Cynthia W. Lubow, MS, MFT: There is a great deal of variety in the length of time therapy takes depending on the individual who comes to therapy. The treatment methods the therapist uses, the goals of the person seeking therapy, the symptoms he or she has, and the history of those symptoms will all determine the length of therapy.
Generally, when people have nurturing, protective, wise parents and no trauma throughout childhood, therapy will be short. Usually in this case, people come to therapy for a recent trauma, such as a rape, abortion, mugging, or car accident; a loss such as a death, job loss, or divorce; or a dilemma, like being unhappy in a relationship or job.
In these cases, just talking about the issues, grieving the losses, getting compassionate understanding and wise insight, or trauma treatment like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), can resolve the situation. Depending on how much and how deeply you want to make use of therapy, this can be one session, or six months or more of weekly sessions.
When people have been repeatedly traumatized, abused, neglected, or shamed as a child, without loving adults to help them handle these traumas, they generally need several years in therapy, or even more. When people get hurt in relationships that are supposed to be close and trustworthy (like parents), it takes another committed and consistently trustworthy person to help repair those wounds over time. When people have been badly hurt, especially when they were children, repair is generally a slower process of developing trust in the therapist and transforming childhood ways of coping into more effective ways.
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC: Length of therapy can vary depending on your specific needs and circumstances. Some people come to therapy with a specific issue or concern, and brief solution-focused therapy may be the right fit. Often, that can last six to eight sessions. Some people come to therapy to explore issues that seem to run a little deeper. They might engage in therapy for several months or even years.
In my practice, generally I start seeing people once a week for about a month. After that, some continue coming in weekly, while others move to every other week and some eventually transition to once a month. I’ve had people who transition out of therapy and come back in once or twice a year for a “tune up” or for a series of sessions to address a specific concern that has come up.
When you choose a therapist, you can talk about your needs and expectations. There are some insurance plans that only cover a set number of sessions in a given year. If you are planning on using insurance to cover the costs of sessions, you will want to know what those limitations are. You can also contract with your therapist for a specific number of sessions and then evaluate where you are and if you want to continue working together.
One thing to keep in mind is that the single greatest predictor of positive therapeutic outcomes is the quality of the relationship and rapport you develop with your therapist. Building trust and developing that relationship can take time. If you are looking to address needs that run deeper than finding an immediate solution to a specific concern, you may want to allow yourself more time.
Ruth Wyatt, MA, LCSW: With therapy, there usually is no set length of treatment. Therapy can last anywhere from one session to several months or even years. It all depends on what you want and need. Some people come to therapy with a very specific problem they need to solve and might find that one or two sessions is sufficient. Other people come to therapy with more complicated issues they are grappling with and may feel they need a few months or more to understand and resolve their issues. Other people come with long-standing problems or difficult feelings and may benefit from longer-term therapy. The length of treatment may also vary depending on the type of therapy in which you are engaging. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy or couples counseling tend to be short to medium term therapies, while psychoanalytically-oriented therapies may involve more medium to longer term work.
Regardless of why you are seeking therapy or the type of therapy you are doing, it is important to remember that, ultimately, it is your decision as to when you stop therapy. If you are unsure about what you need/want by way of length of treatment, you might raise the question with your therapist to get his/her thoughts. It can also be helpful to discuss your goals of therapy with your therapist. Clarifying what you want from therapy can help you figure out if you have met your goals and when you are ready to stop therapy. When I meet with people for the first time, I usually ask them what they are hoping to get out of therapy and/or how their lives would be different if therapy was to help them. Then, as our work progresses, I periodically check in with them to see how they feel the work is going and to what extent they feel their goals are being met.
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