How Long Does Therapy Take?: A Road Trip vs. a Pit Stop

Time is so precious to us all, isn’t it? And the way we use it always involves an evaluation of our efforts, money, and emotions invested into it. So it’s no surprise that one of the common questions we receive when we begin working with clients or get a client inquiry is “how long does therapy take?”

Aside from the very obvious concerns about how much it will cost and the logistics of setting aside time, I believe that when people ask the question “how long does therapy take?” they really have a deeper question: “how long will take to heal?”

This is a deep question that speaks to the core of our desires – to heal and become whole, to feel restored to health, to feel intimacy in our relationships and security in our identity. In light of this, here’s how we can integrate the practical and deep answers to this question:

“Pit Stop” Therapy:

For some people, therapy is a short-term experience – this could be for issues such as (but not limited to):

  • Grief – Needing to process a specific loss/event
  • Transitions – Needing help getting through a change for a period of time
  • Specific family/relational trouble – Needing help managing interactions or needing an intervention regarding a specific family issue
  • Career counseling – Help with a specific direction on where to take your vocation/career
  • Anxiety/Depression/ADHD – Help developing tools for managing and understanding anxiety/depression/ADHD
  • Parent coaching – Helping parents develop healthy parenting skills and create a plan for discipline, managing child emotions, etc.

Even with these specific needs and goals, the length of therapy could be a month, to several, to a year. Some of this will depend on the frequency you meet with your therapist, the method/modality your therapist uses (you can ask about this in your initial session and they can tell you about how they work), and your comfort level with opening up and doing the work of therapy.  Officially, “short term” therapy is considered to be approximately 12 sessions or less.

“Road Trip” Therapy:

For others, more than 12 sessions are needed and can benefit a client. Often this will be for those needing a more in-depth understanding of:

  • Long term or complex trauma of any kind – including childhood trauma, repetitive abuse/neglect, repeating patterns of unhealthy or toxic relationships, affair recovery, etc.
  • Severe or long-term mental illness diagnoses – this could include moderate to severe mood disorders (anxiety, depression, etc.), or cases where coordination with a psychiatrist is helpful to stabilize a client.

During longer term therapy, there is often exploration of childhood, digging deeper into emotions and experiences, and making connections between your story and the way it impacts your brain. For some, this takes years, for others, it may be several short term visits that may be off and on for a few years. (Let’s call this a road trip with some pit stops? J)

At your first appointment, have a conversation with your therapist about your goals and you can discuss timeline. Your therapist can give you an idea of length based on goals and resources.  Don’t be afraid to check in along the way – your therapist should help you evaluate your progress as you go on, and do your part in reflecting on what you’ve learned and areas you may still need help. Regardless, therapy is a process that requires your effort and participation—without it, the healing can’t take place. There are great benefits to both short and long term therapies. Short term allows you to go out and “practice” what you’ve learned without getting stuck in a rut, and long term can really help you dig deeper into things you may not have had the opportunity to do. BOTH can lead to healing, restoration, and intimacy. As Christian therapists, we ultimately believe that Jesus is the one that redeems, heals, and transforms—He is intimately interested in your health and well-being.  So whether it’s a road trip, a pit stop, or a road trip with some pit stops, remember that your own therapy journey is unique to your needs and personality and Jesus is the guide. We want to honor that first and foremost and let you work at the best pace for you. You are courageous for taking the step into one session or one hundred.

-Mary Shea

**Find out about working with Mary and her seminars/workshops here!!