FAQ: How long does therapy take?

One question that I often hear from people thinking about starting therapy is - ok, exactly how long is it going to take?

This question may be related to fears that clients are expected to be in therapy “forever”. While for some individuals, long-term ongoing therapy can be extremely helpful, for most individuals, therapy is going to be time-limited.

While it’s hard to predict exactly how long therapy will take for a particular individual, and there is considerable variability in how long it takes based on what you’re coming in with (e.g. we would expect therapy to help someone to stop smoking to take less time than therapy to process childhood trauma), we do have research that suggests how long we can expect it will take to see meaningful change.

In research, clinical trials find that treatments can be effective in as little as 12 sessions. Research also tells us that at around the 24 session mark, progress in therapy tends to level off. Taking these trends together, I usually tell potential clients to set aside at least 3 to 6 months for therapy to be most effective.

There are certain circumstances where I would expect therapy to take longer. For example, treating eating disorders often takes at least a year. Some individuals find it helpful to continue in therapy long-term, assuming this is available financially. Often people in the helping professions themselves, such as therapists, are ongoing consumers of therapy for personal and professional growth.

However, unless you have a particular reason why you want or expect therapy to take longer, I would suggest earmarking at least 3 to 6 months for therapy to be most effective, assuming that is financially feasible. This may seem like a long time, but I believe that therapy is really an investment in your future. ,