Short-term treatments are a relatively recent development in the field of mental health. They come in many forms and with their own benefits and drawbacks, providing patients with various methods to approach and manage their condition. So, what are some of the short-term mental health treatment options that have been proven to work? Read on to find out.
Short-term mental health treatment, or therapy, is usually defined as a relatively brief treatment intended to last between 10-20 sessions. Short-term treatment tends to focus on setting and achieving attainable goals within its limited time frame.
Rather than expand on the deep-rooted, psychodynamic causes behind the patient’s present-day afflictions, short-term therapy sets its sights on the present-day changes, helping the patient relinquish adverse interpersonal patterns or harmful behaviors, and instead adopt more beneficial ones. It should also be mentioned that short-term therapy does not tend to produce stable effects with mental health disorders with recurring symptoms (such as depression), or severe psychopathologies (such as schizophrenia).
All this is not to say there is no room for in-depth contemplation or acknowledging formative past events. Only that for the most part, short-term therapy is focused on the present, and on specific objectives that can be addressed over the span of several months, by acknowledging the patient’s current strengths and resources.
Short-term therapy began gaining recognition in the 1950s, with the rise of behavioral psychology and family therapy, two branches of psychotherapy that offered a more direct approach than psychodynamics, which gave greater emphasis to “being” experiencing one’s emotional landscape (“being”), rather than acting proactively seeking to enact change (“doing”).
It gained even greater popularity during the 1980s, when studies began to report on the benefits of short-term therapy, in addition to noting that most patients experienced an improvement in their well-being within the first six months of treatment.
In addition to its proven mental health benefits, short-term therapy has become much more in demand due to its efficiency. As the need for mental healthcare is made clearer, a large number of insurance companies offer plans that cover mental health needs, in an effort to draw in more clients. Aiming to offer the best cost-efficient options available, many insurance companies have turned toward short-term therapy that has been empirically proven to offer patients symptom relief.
Several types of short-term therapy have been shown to be effective when treating different mental health issues:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a goal-focused form of therapy, with standard CBT protocols spanning 12-16 sessions, or around three-to-four months. Shown to be particularly effective with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), CBT aims to better understand and acknowledge the patient’s present-day symptoms.
A typical CBT protocol begins by having the patient explain why they have decided to seek out treatment, before delving into the thoughts, feelings, physical responses, and behaviors they have associated with their condition. After that, the patient is asked to rank the different situations or objects they find triggering. They then begin a process of exposure to these stimuli within the context of therapy.
Over time, patient and therapist face the patient’s most unsettling triggers, as the patient relies on the therapist’s support to withstand the at times overwhelmingly unpleasant sensations they can experience during their exposure to different triggers.
Attempting to combine the exploratory nature of psychodynamics and the acute, and even unbearable pain individuals might face due to their mental health challenges, short-term psychodynamic therapy aims to take a deepdive into two central aspects of the patient’s life: defenses and relationships.
As the patient describes their routine patterns of defense in reaction to everyday stressors, the therapist engages with them to better understand which defenses still work for them, and which prevent them from fully experiencing their own emotions and facing their deepest fears. Short-term psychodynamics also takes a look at the current relationships in the patient’s life, and how they utilize their relationships to repeat, or avoid threatening situations.
Cases of emotional phobias, where the patient is flooded with anxiety over the thought of facing a particular emotion, are found to respond well to short-term psychotherapy. The treatment is typically set to last 20-30 sessions, or six-to-eight months long.
Another form of therapy to focus on the present, gestalt theory focuses on the uniqueness of each individual’s experience of the world. Gestalt psychology aims to take the fragmented pieces of the patient’s self, and weave them together: in this way, the patient will hopefully be able to view their life as a continuous process, accompanied by its own, unique logic that helps them make sense of the situations they go through.
A great deal of emphasis in gestalt therapy is placed on creating a feeling of security for the patients within the therapeutic setting. The bond of trust between patient and therapist is seen as the fundamental building block in the treatment’s main goals—helping the patient become better attuned and self-aware of what they are feeling at a given moment, processing in real-time the pain that may arise in them and recognize any incongruencies between their verbal text and nonverbal cues. Together, all these segments are taught to communicate with one another, as a complex tapestry of the patient’s inner world begins to take shape.
As with CBT, gestalt theory emphasizes replacing maladaptive reactions to stressful and triggering situations with more adaptive and moderating ones. It also does not do away with the past, but rather consistently looks to understand how previous interactions and experiences have molded the patient’s present life.
When it comes to treatment length, gestalt therapy tailors itself to each patient’s individual needs. As such, it can last anywhere from a few months to two years, and from weekly to bi-monthly sessions. Common issues treated by gestalt therapy are anxiety-based disorders and difficulties with one’s relationships.