If you are considering therapy to help with a chronic mental health condition or a major life stressor, you may be worried you will be signing up for a lifetime of sessions with a psychotherapist. You may wonder, “how long does therapy take” and how you will know when it is finished. The good news is that there is a healthy end to therapy that will help you make meaningful change to your mental health condition.

How Long Does Therapy Take to Work?

Contacting a therapist is a first step to making meaningful improvements in your mental health journey. But many people are resistant to starting therapy in part because they don’t know how long therapy takes to “work.”

Before you can get an answer to this question you must first define what “working” looks like. The first step to engaging in successful therapy treatment is to set goals about what you want to accomplish with the help of your therapist. A therapy goal may be:

  • Reducing mental illness symptoms
  • Learning coping mechanisms
  • Developing healthier habits
  • Learning interpersonal skills like emotional intelligence
  • Improving communication
  • Strengthening relationships
  • Developing resilience
  • Improving emotional regulation
  • Recovering from a traumatic event

By setting clear goals for therapy, it will be easier for you to tell that therapy is working. How long therapy takes to work will depend on the goals you set.

Get Help Getting Results from Therapy

Talk to a psychotherapist about setting and meeting your therapy goals.


Short- vs Long-Term Therapy

Depending on your goals, short-term therapy or long-term therapy may be better suited to get you meaningful results. Short-term therapies focus on improving your life as it is right now. It may be used to weather a difficult situation like a divorce or the loss of a job. Or it may offer a structured way forward to learn coping mechanisms or interpersonal skills.

Long-term therapy is often more focused on unpacking your past influences. It can be used to develop and maintain healthy habits, alter unhealthy behaviors, and manage serious mental illness symptoms.

Which is better for you will depend on your current mental health and circumstances, and what changes you want to make. Often your psychotherapist will start your therapy by helping you define your goals, choosing the type of therapy that is best for you, and setting a preliminary timeline for when you should start seeing results from therapy.

How Soon Should You See Results from Therapy?

The timeline for therapy isn’t straightforward. However, you may find that you may see results from therapy as early as your first session. The very act of starting therapy can provide a sense of relief and accomplishment. Sitting down with a therapist can help you feel more hopeful and less isolated in your mental health journey right from the start.

But you shouldn’t get discouraged if you don’t see results from therapy right away. The process of starting therapy can be overwhelming, especially if you struggle with opening up to new people and communicating your feelings. It can take time to feel comfortable talking to your therapist. In addition, if your goals include unpacking hard events from your past, your first sessions may leave you feeling worse before you feel better. However, most patients start to see results from therapy within a few months of weekly or bi-weekly appointments.

How To Decide How Long to Commit to Therapy?

While most patients begin to see improved mental health symptoms within a few dozen sessions, longer periods of treatment can bring greater results and, in some cases, a complete remission of mental health symptoms. Working with a psychotherapist over a longer period of time can help you develop the skills to maintain their treatment goals without the need for ongoing therapy sessions. It is worth noting that certain types of serious mental health challenges benefit from ongoing, maintenance therapy with a psychotherapist to mitigate their symptoms and avoid hospitalization. However, in most cases, your therapy sessions should come to a natural end.

In most cases, you and your therapist should have “check-in” appointments, where you measure your progress, your continuing symptoms, and the additional time needed for successfully completed treatment.  If you believe you haven’t made sufficient progress, or if you haven’t seen results, you can ask your therapist to re-evaluate your treatment plan, adjust your therapy strategies, and get you the relief you need.

Leaving Therapy Doesn’t Have to Feel Bad

Ending your relationship with your therapist doesn’t necessarily mean firing a treatment professional. In most cases, you and your therapist should come to the decision to end your therapy together, either because your symptoms are appropriately controlled, or because you decide to try a different treatment modality. In other words, you and your therapist should collaborate to decide when to leave therapy and determine if your therapy journey has been a success.

David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 35 years of experience. He helps adults, teens, and children, meet mental health goals through short-term therapy or ongoing counseling. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.