How Long Should Therapy Sessions Last?

The duration of treatment for psychological issues will differ from one individual to another. It must be tailored to the nature and severity of the difficulties presented by the person. Acute issues often require fewer treatment sessions than chronic conditions. The length of treatment also depends on the type of therapy provided; cognitive-behavioral treatments, which focus on a specific problem, are usually shorter than psychotherapies with a broader approach.

So, how long does it usually take for treatment to take effect? When people have been seriously injured, especially during childhood, the process of developing trust in the therapist and transforming childhood coping into more effective ways of coping can be slower. Your primary care provider may refer you to a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist for an initial evaluation and treatment plan. Some people leave therapy and come back once or twice a year for “tune-ups” or to address a specific problem that has arisen. Couples should not schedule a 30-minute session unless they are in the final stages of therapy or agree to focus on a particular topic.

While therapists take different approaches to the frequency and duration of meetings, individual therapy is the norm (i.e., many therapists also offer longer sessions for intake appointments with new clients, to ensure that they have enough time to gather information and ask questions to clarify the diagnosis). Insurance companies also include the standard 45- or 50-minute sessions, since they base reimbursement on the type and duration of therapy. If you participate in intensive therapy, you may see your therapist for several sessions of several hours a week, usually over the course of two or three months. This also leaves time between sessions for the client to reflect on their therapeutic ideas and, hopefully, adjust their perspective or relationships.

Another way to find a therapist is to contact your primary care provider and request a mental health referral. If you're still not sure how long of the session you need, try an intermediate session of 45 minutes. You can find a local therapist, ask your primary care provider to refer you to a mental health provider, or participate in online therapy. After the intake session is over, your subsequent appointments will consist of a typical 45 or 50-minute session with your therapist.

For children, that optimal time may be shorter with 30-minute sessions, since 45 or 50 is sometimes too long for a child's attention span. One situation where you'll need to spend more time in therapy is during your first therapy session, which is called an intake session. You can also consult the PDF of the decision tree of the therapy session, which will help you answer some simple questions that will help you choose the best duration for where you are now.

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