While 3-6 months can be a sufficient amount of time for a person to meet their goals in therapy and start to experience a real and noticeable change in their life, many people may want to consider committing 6 months to 1 year. In this article, we shall discuss how long should I be in therapy.
Whether you’ve been in therapy for a long time, or are just starting out, you may be wondering how long you should continue. You may be unsure of how you’ll know when it’s time to stop therapy. You may be hoping that you’ll be able to end therapy soon, or you may be questioning if you’ve been in therapy for too long.
Table of Contents
- 1 How Long Does It Take to See Results in Therapy?
- 2 Therapy Types and Therapy Length
- 3 Mental Health Conditions and Therapy Length
- 4 How Long Should You Stay in Therapy?
How Long Does Therapy Take?
The answer to how long you should be in therapy is a complex one and depends on factors like what kind of therapy you are doing, what mental health conditions you are seeking treatment for, as well as personal preferences. In other words, there’s no one right length of therapy, and it varies quite a bit from one person to another.
Here, we’ll break down what you should know about how long to be in therapy, and how to determine a therapy length that makes sense for you.
How Long Does It Take to See Results in Therapy?
Most of us go into therapy hoping to see results. Basically, regardless of what mental health condition prompted us to seek therapy, our end goal is to feel happier, more emotionally balanced, and better equipped to function and thrive.
Those of us who are dealing with an acute issue—such as an eating disorder, a psychotic episode, an addiction, or a recent loss—may be looking for immediate relief from the worst of our symptoms. Those of us who have lived with a mental health condition for years, such as anxiety or depression, may be looking for more long-term solutions for healing.
Either way, we want to know how soon we should expect to see any change in the state of our mental health. There is good news on this front. Research has found that most people see some results from therapy pretty soon after starting. According to the American Psychological Association:
- About 50% of people will start to feel better after about 15-20 sessions of therapy
- Certain short-term therapy types can produce results in as few as 12-16 sessions
- More complex psychological conditions, and certain personality disorders, may require lengthier treatments (between 12-18 months)
- People with chronic conditions may need longer and more extensive treatment—this may depend on personal preference or recommendation from a therapist or psychiatrist
Seeing results and feeling better means making the commitment to therapy, and sticking with it, however long it takes. Unfortunately, many people end up dropping out of therapy before they see results. For example, one study found that up to 1 in 5 people (20%) drop out of therapy prematurely.
Therapy Types and Therapy Length
How long you should be in therapy may depend on the type of therapy you are in. Different therapy styles have different philosophies, principles, structures, and goals.
Some therapy types are based on short-term structures, so you can expect to be done sooner; others are based on longer, more extensive timetables.
There are several different therapy types that are considered short-term therapy. Here’s what to know about these.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of therapy where you learn to identify the thoughts you are having and become more mindful about how these thoughts are influencing your emotions and behavior. CBT can be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and eating disorders. Most of the time, CBT lasts about 12-20 sessions.
Exposure therapy, or prolonged exposure (PE), is a therapy used to treat PTSD and phobias by gentle exposure to a trigger in a safe, controlled environment. This type of therapy usually takes 3 months or so, or about 8-15 weekly sessions.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
EMDR therapy uses specific eye movements to help people heal from PTSD and trauma. The focus is often on specific memories, and targeting them with the therapy. Typically, EMDR therapy lasts about 6-12 sessions.
Longer Term Therapy
Other therapy types are meant to be used for longer periods of time, with the length largely determined by the therapist and the patient collaboratively. Here’s what to know about longer-term therapies:
Psychoanalytic or Psychodynamic Therapy
These types of therapy are what many people think of as traditional or classical therapy, based on the principles of Sigmund Freud
Psychoanalysis has evolved and become more modernized over the years. Still, it’s considered a longer-term approach, where you dive deep into your past, and your subconscious, and try to understand the root issues that impact your mental health. This type of therapy can last for several years, though there are shorter-term psychodynamic therapies that may last between 12 and 24 sessions.
Humanistic therapy types are empathetic, growth-oriented approach to therapy that is often differentiated to meet each patient’s unique needs. Examples of humanistic therapy include Gestalt therapy, person-centered therapy, and existential therapy. Therapy length is usually open-ended and tailored to your needs, but may run on the lengthier side as compared to more short-term-based therapies.
Mental Health Conditions and Therapy Length
How long you are in therapy will also depend on the type of mental health condition you are seeking treatment for. If you are experiencing an acute mental health episode, without a history of lifelong mental health issues, you may do fine with a shorter-term therapy duration. Once your particular issue is under control, you can stop therapy.
Types of conditions that may respond well to shorter therapy durations may include:
- Eating disorders
- PTSD from specific traumatic events
- Dealing with the fallout from a divorce
- Dealing with work-related stress
- Grieving after loss
- Dealing with life transitions, such as when your kids leave the nest or retirement
If you have been dealing with a mental health condition for a longer duration, you might need longer-term treatment. For example, if anxiety or depression has been part of your life for some time, you might need to be in therapy for several months or longer as you work on managing your symptoms.
Some people will need to be in therapy for most or all of their life, in order to maintain balance and keep their symptoms under control. Studies have found that this is especially true of people who live with chronic mental health conditions or complicated conditions.7 Conditions that fall under those umbrellas may include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Personality disorders
- Psychiatric conditions that have lasted more than one year
How Long Should You Stay in Therapy?
When it comes down to it, the right amount of therapy for any individual person is a very personal decision, based on several different factors. In most cases, you and your therapist will decide as a team that you have met your goals and that it’s time to move on. In most therapy situations, this will be an ongoing discussion between you and your therapist as you move through therapy together.
You Might Want a New Therapist
Sometimes you will want to end therapy with a particular therapist before it has come to a natural conclusion simply because you don’t feel it’s working for you. If your therapist doesn’t make you feel safe or comfortable, if you aren’t seeing progress, or if you think that trying a different type of therapy might help, it’s OK to move on. In most cases, it takes an average of 10 sessions for a person to know if their therapist is a good fit or not.
Many people switch therapists several times before they find one that works for them. The important thing is that you continue to seek care if you are still experiencing mental health challenges.
You Might Attend Therapy for Years
If you are in a situation where therapy is working for you, you may not want to end therapy for quite some time! This is fine, and many people stay in therapy for years (again, for people with complex and enduring mental health conditions, this may be necessary).
If this is the case, it can be helpful to check in with your therapist frequently to discuss the goals of staying in therapy long term, and whether it makes sense to continue this way.
Changing the Frequency of Your Therapy Sessions
If you are feeling better, you may want to consider seeing your therapist less frequently, even if you stay in therapy. For example, many people start therapy on a weekly basis and then may move onto an every-other-week schedule. Eventually, meeting monthly may work best for you.
In summary, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to how long to stay in therapy. Some people feel better after just a few sessions and are ready to move on. Others need more time and may require long-term care based on the seriousness of their mental health condition. Still, others may be cleared to move on, but prefer to have a therapist to check in with as part of their mental health self-care routine. There is no right answer here: the important thing is that you care for your mental health when issues come up and that you stick with your care plan until you are better.
I hope you find this article helpful as well as interesting.