How Many Sessions Does It Take for Therapy to Work?

Medically reviewed by: Wendy Rasmussen, PhD
Thursday, November 17 2022

If you’re considering therapy, you might wonder how long you’ll need it. Will you only need to attend for a few months? Or will the length of treatment be more like a few years

The short answer is: it depends.

The number of therapy sessions needed to reap the benefits of treatment can vary greatly from person to person. Below, we’ll discuss some factors that may contribute to how long it will take for therapy to work and how to recognize that therapy is working for you. 

Factors that affect how long therapy will take to work

Therapy is a highly personalized journey, and it's important to recognize that there’s no single correct timeline. Each individual — and therapist — brings unique experiences, challenges, and pacing to the therapeutic process. 

Let’s examine just a few of the factors that can affect how long you may need to attend therapy.

The goals you set to achieve in therapy

“Feeling better” may just be one goal you set in therapy. You may have other goals you want to achieve, too, such as improving your relationships with others or learning to deal with conflict better. 

In the first few sessions with your therapist, you’ll discuss the goals you want to achieve, including what your ultimate “end goal” is. How many sessions it takes to achieve these goals will depend on what they are and how quickly you make progress toward them. 

The pace and length of therapy depend on your needs and goals. However, research has shown that people maximize their benefits from therapy by having weekly sessions early on. Then, you can work with your therapist to figure out the best pace moving forward.

Your symptoms and treatment plan

The more severe your symptoms are, the more sessions you may need to reach your therapy goals. How long you’ve been experiencing these symptoms can also impact how many sessions you’ll need. 

Your therapist will work with you to develop a treatment plan to help you manage the symptoms you’re experiencing and make progress toward your goals. If your treatment plan works well, you may not need a lot of sessions to reach those goals. 

That being said, your treatment plan may change over time — especially if you feel it isn’t working, or if your goals have changed. You’ll always work with your therapist to make changes to your treatment plan to decide what’s right for you. If you decide with your therapist that it could be beneficial to try a different treatment plan, you may need more sessions to see how it’s working. 

It may take time for treatment to work, and that’s okay. What matters is that you feel supported in therapy and that you’re making progress. 

Type of therapeutic approach 

The type of therapy you receive affects the length of treatment. For example, couples therapy and family therapy are usually done on a short-term basis and tend to focus on treating a specific issue. However, a psychoanalytic approach may be more long-term. 

While it's true different therapeutic approaches have different durations, it’s important to note that “completing” a certain type of treatment with a more standard duration doesn't automatically mean it’s “worked.” Everyone's experience in therapy is different, and how long it takes to see positive change is unique for each individual. 

Consistency and frequency 

How often you go to therapy can affect how long it takes to work. A 2019 BMC Psychiatry study finds that going to therapy more often at the start of treatment leads to improved outcomes, and similar studies find that weekly sessions are linked to a higher likelihood of achieving therapy goals

Your progress in therapy 

Speaking of progress, it plays a big role in how many sessions you need to reach your therapy goals. Progress looks different for everyone. Perhaps progress means your symptoms are less severe, you have more adaptive thought patterns, you sleep better, or you have improved relationships with others. 

You can use clinical questionnaires to keep track of your progress in therapy. They’ll give you and your therapist a better understanding of how you’re doing over time and can be a data-driven tool to determine if current approaches are working or need adjusting.

Therapy isn’t a race — it’s a journey. It’s okay if it takes months or years of therapy to make progress and reach your goals. Setbacks can happen. You may start to feel better, but then may experience highly stressful events — like the loss of a job or loved one, a change in your living situation, or unexpected health news. When experiencing these stressful events, old symptoms or feelings can start to creep back into your life again. This is normal and can happen throughout your therapy journey. 

It’s important to talk to your therapist when you feel you’re starting to experience setbacks in therapy. They can help you get back on track. This may or may not mean more sessions with your therapist. It depends on how you agree to address and work on your symptoms. 

