So How Long Does Therapy Actually Take?
This is a question that most people are curious about. Some people ask me right away when they call to make an appointment. Others may just quietly wonder, “How long will I have to come see this person before I start to feel better?”
The answer may not be that satisfying...
It really depends!
-It depends on how you view therapy. Why are you coming to therapy? What do you hope to get from therapy? Do you see this as something that is long-term or a short-term solution to solving problems? The answers to all of these questions will affect how long you feel therapy feels useful to you. Some people take a “get in, get fixed, get out” approach to therapy. They would like to work on their issues and then complete therapy once they’ve made progress. Others see therapy as a longstanding relationship that supports them through life’s changes and stressors.
-It depends on why you’re coming in. Are you just looking for a place to think through some things and make some life changes? Do you have significant symptoms that are causing major life distress? Have your symptoms been going on for some time or are they a recent change for you? Some people who come in for therapy don’t meet criteria for a mental health diagnosis and simply would like to use the space to process things in their life. When this is the case, there is more flexibility in determining length of treatment – it can be decided between you and your therapist. If you are coming in for a more significant diagnosis, often your symptoms will impact the course of treatment.
-It depends on what type of therapist you see. Some therapists believe in a longer-term approach to therapy. They may be more interested in developing a secure, supportive relationship with you that lasts over time. They may also be looking at longstanding patterns in your life and early childhood experiences. Other therapists tend to be more symptom-oriented. They judge treatment progress through symptom reduction and as your symptoms decrease, so does the time you need to spend in therapy. Most therapists tend to adjust their approaches somewhat to what the client needs.
Ultimately, how long you are in therapy is up to you. You are the consumer of therapy. If you feel you are done, you can end therapy at any time. I would encourage you, however, to discuss it with your therapist to make a plan and listen to your therapist’s thoughts and inputs.
So how do I answer this question to new clients? Well, after I explain that “it depends,” I try to give a more concrete answer. I ask that new clients come every week or every other week (depending on severity and need) when they first start out in therapy. As you begin to reach your goals and feel ready, we can decrease frequency of sessions. Typically, around six months, we will have a conversation about our progress. Some clients are ready to finish at or before six months. Others either need longer or choose to stay longer to work on new goals. On average, I would say most of my clients stay with me for around 6-12 months.