Does Short-Term Counseling Really Work?

Does Short-Term Counseling Really Work?

As Twitter celebrates chatting with your therapist, mental health discussions are losing their workplace taboo, too. Yet many people remain reluctant to seek out counseling.

That’s a problem for companies. When employees go it alone, mental health struggles show up in absenteeism and lower productivity. As an HR professional, you might be left wondering: how can counseling help employees cope? Short-term counseling solutions are one answer, with none of the intimidation factor—or the cost—of traditional therapy.

Let’s dig into how short-term therapy resources can boost employee wellness.

What is short-term counseling?

Short-term counseling is sometimes called brief counseling. It’s usually defined as a period of therapy spanning 12 sessions or less.

Here’s how short-term counseling and long-term therapy are different:

    • Short-term counseling isn’t a shorter version of traditional models like cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s a different kind of counseling focused on an outcome and an endpoint.
    • Long-term therapy models seek to understand a person’s full history before getting to the solution. Short-term counseling is rooted in the pressures of the here-and-now.
    • Long-term therapy is focused on a problem’s cause. Short-term counseling focuses on current problems and their solutions.
    • In both long-term therapy and short-term counseling, mental health professionals build custom treatment plans. But in short-term therapy, they quickly emphasize building coping skills and solutions.

What problems can short-term counseling solve?

Short-term counseling addresses problems like depression, anxiety, grief, stress, relationship issues and substance abuse. It’s especially intriguing as we learn more about the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace. Mental stress from legal problems, a job transition or financial concerns can also lessen with short-term therapy.

Let’s say an employee is struggling with grief after the death of a parent. They don’t feel comfortable talking to coworkers and they’re unsure how to reach out for help.

When employees are struggling with mental and emotional stress, they’re more likely to miss work and be less productive. One report estimates that depression and anxiety add up to a loss of $1 trillion in productivity per year. These factors cost the company money, but they also impact workplace dynamics.

This employee’s coworkers might notice they’re distracted, irritable, and accomplishing less of their share of the work. Short-term counseling could help this employee heal, with positive benefits at work and at home.

The benefits of short-term counseling

Most of us think of “seeing a therapist” as an endless journey. Short-term counseling is a cheaper option, but it may also work better than long-term therapy.

For one thing, more counseling doesn’t equal more results. In one 2006 study, participants showed reliable and clinically-significant improvement of 88% after just one session. The rate of improvement lowered to 62% after 12 sessions. People tend to stop going to therapy, the researchers guessed, after they achieve “good enough” results.

These positive changes seem to show up in the workplace, too. In a study of one short-term counseling program, participants reported improvements in absenteeism, presenteeism and alcohol use after just 30 days. In the same program, 69.4% went from low or moderate productivity to high productivity during that period.

A few more reasons employees might prefer short-term counseling:

    • Empowerment: short-term counseling focuses on an individual’s ability to solve problems. Patients set goals and stay motivated by real progress. That comes in handy, since we know some people will simply stop going when they get the results they want.
    • Accessibility: a decade-long standing date with your counselor sounds pretty daunting. A few months of therapy is a more accessible solution for busy professionals who just want to prepare for a move, get over a breakup, or deal with performance anxiety.
    • Cost: twelve sessions will always be cheaper than 25. But this savings isn’t just about big insurance providers saving a buck. It’s passed on to employees, as well. A short-term counseling plan allows individuals to plan for fewer copayments and pursue financial wellness.

Short-term counseling’s limitations

Of course, short-term counseling won’t always be the best solution.

Long-term therapy seems to be more effective for severe psychiatric disorders. Complex mental disorders or personality disorders may require a few years of therapy instead of a few short counseling sessions. The same is true with any kind of trauma or abuse.

Some mental health professionals argue that short-term counseling saves insurance providers money at the expense of results. Research supports the short-term counseling model, but it’s important to seek out licensed therapists who can help clients decide what’s best for them.

Boost employee wellness with short-term counseling

Short-term counseling can provide coping skills for some of life’s universal challenges, from grief and relationship stress to depression and anxiety. Since it’s rooted in solutions, it helps employees get out the door and back to their lives faster than long-term therapy, all at a lower cost.

This type of counseling benefits the workplace, too. The same stressors that drive employees to seek therapy can chip away at employee productivity. When you address mental and emotional health with a short-term therapy resource, you’ll boost employee wellness and workplace culture, too.

How can you easily introduce a short-term counseling benefit to your workplace? Short-term counseling is a cornerstone feature of most Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s). Most EAP’s include not only counseling, but legal and financial support to help employees navigate difficult life events. The results are measurable: one study reported a savings of $116 per employee in healthcare-related costs after implementing an EAP.

We recently launched our own EAP product to help employers easily incorporate assistance programs into their 2020 benefits packages.