Outside factors and life circumstances 

Your therapist may give you “homework” or assignments to complete between sessions to help you stay on track with your progress. The more work you do outside of therapy, the quicker you may reach your therapy goals. 

Unexpected life changes, however, can happen (such as losing a loved one, ending a relationship, or losing a job) and can sometimes cause you to experience a setback in therapy. To help you cope with change and get back on track with your therapy goals, you may have more frequent sessions with your therapist. (However, it’s important to note that insurance may not cover additional sessions per week unless they deem it a medical necessity.)

You may also develop new goals when change occurs. This may add time to your therapy journey. Similarly, cost of care can also affect how long people decide to remain in therapy or how often they schedule sessions. Again, this is okay — it’s all part of the ride. Therapy is there to help you cope with these changes, no matter how many sessions it takes. 

9 signs that therapy is working for you 

While therapy's effects can be subtle and gradual, there are certain signs that can indicate progress and success in the therapeutic journey. Below, we’ll highlight nine signs that therapy is working for you. 

1. Improved overall mood 

When therapy is working, it may become easier to get through your day-to-day tasks, and you may find more joy in them. You might even return to doing activities you used to enjoy.  

2. Increased awareness 

Therapy can help you understand yourself better. You can expect to gain a deeper understanding of your thoughts and behaviors, leading to heightened awareness. 

3. Enhanced relationships 

Certain types of therapy, such as talk therapy for couples or families, can improve your relationships. However, individual therapy can also help you work on your communication skills and other interpersonal skills, which can directly improve your relationship development. 

4. Better coping abilities and skills 

Working through therapy helps you build healthy coping skills and abilities. These put you in a better position to handle stressful situations or other challenges in your daily life. 

5. Reduction in symptoms 

Your mental health should improve when therapy is working. Effective therapy helps reduce symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. 

6. Goal achievement 

During your first session, you’ll typically set goals for therapy. As you make progress, you should achieve these goals. How soon this happens can depend on the length of the therapy treatment plan and the other factors mentioned above. 

7. Increased self-esteem 

Successful therapy can help you make significant improvements to your self-esteem. As you understand yourself better and learn to handle negative thoughts and behaviors, your self-esteem may improve. 

8. Feeling more in control 

When therapy is working, you may have more control over your thoughts and behaviors. This can help you feel more confident about dealing with challenges or difficulties in your life. 

9. Improved physical health 

The right therapeutic course of treatment can boost your physical health. Better mental health can help improve your physical health, resulting in more energy, better sleep, and other positive effects. 

How long should I stay in therapy?

So, how long does therapy really take? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach: The amount of time individuals spend in therapy varies from person to person. 

The decision to take a break from therapy should be made collaboratively between you and your therapist. Generally, it may be time to consider taking a break when you’ve achieved your treatment goals or made significant improvements to your mental and emotional well-being. 

Some people may choose to continue with occasional or maintenance sessions to ensure they maintain their progress, while others may decide to conclude therapy entirely.

However, it’s important to stay in therapy until you feel equipped with the coping skills and strategies you need to navigate your life’s unique challenges. If you’ve developed adequate skills and find that you no longer need the same level of support to handle stressors, it could mean that you’re ready to transition away from regular check-ins with your therapist.

Your journey is unique — start with SonderMind today

Since the length of time needed for effective therapy varies, don’t focus on the number of sessions you might need. Instead, focus on the reason why you’re seeking support. 

When you’re ready to start your journey, SonderMind can help you connect with a therapist who will guide you and help you meet your goals. 

SonderMind makes therapy more accessible and convenient, whether you want to meet with a therapist online or in person. Our matching process is personalized to ensure that you only connect with the right mental health care providers — those who meet your preferences and can help you achieve your goals.

Get started now: Connect with a SonderMind therapist to begin your therapeutic journey today. 

Get guidance throughout your mental health journey.

Stay connected and supported with the latest tips and information from SonderMind.