Intermittent Therapy: Is it For You?

Many times people ask me what my counselling approach is.  Sometimes what they mean by this is “Are you going to analyze me like Freud would?”, “What therapies do you use?” or even, “Do you believe that I can be helped?”  This is a broad topic!

Introducing Intermittent Therapy

While I utilize a number of therapies in the counselling I do, cognitive behavioural therapy, solution focused therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy, to name a few, intermittent therapy is often a feature of what I do.  As the title of this article suggests, I’d like to share my thoughts on intermittent therapy, or what I sometimes define as “counselling for the times in your life when you need it, for only as long as you need it.”

The concept of intermittent counselling or psychotherapy is seldom discussed in the academic literature, but a reference to it can be found in one of the oldest social work journals in the US, the Smith College Studies in Social Work, Vol 75, No.2 (2005), defining it as “a sequence of time-limited psychotherapies over an extended period of time” with a focus on quality counselling in the here and now which also includes a vision for the client’s future needs as well.

Counselling is Not An Option for Everyone

Now, not everyone needs counselling intermittently and for some, counselling never appeals as a life option. Some benefit from counselling for a short or sustained period of time and it never comes up again as a need in the future.  Others prefer to see a counsellor once or twice to check-in or seek clarification about a particular issue, and that’s it. This article is intended to speak to those who may benefit from counselling off and on throughout the life cycle, whether that is twice or several times.

Intermittent Therapy Checklist: Is it For You?

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of an intermittent approach to counselling:

  • Counselling is Timely – You enter counselling when you are ready to accept help for a particular life situation. You are striking while the iron is hot.
  • Counselling is Relevant – The counsellor explores with you what has brought you to therapy and takes your opinion seriously.  If you are there, for example, to talk about the end of a relationship, the therapist listens deeply, maintaining a focus on what you consider relevant.  The therapist may raise issues that you hadn’t thought about before, which help to broaden your view of the situation, but will not consistently pursue this if it does not make sense to you or you feel it is wrong.
  • Counselling is Focused – You participate in counselling until the concern(s) that has brought you to therapy has been resolved.  For some people, this may be one or two sessions, and for others, longer-term therapy may be indicated.  At all times, however there needs to be a reason why therapy is continuing: What are your goals? What is the plan for change? Has greater understanding of the situation that brought you to counselling been achieved? Are you working to change unhealthy patterns of behaviour, etc.?
  • Counselling is Healthy – I’ve said it before, both to clients and on my website, that counselling can be a healthy and helpful tool for helping us resolve issues which are causing us distress.  Humans are an interdependent beings – we all need help, whether it’s a listening ear, a vote of confidence, or someone to take away our (literal) garbage and recycling every week. Intermittent therapy respects the fact that as we change throughout the lifecycle it is common to be met with challenges which benefit from skilled help.
  • Counselling has Continuity – It can be a relief to speak to the same counsellor at various points in time – someone who knows you better and better over time.  One of the hardest counselling-related issues people can face is “having to tell my story over and over to different people.” Rehashing can be hard as it can feel like it’s for the other person’s benefit each time. An intermittent-valuing counsellor also leaves the door open for future contact as counselling is viewed as a healthy option for navigating various junctures in life.
  • Counselling is About Connection – Similar to the last point, the connection or ‘therapeutic fit’ between client and therapist is vital.  If it’s not there, why would a client return again?  Connection is also important because when the therapist’s interventions come from that place they are infinitely more meaningful for the client than if a client feels disconnected from the person they’re meeting with.