HOW LONG DOES THERAPY TAKE
People sometimes want to know ‘how long does therapy take’?
It’s a very reasonable question, but impossible to give a simple answer to because, it depends.
There are an infinite number of factors that influence how long a therapeutic process will take, falling into four main categories; your history, your capacity, your goal, and timing.
There is no formula to work out or accurately predict the impact of the different factors because everyone is different. A factor that has a big impact on one person may have none on another.
I talk through all these categories in this video, or keep scrolling if you’d rather read about it.
When thinking about history, I like to think about it as your history of challenges and your history of growth.
History of Challenge
History of challenges is about the impact of difficult life experiences and contexts. In general, the more difficult experiences someone has had, especially in childhood, the longer therapy might take – but not always of course.
Some, but definitely not all, difficult experiences include:
- unsafe home environment (could be physically, emotionally, spiritually, nutritionally, financially, etc unsafe)
- parents misusing substances
- death of a close family member
- a family member in jail
- surgery or accidents
- difficult birth
- high stress levels in utero
- low socio-economic advantage
- seeking asylum
- gender and/or sexual confusion or rejection
- serious illness
- assaults outside the home
- divorce and relationship break up
- near death experience
- substance misuse
- housing instability
History of Growth
In general, the more growing you do, the better you get at it. In this context, growing is about how you have changed over time through intentional attempts to learn, expand your understanding, increase self-awareness etc.
The more you engage in growth activities the more comfort you develop with it, and the greater skills you develop to do more in the future.
Plus, having positive growth experiences inclines you to want to do more.
All these things, comfort, skills and inclination, generally tend to shorten how long a therapeutic process will take.
Your capacity is about the resources, the skills and attitudes you already have, and your general level of wellbeing, and can include:
- logistical things like time and money – generally you get more traction on an issue by coming weekly or fortnightly than you do coming monthly
- attitudinal factors like how openness to new experience you already are (this is something that therapy tends to expand); whether you think therapy is “only for crazy people” of for regular people; the degree to which you are already able to take responsibility for decisions; a problem-solving attitude, etc
- levels of inner criticism – really tough inner critics make it hard to learn and can make it feel like therapy is taking longer, but actually, working on inner criticism often IS the therapy in this situation
- skills like the ability to notice your own thoughts, to self-reflect, to notice your feelings and be with them
- your wellbeing – chronic illnesses and other physical issues can impact on therapy, as well as the severity to which you’re experiencing post-trauma symptoms, substance use, mood difficulties etc.
People come to therapy for different reasons.
Some people come in a crisis and view therapy as a tool for crisis management only. In general, this would tend to be a shorter therapy process. It’s also common for people to use therapy like this over a long period of time, coming for session with each crisis but not once the crisis is over. This approach is perfectly valid, but people rarely learn the skills or develop the insights that could actually reduce the number and level of crises in their life.
Others to come to therapy in crisis and want crisis management, but also decide to stay longer to work on longer processes like healing, growth, and transformation.
Sometimes there is not an immediate crisis, but lingering issues resulting from past experiences that are frustrating, painful or somehow limiting, and the person has just gotten sick of living with those struggles in the background.
Goals of healing, growth and transformation tend to take longer because they are deeper processes. By deeper, I mean they are working beyond the everyday level of problem-solving, by exploring and transforming long-term patterns. Anything that’s been a long-term pattern takes a longer time to change.
Lastly, for people who come to therapy for support with awareness, they never leave! Therapy can help you plumb the depths of your identity and your calling in life, and so it’s a process that only ends with death (probably; I don’t know what happens after death).
I work partly from a Taoist perspective, which tells us that all processes in nature have their own timing.
The issues you bring to therapy are part of a deeper development process that has its own timing.
Therapy can’t necessarily speed that up, but it can help remove the things that are making it go slower than it’s natural timing.
I think of these processes like a river. You can’t make it flow faster, but you can remove the things blocking the flow.
So, you can throw heaps of time, money and effort at therapy but it may not make it quicker.
Healing, growth and transformation doesn’t just happen in the therapy session. It’s a whole of life process that is supported by therapy, but not ruled by it.