This is a common question as many people want to know what they are signing up for when working on self-improvement and mental health issues. Is this going to take months or years? The short (and often unpopular) answer is; it depends. That said, we can talk about some of the variables that determine the length of therapy. Knowing these variables and providing some approximations, we think you will be able to gauge for yourself about how long things will take. Here are some of the factors that help determine length of therapy.
Diagnosis: Some issues are much more complex and involved than others. Common issues like depression and anxiety often do not take as long to resolve relative to traumas resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Symptom Severity: Most conditions and their symptoms can be put on a spectrum from mild to moderate to severe. Therapy tends to work faster for those with mild symptoms relative to those with severe symptoms.
Support of Family/Friends: Growth and development are always enhanced and accelerated when we have a nurturing environment of support to facilitate our changes. Environments that are negative, chaotic, or dysfunctional make growth more challenging.
Acute vs Chronic: Issues people have been struggling with for years often take longer in therapy than issues that may have recently developed, perhaps from some new stressors. Dealing with a depression from a recent divorce often resolves quicker than dealing with a depression from years of bullying growing up.
Goals: The number and complexity of your goals will also determine length. Someone who only wants to learn more effective parenting skills, will not take nearly as long as someone who wants to manage their anxiety attacks, improve communication in the marriage, and be more assertive and confident with coworkers.
Person Variables: Clients who are naturally insightful, self-aware, determined, and willing to practice new skills to change bad habits are more likely to move through counseling quicker.
Perhaps the picture is starting to come into focus, but where are the actual numbers? If you are trying to guesstimate about how many sessions or months therapy will take, here is what some of the research says. On average, after 15-20 sessions, 50% of people will be recovered from their issues. Those with co-occurring conditions (more than one diagnosis), will often take between 12-18 months to recover. Using these broad ranges and the variables above, you might be able to approximate how long you will need. However, know that the single best predictor of success is a good rapport and relationship with your provider. Make sure you have a good fit and things will likely move quicker and you will achieve better results. The other thing to remember is that ultimately you are in charge. You can stop therapy whenever you want. Just have the conversation with your therapist and they will work to wrap up whatever you are working on to give things some sense of closure and completion.