Short-Term vs. Long-Term Counselling

A smiling woman listens to the advice of a consultant psychologist sitting on a sofa in the workshop.

A smiling woman listens to the advice of a consultant psychologist sitting on a sofa in the workshop.

Thomas Goenczi,
Lookout contributor

Therapy has many different avenues

Some find themselves immersed in a years-long investigation into themselves. Others come across obstacles seemingly impossible to overcome and need immediate guidance. Both long-term and short-term counselling support psychological and emotional well-being. However, beyond the obvious, there are distinct differences in how these accomplish your goals. By understanding the differences, you better equip yourself for your therapeutic journey, knowing and choosing what your path is going to provide you with the optimal potential for success.

Both methodologies are therapeutically effective. Let’s distinguish the two by analyzing how they would treat a client living with social anxiety.

Short-term counselling

Short-term counselling is considered anything less than fifteen sessions, often done in close succession to one another.

Common reasons why someone would seek short-term counselling are: for a reduction in symptoms (anxiety, depression, addiction); guidance during a mental illness episode; developing techniques and practices for mental health; and working through interpersonal strife (family, friends, lovers).

Short-term therapy has a precise aim and is most effective with an intense focus. Common modalities under the short-term counselling umbrella are: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, Attachment Theory, and Solution-Based Focus Therapy.

Short-term counselling may focus on reducing and managing anxiety in a social setting through emotional and cognitive techniques. Furthermore, the counsellor and the client would identify maladaptive behaviours, develop positive ones, and reinforce them. Due to the intensity, a counsellor may ask clients to complete work outside of counselling. The short-term approach looks to combat the issue in a formulated manner.

Long-term counselling

Long-term counselling, also known as psychotherapy, is typically over fifteen sessions and usually finds its completion after a year or more; it can sometimes be a lifelong endeavour.

One enters psychotherapy to excavate deeply unconscious psychological material by exploring the whys and hows in one’s life. Long-term counselling examines and processes deep-rooted traumas and how one’s history may have impacted who they are today. Sessions may also have an introspective philosophical hue, exploring one’s spirituality, existence, and how one’s personality contributes to their current place in society.

Long-term counselling is the stripping of one’s layers and uncovering their core. Common long-term modalities are Psychoanalysis, Depth Psychology, Existential Psychotherapy and Psychosynthesis.

Psychotherapy would look to uncover the underpinnings of the client’s social anxiety. There would be an examination of how their history with their intimate and close relationships may have caused their anxiety in social settings. It would look to uncover unconscious behaviours such as avoiding invitations to a social gathering or needing a couple of drinks to loosen inhibitions. Additionally, there might be an exploration of some relational traumas and their emotional processing. The work is arduous and taxing on the soul, as one may realize how related one issue is to another.

There is no right or wrong path on the voyage of seeking good mental health, as there is much overlap between the techniques. Sometimes psychotherapy morphs into short-term counselling when the ‘final piece of the puzzle’ is quickly achieved. Other times, a lengthier experience evolves out of a briefer, more intense experience. Openness to both ultimately sparks the possibility of experiencing your true self.

Thomas Goenczi is an RCN Veteran and MA Clinical Counsellor with Private Practice: Well Then Therapy.

The content is not intended to substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions regarding your condition.

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