Short-term therapy, also called “brief therapy” or “time-limited therapy”, can be very effective for certain issues (read about what short-term therapy is, what the different kinds are, and how it works in our adjoining piece, “What is Brief Therapy?”).
But how can you tell if short-term therapy is enough for you, or if you should commit to something longer? Try asking yourself the questions below.
Long or short-term therapy – 7 Questions to Ask Yourself
1. What are my objectives for therapy?
If you only have one issue you want to exclusively focus on, a short-term therapy might be best. If you’d like to understand yourself, and how your past has informed your present day patterns, have several issues you’d like to approach, or just aren’t sure what you will discover? Long-term therapy might be called for.
2. How sure am I about trying therapy?
If you are really worried whether therapy is for you, trying a shorter term therapy might be helpful to give you an idea of the process. It’s better than not seeking any support at all. If after short-term therapy you still feel the need for support, you can then continue into something longer (or do another round of short-term therapy, also always an option).
3. How much work do I want to do in-between sessions?
Some forms of short-term therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) have a homework component, and you have to be willing to commit to doing these assignments for the therapy to be effective. If you really want to just have your appointments and not have to do anything in-between, you might want to consider a longer approach.
If you only have several months and then, say, are travelling abroad or moving countries, short-term therapy might make more sense for now. (That said, many long-term therapists nowadays can continue working with you via Skype counselling no matter where you are located).
5. What can I afford at this time?
If you don’t have much of a budget or lack insurance, but you are struggling with issues you need support on, short-term therapy is better than no help at all (or consider how to find longer term therapy that is cost effective).
6. How long have I had the issues I am struggling with?
There are some issues that might benefit more from a longer term commitment, such as abuse, attachment issues, or addictions. That said, it’s not that you could not see benefits from short-term therapy if you preferred a short modality at this time. Cognitive behavioural therapy, for example, can offer useful tools for people with addictions or who have had abusive pasts.
7. Are my issues an integrated part of my personality?
If the problem you have is a deeply ingrained part of your personality it’s more likely that long-term therapy is for you. For example, if for your entire life you have found sustaining a relationship difficult and tend to jump from one romance to the next, or if you have always suffered anxiety around social interaction, such things might be indicative of core behavioural patterns that require consistent and steady work. They might also be a sign you are suffering from a personality disorder such a borderline personality disorder (BPD) , for which long-term therapy is shown to be more effective.
Remember that you are in charge when it comes to your therapy. You are not ‘trapped’. If you suspect long-term therapy is a better fit for you, keep in mind that you don’t have to stay if the modality or the therapist is just not for you. You can change your mind (although be sure you aren’t just sabotaging your success – read our article on how to know if it’s time to quit therapy first).
If you really struggle with the idea of long-term commitment, remember again that some support is better than no support at all. Do consider a round of short-term therapy.
Remember that therapy is a process, and processes tend to be surprising. So keep your mind open. You might find that after short-term therapy you discover new things about yourself that makes you happy to then try another form of longer term therapy, or perhaps another round of short-term therapy. Or you might find that one round of short-term therapy was just what you needed to get yourself back on track.
Is there something about short-term vs long-term therapy we’ve forgotten? Remind us below.