How Long Should Therapy Last? Timelines to Expect 

Published October 26, 2022
Woman psychologist talking to patient

Are you at a point in your life where you feel like you'd like to focus on your mental well-being? Maybe you've been practicing self-care and discovered that you need a bit more support for your mental health. Exploring growth and healing through therapy might be the tool you need right now. But how much time will it take before you find the balance you're looking for?

If you've thought about going to therapy, or are currently in sessions, you've probably wondered how long the process lasts. Not knowing the answer might even be a barrier to seeking help. Unfortunately, there is no one clear answer. Therapy is a process that takes time and the exact amount of time can vary substantially.

How Long Should Therapy Last?

So much of life can feel like a waiting game. When is the stop light going to turn green? When will this commercial break be over? Which lane at the grocery store will move the fastest?

Even the therapy process can instill a sense of restlessness. You might wonder how long a typical session might last, or how long you will be in therapy overall.

The more you know about the therapy timeline, the more you'll be able to prepare yourself both mentally and emotionally.

Duration of Each Session

According to the University of Pennsylvania, most therapy sessions range from about 45 to 55 minutes. The length may vary slightly depending on your personal needs, the type of therapy you're enrolled in, and where you are at in a conversation as the end of your session approaches.

For example, if you are discussing something important or urgent towards the end of your session, your therapist will most likely continue the conversation until it comes to a natural close and your concerns are addressed. Even if that means your session will run a bit longer than usual.

The University of Pennsylvania also notes that most people attend therapy sessions once a week. However, in some cases, people might meet with their therapist twice a week, every other week, or even less depending on their needs and preferences.

Length of Overall Treatment

Many therapy practices, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), revolve around a standard of 10 to 16 sessions for treatment in research settings. So, if a person attended one session per week, it would take about four months to complete a treatment plan.

However, research shows that many people still experience symptoms after this 10 to 16-session period. And, that participants who continue to explore therapy beyond this number of sessions often experience an increase in treatment gains.

It's important to remember that therapy is an individualized process. No two people are the same or have identical life experiences, which means that no two people heal the same way. The therapy process takes as long as it takes. Don't feel like you're falling behind or like you need to try and rush your healing based on how long you've been in therapy or the number of sessions you have attended.

When You'll Start to See Results

Research from the Karger Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics shows that there is not an evidence-based number of sessions that have been proven to yield positive results during therapy. There isn't a timeline that can help people predict their healing because this process is different for everyone and healing isn't linear.

For example, the journal found that some participants experienced positive results after just two therapy sessions, while it took others a total of 50 sessions before reporting benefits. Although it might be hard, try your best to not compare your growth to others. Instead, compare how you feel after each session to the way you felt before you started therapy. This can help you focus on your own healing and keep track of how far you've come.

Although there is not a one size fits all number, some studies have tried to provide rough estimates of when people begin to report positive results. Some studies have found:

It's important to remember that these results came from clinical trials and might not accurately reflect real-world experiences. In addition, different types of mental health struggles are often addressed with specific types of therapy, which can impact the number of sessions needed. Not having a timeline can be frustrating, but do your best to allow yourself to heal on your own time.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long are therapy sessions?

On average, each individual therapy session is about 45 to 55 minutes, although it can vary depending on the fit of the provider, the needs of the client, as well as whether the sessions are virtual or in-person.

How often do people go to therapy each week?

Typically, people attend one therapy session a week. However, sessions may be held more than once a week, every other week, or even once a month depending on various factors. You can decide how often you'd prefer to go during your first therapy session.

How do I increase or decrease the number of sessions I have per month?

The best way to change your therapy schedule is to talk to your mental health provider. Share how you are feeling, ask to increase or reduce sessions, and work with them to create a plan moving forward.

How long does therapy take to work?

Some people experience positive results in as little as two sessions, while others may take longer to heal. The process depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of therapy, a person's mental health concerns, and the client-therapist relationship.

How do I know when I no longer need therapy?

You may no longer need therapy if all of your concerns have been addressed and you feel you have the skills you need to cope. If you feel like your healing process is coming to an end, you can always talk to your therapist about the next steps.

Therapy takes time. You need to build trust with your provider, flex your vulnerability muscles, and communicate openly - none of which can happen overnight. Go easy on yourself as you navigate through the healing process. In the end, you'll find that it's time well spent.

How Long Should Therapy Last? Timelines to Expect