How Long Are Therapy Sessions? Everything You Should Know

Friday, May 3

If you’ve made the decision to go to therapy — or you’re considering it — you might wonder how long your sessions will be. Will you need to set aside a lot of time for each one? Or will they be shorter than you expected?

Therapy sessions need to be long enough to give you and your therapist time to work on making progress. But exactly how long is that? In the following sections, we’ll help you better understand therapy session length.  

What is the average length of a therapy session?

How much time are you likely to spend in your therapy sessions? This can vary, depending on multiple factors, but the average length of time falls between 45 and 55 minutes. 

Why not a full hour? Therapists need time to write and go over notes and get ready for their next session or next client. Having a 5–15-minute window of time gives them a chance to do this. 

What about therapy sessions that are shorter than 45-minute sessions? This usually isn’t enough time to work with your therapist and take any steps toward your goals. However, shorter sessions do exist. For example, a client needing urgent unexpected support may call their therapist for an impromptu 15–30-minute session.

Remember that 45 to 55 minutes is just the average length overall. Session length is dependent on the agreement between the therapist and the client and the client’s needs.

What can influence the length of a therapy session?

The length of your therapy sessions can vary depending on various factors. These include the type of therapy you’re doing, whether or not you’re using insurance, and the severity of your symptoms. 

For example, your healthcare insurance company might only cover sessions that are 50 minutes long. Below, we’ll go over the various factors that can affect the length of therapy sessions. 

Initial intake session

This is your first therapy session with your therapist. The initial session gives your therapist a chance to gather background information on you, like your medical history and mental health history. You’ll also discuss practical matters, such as how you plan on paying for therapy. 

This session is also when you and your therapist work on establishing treatment goals. Your therapist will ask you about the issues you’re struggling with and any symptoms you’re experiencing. Your sessions will help you make progress on working through these issues and achieving your treatment goals. 

How long does this take? Initial intake sessions may last longer than regular weekly sessions. They might run from 60–90 minutes. Your therapist needs this amount of time to gather all relevant information about you and why you’re seeking help.

Couples counseling 

What if you and your partner are going to therapy for help with your relationship? In this case, you can expect to have longer therapy sessions overall. 

Couples therapy might start with one or more intake sessions lasting roughly 90 minutes or less, depending on the provider. You and your partner might meet with your therapist individually for a shorter session at some point, but attend most sessions together as a couple. 

How long do couples counseling sessions tend to last? It depends on the provider, but typically subsequent sessions after the intake last about an hour. This length helps ensure that you and your partner are able to take part in each session so that you both benefit from therapy. 

Intensive therapy programs 

Those with more severe symptoms or disorders may benefit from intensive therapy programs or intensive outpatient programs. These might involve meeting with a therapist multiple times per week for shorter or longer sessions as needed. 

As these individuals make progress, session lengths and frequency may decrease. Intensive therapy has a bigger time commitment due to the severity of symptoms or the complexity of treating certain conditions. 

Type of modality used 

Since psychotherapy or talk therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, the modality or approach used can affect session length. The average 45–55-minute length usually provides enough time for some modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). But others may need longer sessions. 

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and cognitive processing therapy are examples of modalities that often require longer session times. Prolonged exposure also benefits from increased session lengths in terms of effectiveness. These modalities usually last 60–90 minutes.  

Some modalities might require more sessions overall rather than longer sessions. For example, dialectical behavior therapy and psychodynamic therapy may work better when you attend multiple average-length sessions per week.

What if your therapist uses more than modality? Your therapist will let you know how long your sessions will be and how often you should meet. 

Can a therapy session be 2 hours?

Yes, it’s possible for therapy sessions to last this long. Individuals in intensive therapy programs, such as Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) or Substance Abuse Comprehensive Outpatient Treatment (SACOT) might meet with a therapist for longer periods. This might be needed to manage complex issues or conditions. 

In other cases, therapists might hold sessions this long based on their own style and approach or their client’s needs. For example, a client who can only do monthly sessions may want to meet for a longer time per session. 

Sessions lasting this long aren’t practical or helpful for everyone — and they’re not the norm. You might find it difficult to concentrate during a lengthy session. Or a session that’s a couple of hours long might be emotionally draining for you, especially if you’re discussing trauma. 

Keep in mind that therapy sessions that are an hour or a little less are standard in talk therapy.  

How long does therapy last?

Now that you know what to expect in terms of session length, what about therapy length? The amount of time you spend in therapy overall can vary. Everyone’s journey is different and depends on a number of factors. 

These factors include:

  • Therapeutic goals 
  • Your diagnosis and treatment 
  • Changes, setbacks, and pauses 

Some therapy goals might take longer than expected for you to accomplish. Or you might achieve them sooner than you thought you would. Your goals might also change or need to be adjusted as you go through therapy — which can affect the length of time you’re in treatment. 

Your diagnosis and treatment plan can also affect how long you’re in therapy. For example, having more than one diagnosis might mean you’ll be in therapy for a longer period of time to address each condition. It's normal to work with your therapist throughout the process to gauge your progress, discuss your needs, re-evaluate your goals, or even end therapy.

Experiencing setbacks is often part of the therapy journey. These situations may end up leading to a longer time in therapy. Changes to your treatment approach or changes in your condition can also affect how long you’re in therapy. You might even want to take a break from therapy and return at a later time. 

Connect with a therapist with SonderMind 

Knowing more about therapy session length can help you get an idea of how much time you might spend in sessions. But remember the factors that affect this. Your own journey through therapy will be unique as you work on achieving your goals and making adaptive changes in your life. 

If you’re ready to take the next step toward better mental health, SonderMind can help. Whether you’re looking for online or in-person therapy, we work with qualified, empathetic, and compassionate providers who are ready to help you meet your therapeutic goals.

Connect with a therapist through SonderMind and take your first step on the road to healing. 

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