Therapy can be a mysterious process. There’s still a lot of stigma attached to the idea of seeking out a licensed therapist to help improve your mental health. This leaves many people confused about its benefits and what the process of therapy entails. One of the questions that often comes up, is how frequently you should see your therapist to reap the benefits.
Different Models of Therapy Require Different Timeframes
This conversation requires discussing some of the different models, or modes, of therapy available. Some forms of therapy encourage more frequent or long-running meetings, like psychoanalysis, which you can continue for years. The most common model (cognitive behavioral therapy) follows a more defined course, encouraging once weekly sessions for 45 minutes, typically for a few months.
Group, family, or couples therapy sessions can often run a bit longer depending on your needs and the availability of a therapist. These sessions can either be in person or completed via video session. The longer sessions of these formats, provides an opportunity for all involved to more fully share their experiences. This extra time often provides for a deeper understanding amongst participants in the group. It also allows a chance to try out new skills, while your therapist can observe and lend support.
What Research Says Regarding Individual Therapy
Most research funded today has the goal of proving the effectiveness of therapy. Therapy has been found to be most productive when incorporated into a client’s lifestyle for approximately 12-16 sessions, most typically delivered in once weekly sessions for 45 minutes each. For most folks that turns out to be about 3-4 months of once weekly sessions. Once you factor in time off, travel plans between both client and therapist, etc. this time commitment ends up being significant. In some cases, clients may prefer shorter or longer courses of treatment depending on their goals and the complexity of their concerns.
In online therapy, check-ins with your therapist twice daily, five days per week, is considered the equivalent of a 45-minute session. Columbia University found that “computerized cognitive behavioral therapy led to greater satisfaction with treatment than traditional therapy” and the Journal of Telemedicine and e-Health found that 80% [of study participants] thought Talkspace was as effective or more effective than traditional therapy. Talk therapy doesn’t necessarily have to follow a particular model and can be a lot more flexible. It all depends on what your needs are as a client, and of course the availability of your therapist.
I’ve worked with clients who started therapy with me in order to address a particular issue, or help them reach a more concrete goal. For those clients, a shorter time frame generally makes a lot of sense, as well as taking a more behaviorally focused approach to our time together. For others, therapy is more about an ongoing exploration of deeper trauma or relational issues that require ongoing support. Neither focus is objectively wrong and one is not better than the other — therapy is well-suited for both. Many times, I find myself drawing from different models of therapy to best meet client needs. Therapy is wonderfully adaptable and can be a flexible process.
Your Process Can Change, Always Check-In
One of the things I appreciate about the therapist-client relationship is that it is a truly collaborative partnership. I’ve worked with clients in a short time frame, but I’ve also worked with clients on one pressing issue initially, and we’ve continued to work together for years because they appreciate having the non-judgmental safe space to address concerns and get feedback.
As a client, giving feedback is so important. Of course, therapists are people too and we sometimes diverge into some other concern that we interpret as more pressing for you. It’s always helpful to check in with your therapist about your progress on the goals you set at the outset of therapy. On many occasions, those check-ins have helped bot the client and me regroup, rededicate ourselves to addressing the primary issue, or making a plan to return to other issues later, if necessary.
Ultimately, the therapeutic process is YOUR process. As you move through it, allow yourself the flexibility that you need, while periodically checking in with yourself to see if you’re getting the benefits that you seek from therapy. You may want to aim for a course of treatment that has been scientifically proven to be most efficient, but you always have the option to switch gears, change frequency, or end therapy when it feels best for you.
The best model of therapy to dive into is the way that works for you.