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Three Foundations To Begin Effective, Shorter-term Therapy

Therapists who are committed to helping patients with their pasts, presents, and futures are the ones who are also committed to ensuring that therapy lasts for a reasonable amount of time. That time frame may be a month, six months, or even a year or more, but barring a chronic mental illness, personality disorder, or other severe problem, if you are in therapy for several years, the therapist must work with you to ensure that therapy doesn’t continue for longer than absolutely necessary.

Of course, sometimes a person might not be  ready or able to assume intensive responsibility for his or her own life in a shorter time frame. He may not even want to leave therapy, even though otherwise ready. In this case, much of the therapist’s focus should be on helping to motivate a person to become self-sufficient.

In general, your therapist must have the skills necessary to motivate you to participate in every important facet of therapy —including getting ready to leave therapy. It is rarely fair for a therapist to say, “The patient doesn’t want to change; he’s not motivated; there is nothing psychotherapy can do for him.” In fact, a therapist must do his best to motivate reluctant, recalcitrant, and resistant patients, or send them to a therapist who is able to do so.

(Of course, sometimes a patient will be mandated to therapy and may be extremely unmotivated to engage in therapy, to the point of refusal. In that case, I recommend therapists consult with more experienced practitioners for guidance.)

If we remember that an outcome of therapy (and a goal) is to help you live an independent, meaningful, and even joyful life, then preparing to leave therapy is integral to the therapy process. I believe laying the foundation for this future transition starts the moment therapy begins.

Laying the Foundation for More Effective, Shorter-term Therapy

For therapy patients, the foundational first steps of therapy in most cases are:

  1. You learn how to cope with the challenges therapy may present by building coping skills and strategies.
  2. Refining, strengthening, clarifying, and if truly necessary, modifying your foundational beliefs.
  3. Gaining trust in your therapist by developing a relationship with him or her.

So if therapy begins with helping you learn some basic coping skills, exploring yourbelief system, and then, if necessary, digging up and exposing “root problems,” past or present, won’t it take much longer than just plunging in right away?

Yes, but this is what can be called the “longer-shorter path”; that is, proceeding step-by-(logical)-step, while aiming for a more comprehensive solution. In my experience, this path, which at first seems lengthy, is in the end far, far shorter. It will prevent repetition of clinical courses of treatment in the long run.

The prospect of therapy—truly effective therapy—can seem daunting. But I want to emphasize that despite all the hard work psychotherapy entails, it shouldn’t (and doesn’t) have to take years. In fact, today many therapists are against therapy taking a long time in most cases. Most people can make inroads into understanding themselves better and changing their behavior, feelings, and thoughts in a year or less—if their therapist knows how to help them. He must help them learn the requisite coping skills and refine their basic belief system before moving into the realms of exploring the past and, more important, in most cases, the present, as they prepare for the future.

This post was an adaptation of information in Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better and Move On (Without Wasting Time or Money)

Three Foundations To Begin Effective, Shorter-term Therapy

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2019). Three Foundations To Begin Effective, Shorter-term Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Mar 2019
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