Whether you are considering going to a psychologist or have started treatment, you are probably wondering how many Psychology sessions are necessary. How long will you have to go to therapy to feel better?
There are people who worry that therapy is going on too long. And others worry it will end too soon. Some complain because the treatment seems to have no end. Others complain because the psychologist wants to put an end to it.
In both cases there is a problem.
Psychological therapy is a treatment and, as such, has a limited duration in time and space. Endless psychotherapy is often more a path towards immobility and dependency than towards healing and autonomy. However, closing too soon can also cause the person to lose everything they have gained along the way and increases the chances of relapse.
How many Psychology sessions are necessary and what does it depend on?
From my own experience, many people do not need more than 10 Psychology sessions to resolve the problem that brought them to the consultation. This is confirmed by a study carried out at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, according to which 42% of people who receive psychotherapy only need between 3 and 10 sessions.
Other research conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison indicated that most patients usually show notable improvement between the seventh and tenth session. However, 1 in 9 people have to undergo more than 20 Psychology sessions to resolve their problems.
The duration of psychotherapy depends on numerous factors and varies widely depending on the objectives of each treatment, the therapeutic approach used and, of course, individual problems and characteristics or needs.
The 5 main factors that determine how long psychological therapy lasts are:
1. Reason for consultation
The complexity and type of problem that brings you to the psychological consultation is decisive in estimating the number of sessions of the therapeutic process. Receiving help for a recent loss is not the same as receiving help for complicated grief, since the latter represents a more entrenched problem. Nor does budding anxiety demand the same attention as generalized anxiety that has been developing for years.
A person seeking psychological support for a lifelong condition, such as bipolar disorder, may need longer therapy, although sessions may be reduced to weekly or monthly check-ins to prevent relapses. On the other hand, someone who needs help to face specific life situations, such as a divorce, will resolve with a shorter treatment. As a general rule, the more complex and deep-rooted the problem, the more sessions will be necessary to address it.
2. Type of therapy
Each therapeutic approach has its own methods and techniques, as well as different ways of addressing psychological problems. Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies tend to have a more open and longer duration as they address broader facets of the “self” and delve deeper into unconscious processes. On the other hand, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has a more rigid structure with objectives established by mutual agreement and a shorter average duration.
More recent psychological approaches, such as Brief Strategic Therapy or Solution Focused Therapy, seek faster and more practical paths, which is why they usually require fewer sessions, but they are not suitable for all types of problems.
3. Professional experience of the psychologist
The psychologist’s therapeutic experience, both in general practice and with the specific problem that afflicts you, will also influence the duration of the therapeutic process. If the professional already knows the methods and techniques that usually work, he will be able to address the problem more effectively and achieve faster results.
In the same way, a good psychologist will also be able to quickly realize that the process is not flowing as it should, so he will look for the causes and try to solve the blockages. And if he can’t, he’ll probably be humble enough to refer you to another professional who can offer you better care and more effective treatment.
4. Therapeutic adherence
The length of psychological therapy does not depend solely on the skill or training of the psychotherapist, but also the level of commitment you assume. Therapeutic adherence is a term used to designate the degree to which a patient follows the recommendations of medical personnel.
Typically, in each session the psychologist gives you some “tasks” or poses some challenges so that you can develop the necessary coping skills. Following his instructions to the letter, going to appointments and committing to the change is essential to be able to advance in therapy and shorten the number of sessions.
5. Affinity with the psychological process
The connection and trust between psychologist-patient is also key to the success of the therapeutic process. When you feel comfortable and know that you will not be judged, you can feel freer to express your worries, fears and anxieties, which will speed up the therapy allowing you to get to the bottom of the real problem.
However, trust is not created instantly, but is built over time. It is not uncommon for a person to reveal a problem at the beginning of therapy and then, as they feel more comfortable and confident, bring up other more complex and entrenched difficulties, generating the need to restructure the therapeutic process, establish new goals and extend the number of sessions.
Be careful with dependence on the psychologist!
Determining the success of therapy to know when to end it is not always easy, especially because psychological treatments involve a process of knowledge and self-discovery.
There are those who see psychotherapy as a means of self-exploration, something totally valid but, given that this process of introspection should last a lifetime, there is also the risk of turning the psychologist into a “friend” to whom they can turn and tell everything and make emotional catharsis.
Of course, we can all benefit from going deeper within ourselves, reflecting on our values, and receiving psychological support. But therapy is not a place to go to talk about day-to-day problems. No matter how tempting that idea may be, the psychologist should not replace the role of our social support network because we run the risk of developing a dependency.
Therefore, it is important to define the problem on which you want to work in psychotherapy, the skills that must be developed and the objectives to be achieved. From experience, the problem with which people come to the consultation is almost never the real “problem”, which emerges after several sessions.
However, it is essential to establish specific objectives that can be seen in behavioral changes and a greater sense of greater well-being. When there are no clear goals and concrete problems, psychological therapy can drag on and the psychotherapist takes the place of the person’s natural support system.
Keep in mind that psychotherapy is a space to seek solutions to problems and receive guidance. If sessions start to feel more like friendly chats or you feel like you have less and less to talk about or are not making progress, it may be time to review your goals with your therapist.
Treatment planning and duration is a dynamic process that must be decided by mutual agreement between the therapist and the patient. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we must reach a final destination, understood as greater self-sufficiency and autonomy of the person to face the challenges of their life. There are those who will arrive sooner and there are those who will take a little longer.
Hyun-nie, A. & Wampold, B. E. (2001) Where oh where are the specific ingredients? A meta-analysis of component studies in counseling and psychotherapy. Journal of Counseling Psychology; 48(3): 251-257.
Crits-Christoph, P. (1992) The efficacy of brief dynamic psychotherapy: A meta-analysis. The American Journal of Psychiatry; 149(2): 151-158.