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time-limited dynamic therapy?

Although I am an advocate of open ended therapy, sometimes people might find a time-limited approach more suitable.

A time-limited approach is particularly useful when working with couples, or with individuals with repetitive patterns of relating to others.

A brief history of time limited therapy

The use of a time limit dates back to the very beginning of psychotherapy as a formal practice, namely the first half of the 20th century. In his treatment of the ‘Wolf Man’, Freud (1918) decided to limit the length of the therapy, after having worked with the patient for an extensive period of time because he felt the progress had been hampered.

Psychoanalysts such as Sàndor Ferenczi and Otto Rank also attempted to counter this trend of exceedingly long therapies by experimenting with more active techniques (Hoyt, 2005; Safran, 2002a). In the wake of this evolution, several new and more active ‘brief’ therapies saw the light of day, including some with a time limited feature.

Why is the time limit in time-limited psychotherapy so important?

You and your therapist will work towards the end date of therapy so that you can manage the pace of your therapy and build towards the ending throughout your sessions. By agreeing on an end date, your therapist is telling you that they are confident you will be ready to leave at that time, and you can work towards this date with that in mind.

Working towards a planned ending where there is space for reflection and preparation is therefore considered a key part of the therapeutic process in time-limited psychodynamic therapy. This can be a profound way for you to gain new insights about how you can manage life’s many transitions ahead.

Who can benefit from time-limited therapy?

Usually, Time-limited dynamic psychotherapy is a time-sensitive approach useful for individuals with chronic, pervasive, dysfunctional ways of relating to others.

This type of work is very focused, and requires the therapist to provide corrective, interpersonal experiences in the therapy relationship.

The goal is not symptom reduction per se, but rather to change ingrained relational patterns.

Unlike open-ended therapy, you will agree to work on a focus to work on with your therapist. That could be a feeling that troubles you, such as anger or feeling hopeless, or a situation you find troubling at present, such as a relationship issue or troubles at work.

Your therapist may be more active in guiding the session than in open-ended therapy so that you can give your full attention to the focus that brought you to therapy. For this reason, time-limited therapy is particularly suitable if you have one specific problem or issue that you would like to work on, and you are motivated to make a change in a short period of time.

What are the differences between open-ended and time-limited therapy?

Psychodynamic therapy aims to help you uncover new capacities and deep knowledge about yourself, rather than focussing on symptom relief. Due to the depth of the approach, it is often entered in to on an open-ended and medium-to-long-term basis, so that you have the time you need to make lasting change across many elements of your life.

The time-limited psychodynamic approach can help you to make lasting change to something that has long troubled you within a short time - the key difference compared to long-term therapy is the amount you will be able to cover.

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