procedures. Because it focuses on client-identified significant events (via the HAT form), it is more practical than earlier, more exhaustive methods which entail reviewing entire therapy sessions (cf. Elliott, 1984). With BSR, clients do not have to review entire sessions, but rather begin by identifying a significant event and then proceeding directly to this event on the therapy tape. Additionally, BSR can be quite structured, with clients and therapists completing quantitative rating scales on more readily-quantifiable aspects of significant events, in addition to free response descriptions (Elliott & Shapiro, 1988).

There is some variation in terms of the amount of structure and data collection formats used within the BSR method (Elliott, 1993). BSR was developed to provide information specifically for use in Comprehensive Process Analysis (CPA), an intensive form of qualitative data analysis. Thus, the specific types of information sought in most versions of BSR are dictated by what is needed to carry out these later analyses. The simplest format is a semi-structured interview schedule, tapping the three major domains of CPA (context of event, major processes involved, and effect of event on client). The full version of BSR, given here, is highly structured, utilizing rating scales to obtain numerical data on psychometrically evaluated measures of event helpfulness, therapist and client intentions, client feelings, and client reactions (Elliott et al., 1988). The following outline described this fully qualitative form of BSR, which is described in further detail in

A. Event Location: HAT + recording -> find beginning

B. Event Survey:

  1. The most helpful things your therapist said in the event.
  2. The most helpful things you said.
  3. Exactly where, from your point of view, the event ends.
  4. Anything else you noticed or were aware of that you would like to tell me.

C. Client Event Description

  1. Experienced Context (Is this event related to..?):
    • events earlier in your life
    • your basic wants/fears
    • your strengths/weaknesses
    • your current life situation
    • your problems
    • events during past week(s)
    • events in previous sessions
    • your therapist as a person
    • events earlier in this session
  2. Your experience during the event.
  3. The most important parts of the event.
  4. Effects of the event:
    • at the time
    • later in session
    • now (during recall)
    • most important idea/feeling
    • possible changes you expect over the next month as result of event

D. Therapist Event Description

  1. Context (What about .... brought about the event?)
    • client
    • therapist background
    • previous sessions
    • life events
    • current session
  2. Sequence around key responses
    • what you responded to
    • your immediate intention
    • immediate effect on client
  3. Therapist behavior/state (how you came across; what you felt)
  4. Effects on client
    • client shifts during event
    • later in session
    • most important idea/feeling
    • possible changes expected over the next month as result of event

An additional component of full version BSR is the one-month event follow-up, in which client and therapist are each asked to re-evaluate the event, in order to assess delayed effects (see Client One Month Review Questionnaire and Therapist One-Month Review Questionnaire).

Finally, two warnings: First, Brief Structured Recall can be technically-challenging for the researcher and exhausting for the client. Second, tape-assisted recall methods readily lend themselves to data overload, overwhelming researchers with the sheer amount and richness of material. Investigators contemplating tape-assisted recall methods are well-advised to come armed with clear, focused research interests and questions (Kvale, 1996).


Elliott, R. (1984). A discovery-oriented approach to significant events in psychotherapy: Interpersonal Process Recall and Comprehensive Process Analysis. In L. Rice & L. Greenberg (Eds.), Patterns of change (pp. 249-286). New York: Guilford.

Elliott, R. (1986). Interpersonal Process Recall (IPR) as a psychotherapy process research method. In L. Greenberg & W. Pinsof (Eds.), The psychotherapeutic process (pp. 503-527). New York: Guilford.

Elliott, R. (1993). Comprehensive process analysis: Mapping the change process in psychotherapy. Unpublished research manual. (Available from R. Elliott, Department of Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Toledo.)

Elliott, R., Clark, C., Kemeny, V., Wexler, M.M., Mack, C., & Brinkerhoff, J. (June, 1988). Brief Structured Recall of significant therapy events in experiential therapy of depression. Paper presented at meetings of Society for Psychotherapy Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Elliott, R., & Shapiro, D. A. (1988). Brief Structured Recall: A more efficient method for studying significant therapy events. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 61, 141-153.

Kagan, N. (1975). Interpersonal process recall: A method of influencing human interaction. Houston, TX: Educational Psychology Department, University of Houston-University Park.

Kvale, S. (1996). InterViews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

(Adapted from Elliott, R., Slatick, E., & Urman, M. (in press). Qualitative Change Process Research on Psychotherapy: Alternative Strategies. In J. Frommer and D. Rennie (Eds.), The Methodology of Qualitative Psychotherapy Research.



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Last modified: March 20, 2001