How much therapy do you need to help you to feel better? Is one session enough to help you, or should you decide to see a therapist over a longer period?
The duration of therapy varies greatly depending upon your presenting difficulties, personal goals, and the therapist’s approach.
Some people can do what they need and want to do in ten sessions or less. In most cases, this is a matter of solving a specific problem and/or getting back on track. A long-standing problem usually takes longer than this, but in some cases can still be sorted in shorter term therapy. For others, however, a longer-term therapy may be needed to help resolve their difficulties.
Some people come for one session and afterwards feel it has ‘unblocked’ them and they don’t need more. They feel unburdened for a while, and relieved to have had a space to pour out their experiences. And while some specific models of therapy do offer one to two session programmes to target specific problems, these are often not enough on their own to rectify long standing problems.
Unhelpful patterns can continue unless you understand WHY you are feeling the way you do and where those feelings come from. In this respect, we believe that a longer-term relationship with your therapist can offer greater benefits than just one appointment.
Longer-term therapy can help you get to the bottom of things.
Therapy is often about digging around very carefully and very slowly to understand the root causes of your struggles. Along the way, you and your therapist will likely find layers of coping mechanisms that are important to respect and understand.
Coping mechanisms are ways we learn to respond in order to keep ourselves safe in life. For instance, a coping mechanism you may have developed as child is to submit to people in order to survive. Perhaps you have learned to do what others say. Or you may find yourself constantly looking to please others. All of these can be healthy ways of responding, but when they are done excessively or to the detriment of your own needs being met, they can be problematic and unhelpful.
In longer-term therapy, we can begin to look at these coping mechanisms and understand where they come from and why they developed. We can also understand when they may have been helpful in your life, and why they may also be causing you problems today.
Sometimes in longer-term therapy, a client recognises for the first time, “Oh, wow, that’s what I do to keep myself safe.” It takes time, rapport, trust and skill to come to those moments. It’s about saying ‘hello’ to your coping strategies, meeting them, and having a think about them before deciding whether to change them.
And changing them can also take time.
Those strategies, no matter how unhelpful, have been with you a long while and you’ve counted on them to help you feel secure. To change them, your therapist must help you build healthier ways of coping before you go about removing older, less functional ones. It could be very unsafe to take those old coping strategies away in one or two sessions. Where would that leave you?
Together with your therapist, you can look at those strategies, decide which ones you want to change, and learn new healthier ways of coping.
An important part of the therapeutic space is finding a natural end to therapy.
The number of sessions you might need comes as a result of a natural conversation with your therapist following assessment. After you talk about your reasons for coming, your therapist can advise you as to what he or she recommends given your unique needs and goals.
It’s a decision that is made on a mutual basis, between the therapist and you. After you decide upon an initial course, it can be a good idea to have a halfway point where you re-evaluate how you feel the sessions are going. Is the therapy helping you? Are you reaching your goals? Does the course of sessions agreed upon feel right, or might you want to invest further time and energy into your mental health?
Ending therapy doesn’t have to mean ‘The End’.
Therapy is about self-development. And self-development never ends. It’s common for people to complete courses of therapy and then take time to practice and integrate their learnings outside of the therapy room. They may then wish to return for further work at some point, or to work on new issues should they emerge.
People can change their minds too. Sometimes, people come wanting a longer-term piece of work, and find that they have gained what they came for after 10 sessions. Alternatively, they can start with 10 sessions, decide they want more, and the therapy will evolve into longer-term work.
Either of these scenarios is normal and healthy. With the help of your therapist, you can decide what is best for you.
Therapy isn’t about a contract, or a binding agreement for a set amount of sessions. It’s about evaluating along the way whether it is helping you. If it is, perhaps you will consider making an investment into your mental health.
You may go to the gym, or for a run to look after your physical well-being. Why not do that for your mind as well?
Sometimes our mental health gets left behind and put on the back burner. It feels important to take some time and give it some love too.