As psychological needs, wants and capacities vary among individuals, there is no easy answer to this question. In general, however, short-term therapy is typically best-suited to individuals who have very specific goals and needs, such as overcoming a certain phobia, adjusting to a recent career change or giving up unwanted habits such as smoking, overeating, etc. The duration of this treatment tends to be anywhere from six weeks to three months, during which the therapist may be relatively directive, often employing cognitive-behavioral techniques, working with the client to cultivate more conscious, goal-oriented patterns and behaviors.
In contrast, long-term therapies tend to be less structured in approach, and last three months or more. Although specific goals and behaviors are targeted, long-term psychotherapy takes the time to go deeper and understand the origins of unwanted feelings and behaviors. This approach can alleviate acute emotional issues, but long-term therapy is also particularly well-suited to addressing more subtle emotional issues, such as pervasive feelings of dissatisfaction or emptiness, a lack of passion for one’s daily life or stagnation within one’s intimate relationships. Psychodynamic psychotherapy works well within the long-term context, encouraging the patient to explore many aspects of her personality, uprooting self-defeating beliefs and limiting behavioral patterns.
Although it is a good idea to have a basic understanding of short- versus long-term psychotherapy, you need not make this decision yourself. In the first few sessions, the therapist will work with you to better understand your goals and basic personality structure and will suggest a plan of treatment.