The Emerging Benefits of Short-Term Therapy
Not everyone needs months of talking to improve their mental health
What if you could get the benefits of ongoing, month- or yearlong therapy in less time — maybe even in just one session?
While there’s no formal definition, “short-term therapy” typically refers to treatments consisting of no more than 12 sessions, explains Ryan Howes, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California. “The idea with longer-term therapies is that it’s a good thing for people to come to revelations on their own through self-exploration and discovery. But some people find it refreshing to have a therapist say, ‘This is what you’re doing, this is why you’re doing that, and here’s how to get out of it.’”
These brief treatments appear to be beneficial for certain people and diagnoses, and most experts say they’re worth a try.
One of the newest and most extreme forms of short-term therapy consists of a single-session intervention (SSI). Jessica Schleider, PhD, director of the Lab for Scalable Mental Health and an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Stony Brook University, studies SSI with teenagers. The participants follow 30- to 45-minute online modules that teach them a new skill or way of thinking, such as increasing hope, boosting independent decision-making skills, or improving perceived control over their emotions
So far, Schleider and her co-authors have found that these web-based sessions delivered in a lab or in high schools help decrease depression and anxiety. What’s more, in a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 2017, Schleider and study co-author John Weisz, PhD, a psychology professor at Harvard, looked at 50 randomized trials of single-session interventions and compared the results of these studies to results of full-length youth psychotherapy.
“The effect [of single-session interventions] on teens’ mental health was not all that different from the effect of 16 sessions,” Schleider says. “This is great because it means we can do something — a well-targeted, brief intervention can have a real impact on their symptoms.”