Short-term psychotherapy lasts 6–12 sessions. It usually focuses on one specific, current challenge.

Short-term psychotherapy is talk therapy that’s done for a limited number of sessions. Often, short-term therapy focuses on one specific concern or challenge that you’re currently facing, such as anger management or negative thinking patterns.

Although long-term psychotherapy has its strengths, short-term therapy might be more suitable for certain situations. For example, if you’re going through a stressful life change or if you’ve been recently bereaved, short-term therapy can help you deal directly with the day-to-day difficulties that you’re facing at the time.

The benefits of short-term therapy can continue long after your sessions end. It can teach you skills that might benefit you in the future, such as stress management techniques.

Widely considered the “gold standard” of psychotherapy, CBT can be used to treat mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. It can also help people deal with stress, adapt to change, or cope after loss or trauma.

CBT helps you identify unhelpful thought and behavior patterns. Once you notice patterns in your thoughts and behaviors that aren’t serving you, CBT can teach you to change your thoughts and actions. It can help you to develop healthy, effective strategies for coping with stress.

There are different subtypes of CBT, each with its own focuses and benefits. For example:

Typically, CBT sessions are very structured. These sessions focus on the here and now and look at specific challenges you’re currently facing. You may be given homework to do in between sessions.

Although CBT can be effective for numerous mental health conditions, it has its limitations.

If you want to explore long-term patterns, subconscious concerns, or delve into your past, a long-term form of therapy (such as psychodynamic therapy) might be more suitable.

Typically used to treat depression, IPT is used to help people manage their relationships more effectively by improving social functioning and communication.

This can help people address social challenges that are caused by, or contribute to, their depression.

IPT may be as effective at treating depression as antidepressant medication, according to several studies. It also can be combined with medication to treat depression more effectively.

IPT can also be used to help with:

IPT is highly structured. You’ll start by reviewing your current mental health difficulties and your relationships and deciding what you’d like to focus on during therapy. Then, with your therapist, you’ll work on identifying solutions to the problems.

You’ll typically learn new social skills that will help you interact with others better. Your therapist will ask you to practice these skills in real life. Your final sessions will likely revolve around reviewing your progress.

IPT deals with your current relationships. If you’d like to use therapy to explore experiences from your childhood, past relationships, or patterns in your relationships, a different kind of therapy — perhaps long-term psychotherapy — might be more suitable.

SFBT and SFT emphasize focusing on solutions instead of obstacles. During this therapy, you won’t dwell extensively on the details of the challenge — you’ll explain it and try to understand it, but you’ll spend most of the therapy focusing on potential solutions.

They’re considered a kind of humanistic therapy, meaning that it holds that you are the expert on your own life. Incorporating elements of positive psychology, this therapy involves collaborating with the therapist to find solutions to your difficulties.

SFBT and SFT can help with:

SFBT is also commonly used in an educational setting for students in high schools and colleges.

You’ll first identify a goal. During sessions, you might discuss how you’ve coped with similar issues in the past. This helps you identify your own strengths and resources.

Your therapist might also give you homework, which can consist of experimenting with different solutions or taking small steps toward addressing the issue.

What’s the difference between short-term and long-term psychotherapy?

While there’s no specific definition of short-term therapy, it’s usually 6–12 sessions. Short-term therapy often focuses on one or two specific concerns, whereas long-term therapy might not have a predefined goal.

In short-term therapy, the sessions are often very structured, while long-term therapy sessions tend to be less structured: you simply discuss and explore what comes up.

Short-term therapy often focuses on current challenges, while long-term therapy might look at current and past concerns to identify ongoing patterns in your behavior and thoughts.

Lastly, long-term therapy tends to deal with unconscious patterns and early childhood experiences, while short-term therapy typically deals with the here and now.

What are the benefits of short-term psychotherapy?

Short-term therapy can be used for a range of scenarios, including:

  • mental health conditions
  • adapting to a new situation
  • coping after loss or trauma
  • relationship challenges
  • high stress situations

Both short-term psychotherapy and long-term psychotherapy can be effective at improving your mental health.

What are the risks of short-term psychotherapy?

Short-term psychotherapy often involves looking at one or two current concerns. Sometimes, new challenges arise during therapy, and you might not get the chance to explore those in time-limited therapy.

Additionally, short-term therapy is generally very structured. If you prefer self-guided sessions where you discuss your thoughts in an unstructured, free-association format, you might prefer long-term therapy.

Short-term therapy seldom deals with past traumas unless they’re directly relevant to the focus of the therapy. It also seldom deals with childhood experiences or the unconscious.

Long-term therapy, especially with a psychodynamic or eclectic element, may be more suitable for this.

Most therapists offer short-term therapy. You can find a short-term psychotherapy provider through one of the following tools:

Nonprofits and community organizations that offer free or discounted psychotherapy often only offer short-term therapy due to cost constraints, making it more accessible than long-term therapy. We have a guide on Mental Health Resources that includes information on accessing lower-cost counseling services.

If you’d prefer long-term psychotherapy but can only access short-term therapy, go for short-term therapy. Short-term therapy can often give you the tools you need to improve your situation. If long-term therapy later becomes available to you, you can always try it.

Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.