Updated: Feb 25
How Long Will I Be in Therapy?
This is a question that many people might ask the first time they meet me! You might worry, “Will I be in therapy forever?” “How long will it take for me to feel better?” and “How much will this all cost when it’s all said and done?!”
Different duration for different models.
Each therapist works from unique models or “schools” of therapy. Some types of therapy, such as Brief Solution Focused or Motivational Interviewing, are intended to be as helpful as possible in 1-4 sessions. These types of therapy typically focus on immediate safety, crisis intervention, and simple problem-solving. More in-depth approaches, as as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Emotionally Focused Therapy generally recommend more sessions - ballpark a minimum of 8. Models that require longer time in treatment touch on issues that are below the surface, aiming to make changes to the way you think, feel, and act - as well as examining any worldviews or “rules for living” that might take some time to fully change. Finally, long-term approaches such as psychoanalysis may recommend clients commit to therapy for months and even years!
The great thing about there being so many different approaches available to therapists and clients, is that you can do your research prior to picking a therapist, and pick one who works within a school of therapy that reflects the time-frame you are willing to commit to.
How big is the issue we’re tackling?
Another reason it is difficult to give a hard-and-fast number of sessions is that different concerns may require more time to discuss and attend to. For example, sometimes work stress can be remedied in a few sessions by making a few simple changes to your self-care habits, however complex issues such as trauma or serious mental-health concerns can take much longer to manage or resolve.
Work the process, and the process will work for you.
Working with a limited amount of insurance coverage, or simply interested in feeling better swiftly, it’s paramount to be “all in” and engage with the process.
My clients know that typically they leave session most weeks with a task - early on these tasks might include tracking and monitoring, later transition into journaling and action-oriented tasks, and even evolving into doing experiments and transnational life changes.
Here’s why: there are 168 hours in a week. 1 of those hours is spent in my office, and the other 167 are spent out in the world. If I break it down by percentage, 0.06% of your time is spent in therapy. If you’re looking to make changes and feel better, it will be helpful for you to “work the process” outside of the therapy office.
Practice makes perfect.
If my clients are only spending 0.06% of their time in my office, we need to make that time count, and one of the ways we do that is through practicing the new skills out learn in therapy in the outside world. Can it sometimes feel a bit goofy and awkward to use your anxiety tool-kit at work? Absolutely. Will you always be able to challenge those distressing thoughts on your own? Maybe not. But just like learning a new instrument or sport, the most surefire way to get the most bang for your therapy time and buck is to engage with, practice, and reflect on the things you learn once you go home!
Melanie, just give us a number for Pete’s sake!
Listen. I know people who have been in therapy for years. I also know people who have been to one session, and felt much better! My simple answer to the question is this: you will be in therapy for as long as you believe you need to be - that’s it! You tell ME when you’re done!
Your therapist’s goal is to say goodbye!
I believe that my clients are the experts in their own lives - if you feel well enough to close the therapeutic process, I’d be inclined to trust your judgement! I think many therapists look forward to the days that we say “goodbye” to a client that is feeling great, and leaving therapy with the tools and solid plans to continue feeling well in the future.
All this being said, there are some scenarios where a therapist might recommend ongoing care - an example of a situation where this recommendation would arise is in situations where there is some identified risk to your safety (i.e., suicidal thoughts, high risk of relapse, adjustments to certain medications).
Some progress is better than no progress.
If this post is scaring your off because being in therapy for a few months was not what you expected - hang in there. The last thought I’d like yo leave you with is that “some progress is better than no progress”. If you have limited time or funding, and don’t feel you can commit to a “full course of treatment” - that’s okay! Us therapists know that life can get in the way. Even if you are only able to see your therapist a few times - let them know what your priorities are for that time so that we can be sure your needs are met. Just looking for a few coping skills? A safety plan? A couple recommended readings? Tell us! Our job is to meet you where you’re at, and be helpful within the parameters that feel comfortable to you.
So, if you think you’d like to give therapy a try - for whatever duration feels right to you - use our online booking tool to book your intake today, or give Melanie a call at
(226) 253-0861 to learn more.