“How long is therapy going to last?” seems to be the magic question during my phone consultations. Naturally, my curiosity wondered about the factors that could influence the popularity of this question. I was inspired to process my thoughts in my blog and hopefully by the end I’ll be able to provide a satisfying answer to anyone wondering the answer to this question.
My first thought was that I think a big factor that influences such question is our preference to know how much of our time, effort, and/or money we are about to invest ahead of time. For instance, I had a flashback to grad school. I remembered how knowing the length of my graduate program helped me prepare a lot. I knew that for 3 years I was going to dedicate myself to school. I knew that for one year I needed to rearrange my life because I was going to stop working full time to focus on my internship. Quantifying the length of my program also helped me when the school workload became really difficult. Being able to say “one more year or “two more semesters” really pushed me to see the light at the end of the tunnel and that gave me comfort. I think when people ask “How long is therapy going to last?”, they are seeking for a similar comfort. They want to know when their situation will be better. When they, too, will see the light in their tunnel.
But what about the goals that we unfortunately cannot quantify? Sometimes I wonder if our need for instant gratification is a factor that not only influences our need to know “How long?” but that can also negatively affect our experience when the comfort of quantifying an end time is not possible. An example outside of therapy that came to mind was fitness goals. I remember really struggling when I first started working out. I would become frustrated because my progress was not very visible even though I was working my ass off. My frustration then increased because I couldn’t quantify how much longer until I saw progress or met my goals like I could with grad school. I was unfortunately more focused on how much longer instead of appreciating the journey process.
One of the biggest lessons I learned with this experience that I think relates to therapy was to understand that there is not a magic pill that speeds up the process of reaching an improved lifestyle. When I work out and make healthier food choices I am literally changing my life and the way I live. Therapy is similar. When someone goes to therapy, they are changing their life. Someone is learning and growing. They are adjusting their lenses of viewing their world. They are enhancing their way of expression. They are improving the quality of their relationship with themselves and others. Because of this, I have a hard time quantifying therapy (unless it is through an EAP program, brief therapy, or mandated of course). You see, everyone has a different definition of success regarding their goals. When and how someone reaches that version of success also differs. So, it makes it really hard to answer how long therapy takes to achieve someone’s goals.
Sometimes I do wish that I had a quantified number to provide comfort to those who have asked, “How long is therapy going to take?” But if I tell anyone what brought you to therapy will be fixed in x amount of sessions I would be lying. Transparency is really important to me, and part of that transparency includes admitting when I do not know the exact answer someone is looking for. The best I could do is provide an estimate. Even then, I think the most truthful answer that I can provide is that therapy may last as long as the person, couple, or family is benefiting from the service. Your quantified number of needed sessions will most certainly depend on your specific goals and whether or not therapy is helping with those goals.
One thing about therapy that I do feel comfortable guaranteeing, though, is that the journey process will be yours. Although there are similarities between people when experiencing growth such as stepping outside of comfort zones, facing difficult topics, and exploring areas of improvement, the process will be dependent on who you are and your specific needs. Also, as the expert of your life, you will get to decide when the end of therapy should be for you. For some people this has been in a few sessions, others have needed therapy for a few months, and then there’s individuals that have stayed in therapy for years. Whatever the case may be for you, I trust that your expertise will let you know when it is time to terminate just like it told you that it was time to begin therapy.
Love to all,