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Many people contemplating starting therapy may be wondering how long it takes to work. This is a reasonable question to ask as you prepare to invest in your mental health. You may be wondering how much of your time you will need to commit and there are also financial considerations. 

Although the average person spends about twelve sessions in therapy, it really isn’t one-size-fits-all. We all have different needs, goals and unique characteristics that make therapy look different for each person. The amount of time spent in therapy is dependent on factors such as the treatment method being used, the condition being treated and the patient’s personal history.

Some people begin therapy with specific goals in mind and others are just looking to make general improvements to their mental health. For this reason, people may either attend therapy for a definite period of time, or may go to therapy on a regular schedule for an indefinite period of time. Because the therapy journey is so different for everyone, it’s hard to pinpoint a definite timeframe for treatment. Here are a few things to consider when trying to estimate how long therapy may take. 

There’s No “Finish Line” with Therapy

Think about your general practitioner or another medical professionally you see regularly. How often you visit them depends on your needs and your health situation. For example, if you’re actively treating a current illness, you may be making regular, frequent visits. When you’re not experiencing an illness, you may go in once a year for a checkup. 

It’s the same with seeing a mental health professional. There’s no real “finish line” when it comes to mental health. Many people develop long term relationships with mental health professionals and see them as needed throughout the course of their lives. Others attend therapy for a set number of sessions that was pre-determined by the clinician. 

Treatment Time Depends on Many Factors

Treatment time is dependent on several factors, including the condition being treated, the kind of treatment being used and the patient’s individual history. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective short-term form of psychotherapy that is usually completed in about twelve weekly sessions. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can last anywhere from three to twelve sessions, depending on the type of trauma being treated. 

Treatment time can also depend on the condition being treated. For example, treating Borderline Personality Disorder with psychotherapy can take about six months, which is the average time taken to complete a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy course. Treating a mental health disorder with therapy doesn’t mean that the condition will go away. It just means that you’ll be in a better position to manage and minimize the symptoms after you leave the clinician’s office. You can use techniques and skills learned in therapy throughout the rest of your life.

The biggest determining factor is YOU. You get to choose how long you continue going to therapy based on your needs. Some people have been seeing a therapist one per week or every other week for years, even if they are not experiencing any serious mental health issues. Some people begin seeing a therapist once per week and gradually decrease the frequency to biweekly, then once per month, then a few times per year. 

How to Tell If It’s Working

How can you track your progress to determine if therapy is making positive changes in your life? The easiest way is to ask yourself how you feel. After a few sessions of therapy, many people feel a sense of relief or begin feeling more hopeful about the future. Just knowing that you’ve taken such an important first step can cause a significant improvement in your mood. As you continue going to sessions, you may feel yourself becoming more comfortable discussing topics that were once quite difficult to talk about. 

Although therapy cannot change the external factors that may influence your mental heath (such as your finances, job or relationships), it can equip you with the tools to manage the challenges that arise in your life. If you notice that you’re better able to cope when things go wrong or whole going through a rough patch, it’s a sure sign that you’re making progress in therapy. 

With effective therapy, you’ll also notice your habits and behaviors slowly changing. Maybe you’re able to make healthier choices or you’re stepping away from harmful or unhealthy habits, people or places. You may notice that you’re better able to effectively communicate your needs and set boundaries with the people in your life. Therapy can bring about an improvement in your self esteem and a significant reduction in negative or intrusive thoughts. 

Another way to know that therapy is working is when  you find yourself applying tangible skills learned in therapy when you’re on your own. Maybe you’re using CBT techniques to challenge anxious thoughts before a job interview or using DBT skills to self-soothe during a rough day. By learning skills and techniques in therapy, you’re teaching yourself to be more self-sufficient when your session is over. 

A Commitment to Mental Health

While it’s a valid question to ask, try to pay more attention to making a commitment to your mental health than to checking off a certain number of therapy sessions on your calendar. Listen to yourself and do your best to honor your own needs. If you’re going through a particularly rough period such as a divorce, miscarriage or the death of a loved one, you may need more frequent visits until after you’ve processed the event. As you begin to heal, you may want to talk to your therapist about decreasing the frequency of sessions. 

How Long is Too Long?

When it comes to therapy, quality is more important than quantity. This means that the most important consideration isn’t length of treatment time, but whether you are experiencing improvements in the quality of your mental health. With that said, if you’ve been in therapy for several sessions and you aren’t feeling better, it’s time to tell your therapist. Your therapist can adjust the treatment plan so that it is more effective for you. If you simply aren’t feeling a connection with your therapist, it’s okay to bring this up so that you can switch to a clinician who is a better fit. 

When you’re ready to begin your therapy journey, the clinicians at Flourish Psychology stand ready to help you meet your goals. Take the first step by scheduling your first session

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