Monday, February 16, 2015

Therapy FAQ: How Long Should I Be in Therapy?

People often want to know how long therapy will last, or how long is the ideal time to stay in therapy.  It’s often a very difficult question to answer.

Psychotherapy has traditionally been a long-term treatment, with people going to an analyst multiple times a week for years.  Now, with the involvement of managed care and other reimbursement programs, as well as the desire to make therapy affordable to many people, there is increasingly a focus on short term treatment.

Short term treatment is often helpful for resolving symptoms of anxiety and depression.  Therapy methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) have proven effective at resolving symptoms in a relatively short period of time.  

That said, people often benefit from long term, insight oriented therapies as well.  Some people will seek out therapy when they have something specific to work on, and others will decide to stay in therapy for months or years.  Some will work on specific, measurable, time-oriented goals, and others will seek a more open-ended treatment.  Discussing your goals at the beginning of therapy can begin a conversation about treatment planning, including how you will know your goals have been achieved and how long you and the therapist expect that to take.

The decision to terminate psychotherapy is a significant one, which should be discussed with your therapist to assess the risks and benefits of continuing vs. stopping therapy.  This is especially important if the decision is impacted by external factors such as cost or insurance coverage.  Termination need not be abrupt, either. It may help to taper off sessions, coming every other week and then monthly for a period of time.

Ultimately, how long to continue being in therapy is a topic for discussion between you and your therapist.  Whatever you decide, you can benefit from the length of treatment that feels right for you and fits into your life.

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