Time-Limited Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

by Harley Therapy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Psychodynamic therapy can help you to make fundamental insights about the influence of the past on your present experiences so that you can live your life more freely. In time-limited psychodynamic therapy, you and your therapist will agree to meet together for a set number of sessions. Together you will agree on the focus area for your therapy, and this will remain at the heart of your work together.

What is time-limited psychodynamic psychotherapy?

The psychodynamic approach recognises that your feelings of distress and problems in the present may have origins within your early life experiences. Psychodynamic therapy helps you to understand and recognise the connections between past and present conflicts and feelings. This can help you to discover new ways forward and to improve your relationships with others.

In time-limited psychodynamic therapy, you and your therapist will agree to meet together for a set number of sessions with a focus on a key area or issue that is causing you trouble. Often you will meet for six to twelve sessions.

What can time-limited therapy help with?

Time-limited or brief psychodynamic therapy can be particularly helpful when experiencing problems such as:

  • difficulty managing under pressure
  • relationship problems
  • bullying
  • work issues, such as poor performance
  • traumatic incidents
  • stress
  • anxiety and depression
  • bereavement and loss
  • redundancy
  • life transitions, such as finishing education, moving house, relationship milestones or embarking on a new career path

Advantages of time-limited psychodynamic therapy

  • less uncertainty about how long therapy will last
  • focus on an issue that is important to you and how you feel day-to-day
  • by knowing how much time you have from the beginning, you and your therapist can adapt your pace accordingly
  • a great deal can be covered in a short space of time. According to one research study, 50% of patients are measurably improved after only eight sessions of psychotherapy*.

Ready to take the next step? We have a number of therapists who offer a psychodynamic approach and have been rated with five stars by their clients on harleytherapy.com. See therapists offering time-limited and brief therapy available here:

How is time-limited psychodynamic therapy different from open-ended psychodynamic 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. 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.

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.

In many ways, all psychotherapy concerns how we cope with - and come to terms with - the losses that happen in our lives. Growing up, you may have had many experiences of loss and endings, such as changing schools, leaving home, or losing a loved one. Often, there is not enough time or space to reflect on all of the endings we go through as we experience them and sometimes, endings happen suddenly when we feel unprepared for the loss. This can lead us to avoid endings. For example, we might know someone - if not ourselves - who avoids goodbyes.

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.

How many therapy sessions do you need?

When you start private therapy, you will first meet your therapist for an initial consultation or assessment. This may be over one or more sessions. During this time, you will be able to discuss with your therapist whether the time-limited approach would best suit your needs and you can decide whether you feel comfortable to work with your therapist. If you decide to continue working together, you will come to an agreement about the best focus for your therapy and agree on the number of sessions you will meet for.

If you access time-limited therapy through an organisation like the NHS, there may be a set amount of sessions that are available and your therapist and the organisation should make this clear to you.

How to find a time-limited psychodynamic therapist

A qualified, professional therapist will work with you to examine your thoughts and behaviours and improve how you feel. You will build a relationship based on trust, giving you the confidence to share your feelings and emotions with them. Your counsellor will listen to all that you have to share with empathy and openness.

An experienced therapist or counsellor like those listed on the Harley Therapy platform can help you to manage your symptoms and find your own way forward.

Filter our qualified, professional and vetted therapists by cost, location, availability and approach so you can find and book the best therapist or counsellor for you here. Or find a therapist to help with depression below.


*In an article named ‘The Dose-Effect Relationship in Psychotherapy’, a group of researchers (Howard, Kopta, Krause, & Orlinsky, 1986) systematically attempted to specify the number of therapy sessions required for the majority of patients to show improvement. According to their results, by eight sessions approximately 50% of patients were measurably improved, and approximately 75% were improved by 26 sessions.

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