How Long Does Therapy Take?

By Vidur Malik, LMFT

How Long Does Therapy Take?

So, you’ve done the research, found a therapist who’s a great fit, and things seem to be going well so far.

You’ve hit the ground running, but you might find that there’s one more nagging question in the back of your head: How long does therapy take?

This is a great question! It’s also one that can play tricks on your mind as you continue the process of therapy.

As is the case with most therapy-related topics, there really is no right or wrong answer. There are so many factors that can contribute to how long a person spends in therapy – finances, scheduling issues, emotional readiness to process difficult topics – and that makes it difficult to have a one-size-fits-all approach to the length of the work. Here are some factors to consider that can provide clarity:

Management, Not Elimination of Symptoms

It’s important to first acknowledge an important idea: when it comes to mental health, it’s very rare to ever feel fully “cured.” If you’ve dealt with anxiety throughout life, you most likely will never feel completely free of anxiety, no matter how long you spend in therapy.

This means that the goal for mental health issues is being able to manage them, as opposed to never experiencing them anymore. This can help you make an informed decision on when to stop therapy. Do you feel like you can manage the inevitable triggers for the issues (such as depression, anxiety, OCD, or trauma responses) you went to therapy to treat? Can you identify what these triggers are – both as they’re happening in the moment, as well as before and after? What are the healthy coping skills you can continue utilizing after therapy ends to maintain your healing?

Reflecting on these questions can help you get a better idea of how far you’ve come.

Let the Process Play Out

You might begin therapy thinking that you’ll focus on the problems you’re currently having in your marriage, which should take about three months to sort through. Fast forward three months, though, and maybe the therapy has been much more far-reaching than you thought. Maybe you started by focusing on your marriage, but you soon went back in time to reflect on your relationship with your parents and how those relationships are impacting you in the present. You might feel a pull to keep attending sessions past the three-month point so you can keep reflecting on your life and how your past experiences are showing up in your marriage.

Therapy often becomes much more expansive than we think it’ll be. We go in for one complaint, or issue and we find that we end up looking at our entire lives in a different way. If this is your experience – and if the finances and logistics work out – consider loosening the timeline for therapy so that you can continue having the space to process your life without a time crunch.

Bring It Up In Therapy

One of the most powerful aspects of therapy is the opportunity to talk about your experience in therapy as it’s happening. This means that you should always feel comfortable to talk with your therapist about anything that comes up for you in the work – including when to end it.

You and your therapist can come up with specific indicators that help you realize that the time is right to stop therapy. Your therapist might notice that you’ve made great progress – or that things haven’t been changing because the therapeutic fit isn’t right – and initiate the conversation about ending. You might find that you have much more hope for the future than you did before, which provides the indicator you need to know that therapy can come to an end. Ending something as unique and personal as therapy will look different for everyone, which makes it all the more important to process it with your therapist so you can wrap things up in the way that feels right for you.

Therapy can be an incredibly dynamic experience, and that can make it tough to have a clear idea of how long it will take. Listen to what your body and mind tell you about your experience in therapy and talk to your therapist regularly about your experience. By practicing these habits, you’ll get a clearer idea of when the time is right to stop. And remember, you can always start again in the future if necessary.

We welcome you to schedule a free, initial consultation with Mindful Practices to see if we can be part of your healing journey!

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