A psychotherapist was flooded with hate mail in 2012 when he said people don't need years of therapy to get better, and 7 years later, he still hasn't changed his mind

Jonathan AlpertPsychotherapist and author Jonathan Alpert.
  • Many patients attend therapy for longer than they need, said psychotherapist and author Jonathan Alpert.
  • When therapists let their patients vent about their problems for a long time, it can leave the patient feeling better, but it won’t lead to meaningful changes in behaviour, he said.
  • Instead, he said, therapists should use their time to push their patients to reach their goals.

More and more people are seeking mental health care these days, according to recent news reports – but that doesn’t always mean they’re getting the help they need.

In fact, according to one psychotherapist, some patients actually suffer from too much therapy.

Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist and author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days,” contends that in many cases, the more therapy sessions someone attends, the less likely they are to be effective.

One of the biggest problems with therapy, Alpert told Business Insider, is that many therapists are content to let their patients vent about their problems for entire sessions. Although that can be “cathartic” for the patient, Alpert said, it doesn’t lead to meaningful changes in behaviour.

“All too often, consumers of therapy leave feeling good, but they don’t recognise the changes aren’t lasting,” he told Business Insider.

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Alpert argued against excessive therapy in a 2012 New York Times column that he said prompted “countless hate emails from therapists around the globe.”

In the column, he said many therapists take a passive approach to helping their patients, prodding them to “talk endlessly about how they feel or about childhood memories” instead of offering their opinions, advice, and strategies to help them achieve their goals. The result is therapy that lasts multiple years instead of just a few sessions.

“For many therapy patients, it is satisfying just to have someone listen, and they leave sessions feeling better. But there’s a difference between feeling good and changing your life,” Alpert wrote for The Times. “Feeling accepted and validated by your therapist doesn’t push you to reach your goals. To the contrary, it might even encourage you to stay mired in dysfunction.”

Alpert said a proactive approach to therapy can shave down the number of sessions a patient needs to attend drastically. He said he’s worked with patients who had previously attended years of therapy only to have them face their fears and calm their anxieties in a matter of weeks.

Fearless alpertJonathan Alpert

Although long-term therapy can be necessary to address “severe psychological disorders,” Alpert wrote, the average patient typically doesn’t need years, or even months, with their doctor.

Most people, he said, seek help for “discrete, treatable issues” like unfulfilling jobs and relationships or a fear of change. And those problems don’t need to take dozens of sessions to solve, he said.

“Therapy can – and should – focus on goals and outcomes, and people should be able to graduate from it,” he said.

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