How long will therapy take?

We often get asked how long therapy takes or how many sessions a person should expect to attend.

This is always a difficult question to answer. There is a broad range as to how many sessions or how long it takes to meet one’s goals. One thing I can say for sure is that we work as fast as we can to provide relief, and we are mindful of your budget. The short answer is, it varies depending on what is bringing you to therapy and numerous other factors, and therefore is very difficult to predict. I also want to be careful in terms of setting any expectations, with the danger being that it may unduly affect a person’s expectations or view of themselves and the work they are here to do. That being said, here are some ideas that may or may not apply to your situation:

Some people come in only for a consultation, and one session will suffice. These are usually consultations about relational issues involving someone else who is not in the room, or diagnostic consultations.

With some disorders, such as panic disorder, 2-6 sessions usually deliver significant relief. Again, depending on what else is going on in the person’s life.

Trauma work tends to take longer, and it is almost impossible to predict a range. It depends on several factors, including: the severity of the trauma, whether there are multiple traumas, the impact it has left on a person, how early in life or how long ago it happened, and whether it is still ongoing.

When it comes to depression, the CBT protocol is set out to 8-12 sessions, but again, everybody responds at a different rate depending on the severity and presence of compounding factors. You may find relief in just a few sessions or need to complete the full set.

With various anxiety disorders, CBT protocol is also predicted to take an average of 8-12 sessions, but a person may find they are done well before or it may take longer.  Again, it depends on the severity and duration of symptoms, as well as other complicating factors such as a stressful environment.

Sometimes people come in for 1 single issue, other times there are several. When there is more than one concern, I usually ask which one you would like to work on first. If panic disorder is present, the standard recommendation is that CBT panic protocol takes place first to provide quickest relief. In other instances, people come in for a specific problem and when they resolve it they decide there is something else they want to work on, we can switch gears and do that too.

When people have met their goals, they often ask what happens next. They may never need therapy again, or they may come in for what we call a booster session. A booster session is not really a special kind of a session, and you schedule it like any other session. “Booster” refers to what we do in the session. For example, they may have worked on anxiety or depression and improved, but when a new stressor comes up, their symptoms may increase again. This can be upsetting to clients, as they might think that it is a relapse or setback, but what it usually indicates is that the new coping skills they have been successfully using with the problems they were working on simply haven’t generalized to new problems. Therefore, rather than viewing it as a setback, it is an opportunity to work from a different perspective and further solidify progress. Once you learn to adapt your new coping skills to new, unforeseen problems that life throws at you, which usually takes only 1-2 sessions, people are good to go.

In conclusion, I am hesitant to set any specific timeline or number of sessions, as I worry that it sets certain expectations for people. If they then happen to not meet these criteria, they can get frustrated and think that there is something wrong with them or the therapy, that they somehow don’t measure up. Rather, I want to emphasize that everyone is different and responds at a different rate and that is normal, just difficult to predict at the outset. 

We typically begin with meeting 1x per week to gain some momentum, and soon taper off to less often. Again, we are very flexible about this schedule and work with what makes sense for your individual needs. Once you’ve achieved your goals or experience sufficient symptom relief, if you ever find that you want to pop in and tackle something that life has thrown at you, whether it’s months or years later, you are always welcome to do so.

I hope this helps,

Ragne