If you’re thinking about starting therapy, you may be wondering how long it will take before you start to feel better. The truth is, there’s no clear cut answer, because everyone’s therapy journey is different. Your therapy goals, treatment plan, and even unexpected life changes are just a few examples of what can impact the length of your therapy journey. Here, we’ll dive deeper into some of the factors that can determine how long you’re in therapy.
When you first begin therapy, you’ll talk to your therapist about your symptoms, parts of your background, how you feel your life is going currently, and why you’ve decided to start therapy. You’ll also discuss what you ultimately want to get out of therapy — your “end goal.” Some end goals take longer to achieve than others, and therefore can play a role in determining how long you’re in therapy. No end goal is too big or too small, and it’s okay if it takes a good amount of time to reach it.
The severity of your symptoms or issues you’re looking to resolve in your life may also determine how long you’re in therapy. Some people are interested in focusing on a specific issue in therapy, on a more short-term basis. Others may look to therapy sessions as a space to work through problems on a more long-term basis. What you want to focus on in therapy is entirely up to you. What matters most is that you feel you’re getting the support you need to feel better and reach your end goal.
Once you talk to your therapist about your symptoms, issues, and strengths, they’ll provide a diagnosis. Then they’ll work with you to create a treatment plan to help you achieve your end goal. This may involve discussing how often you’ll have sessions, assignments to help you work on things outside of therapy, and medication, if you and your therapist agree it could help you.
How long your plan will take to help you achieve your end goal will partly depend on your diagnosis, the smaller goals you set within your plan, and necessary treatment. For example, according to the American Psychological Association, evidence from clinical research suggests that it may take longer for therapy to be effective for people dealing with more than one problem (such as depression and anxiety) or for those with certain life circumstances. That being said, every therapy journey is unique, and the length of it varies from person to person.
As your therapist gets to know you, they may continue to refine and tailor the treatment plan to your unique needs. It's common for initial treatment plans to be updated as treatment progresses, and sometimes your therapist will recommend a change if the plan doesn’t seem to make a positive impact after a certain period of time. The treatment plan is a collaboration, so you’ll always work with your therapist to create a plan that’s right for you.
If you don’t feel your treatment plans have worked, or if your therapist doesn’t feel like the right fit anymore, you can always find a new therapist. Having a good relationship with your therapist is important to achieving your end goal, so it’s okay to find someone new if things just don’t feel right with your current therapist.
Change is inevitable — in life and in your therapy journey. And sometimes, change can delay or complicate your experience in therapy.
For example, you may come across changes in your insurance that could affect the types of treatments and therapy you can receive or even the therapist or other mental health providers you can see. This may cause you to have to change therapists or care teams, and that can be frustrating. But you don’t have to do it alone. Your current therapist or care team members can refer you to other providers who they see as a good fit for your needs. SonderMind can help you find a new therapist, too.
Life changes such as grief, loss, and other unexpected events can also affect the length of your therapy journey. That’s because these changes can sometimes cause unexpected stressors that can make coping difficult. These stressors can feel overwhelming, and may lead you to question the progress you’ve made so far in therapy. This is a normal and common experience, and you don’t need to resolve it on your own. Your therapist can help. Consider talking to them about how you’re feeling. They can work with you to reevaluate your goals and make changes to your treatment plan, if necessary, to help you get through it.
Sometimes, taking a break from therapy can be beneficial — even if you haven’t reached your end goal yet. This may mean stepping away from therapy to reflect on what you’ve accomplished so far and put the skills you’ve learned into practice on your own. Or, it may mean taking a partial pause, where you see your therapist less frequently.
If you decide it’s time for a break from therapy, it’s important to have support from family, friends, and other resources, and to know how to lean on them to get through any challenges that may arise. Remember, you can always go back to therapy if you feel it can help you.
Therapy is hard work, and reaching your end goal, no matter how big or small, will take time, patience, and effort. You may find yourself in therapy for a few months, or even years, before you reach your end goal. And you may decide to take breaks in between. There’s no right or wrong time frame for therapy. Everyone’s journey is different, and what’s important is getting the help and support you need to overcome mental health challenges and reach the therapy goals you set.
American Psychological Association. (2017, July). How long will it take for treatment to work? https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/length-treatment