The Science Behind How Long Therapy Takes

Published on: 20 Mar 2019
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Finding a therapist was one of the best decisions of my life.

At the time, I had been struggling with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (although I didn’t know that’s what I was experiencing), an eating disorder (I didn’t want to admit), and high anxiety levels (so high that my relationship and performance at work were taking a nosedive). I felt like my life was falling apart and I didn’t know what to do.

How Do I Know When To Find A Therapist?

I made every excuse to avoid finding a therapist. I don’t have enough time. Therapy costs too much. I can handle this on my own. It’s too hard to find someone. But at the end of the day, I knew getting help from a professional was the only way I was going to feel better and I needed to make it work.

Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, and Virginia-based licensed Talkspace therapist, shared that clients who are ready to succeed in therapy usually show the following signs:

  • Tired of a situation
  • Tired of the negative emotions affecting them
  • Desire to be seen as soon as possible
  • Follow up with scheduling subsequent sessions
  • Attend sessions on a regular basis
  • Arrive on time and are eager to participate
  • Receptive to suggestions from the therapist

What Is The Time Commitment?

Usually therapists meet with clients weekly or once every two weeks. However, there is no one-size-fits all approach as it depends on your unique needs and goals. Some forms of therapy require daily sessions!

“I have clients that I have seen for years and are on a once a month maintenance plan and others that require once a week appointments,” Catchings said. “Similarities in clients that I see for longer periods of time are severe depression or anxiety or dependency issues.”

How Will I Know If I’m Getting Better?

I constantly asked my therapist this question when we first started working together. I wanted to make sure it was “worth it.” I wanted to see results ASAP and move on with my newly acquired “happy life.” Wasn’t that what I was paying her for?

I quickly realized it wasn’t that simple. Instead of giving me a straight answer, my therapist taught me how to check-in with my body and mind, to notice for myself how I felt about a certain thought, feeling, or situation. A big part of my healing has been learning about the tremendous wisdom of our bodies and feeling empowered to voice my opinions instead of always looking for answers outside of myself.

“Every session is a good opportunity to empower a client,” Catchings said. “Utilizing the correct techniques and therapeutic tools can be very beneficial to help [clients] see that it is their responsibility to do the work and be open to change.” Catchings added, “As their therapist, I walk next to them and they guide me, but at the end they always have the power to make the needed change.”

How do you know therapy is working?

You will know that therapy is working for you when you notice a change in your state of mind. You may realize that you’re starting to change your negative behaviors instead of just voicing your frustrations. It might be that you start to navigate through your thoughts constructively or feel good about applying a suggestion that your therapist gave you. Your progress can also become clear to you by way of being visible to a friend or someone close to you. It might also be that you feel good about progressing towards the goals you set to yourself when starting therapy. There are many signs to let you know that therapy is working for you, you should monitor your progress by checking in with yourself and your therapist.

When Will I Be “Done” With Therapy?

The amount of time you spend in therapy is deeply personal and depends on your individual needs, goals, and resources. The number of recommended sessions varies by condition and treatment type, however, the majority of psychotherapy clients report feeling better after 3 months; those with depression and anxiety experience significant improvement after short and longer time frames, 1-2 months & 3-4.

Conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder typically take around 15-20 sessions for 50% of patients to feel improvement. It’s been found that those treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy report feeling better after around 10-20 sessions. “I have had many successful stories with clients who had situational issues that only needed brief therapy services,” said Catchings.

“However, it is important to mention that therapy is not only a way to solve a problem, but also a way of living,” shared Catchings. “In the same way that we go to the gym and exercise or tone our body, therapy is like exercise for our mind, heart, and soul.”

Over the years, I’ve realized therapy isn’t just about “fixing” one-off issues for me. Rather, it’s about regularly prioritizing my mental health so that I can show up as my best self no matter where life takes me.

With an insatiable thirst for personal growth and commitment to living a happy life, I am grateful to have my therapist by my side as a skilled and trusted mentor to help me embrace every step of this wild and beautiful adventure called life.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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