How long does it take therapy to work

One common question we as therapists encounter in initial therapy sessions is “how long does this therapy take to work”?. The length of time it takes for therapy to be effective is a complex question. Each person’s course of treatment for psychological issues will be different in length. Few psychological conditions might require pharmacological management in relation to psychotherapy to see noticeable improvements.

There is no specific period that you can expect to engage in treatment before you start to see benefits because everyone’s mental health needs and symptoms are different. Acute problems might take fewer sessions compared to chronic problems. Variables like the severity and duration of the problem’s symptoms at the time of presentation, its duration, and how resistant it has been to prior treatments might impact the duration of therapy.

How long you seek therapy will depend on your unique treatment goals too. While complete recovery is probably the ultimate goal, some people may only want short-term, noticeable improvements. After the first appointment with a therapist, the benefits of treatment could become clear to some people. Others may experience improvement over for several weeks or months in a slow, steady manner.

Also, the length of treatment varies with the type of treatment provided. Problem-focused therapeutic approaches could be briefer than broad-focus therapy approaches. One form of therapy might produce quick and noticeable results, but another form would need more time to completely alleviate symptoms.

Data published in American Psychiatric Association regarding the time taken for treatment to work suggests:

  • Recent research indicates that on average 15 to 20 sessions are required for 50 percent of patients to recover as indicated by self-reported symptom measures.”
  • There are a growing number of specific psychological treatments of moderate duration (e.g., 12 to 16 weekly sessions) that have been scientifically shown to result in clinically significant improvements.”
  • In practice, patients and therapists sometimes prefer to continue treatment over longer periods (e.g., 20 to 30 sessions over six months), to achieve more complete symptom remission and to feel confident in the skills needed to maintain treatment gains.”
  • Clinical research evidence suggests that people with co-occurring conditions or certain personality difficulties may require longer treatment (e.g., 12-18 months) for therapy to be effective. There are a few individuals with chronic problems who may require extensive treatment support (e.g., maintenance therapy to reduce risk of psychiatric rehospitalization), but such patients are a minority of those who need or seek treatment.”

(Source – https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/length-treatment)

The length of time needed for you to make significant progress toward accomplishing your therapy goals might be influenced by all of these variables we discussed today. Even after a considerable number of sessions, if you feel there is insufficient progress discuss with your therapist and reevaluate your treatment plans and goal.

This blog was written under the expert guidance and feedback from Ms. Suvethaa Vasu, Clinical Psychologist at CareMe Health Edited and Coordinated by Ram

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