As a counselor, I am often asked, “how long does therapy take?“
One Hour or 20 Years??
Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple answer for this question. Therapy can take a very short time or it can take a very long time. In other words, there are people who can be helped in an hour because that is all they need for that moment in their life. On the other hand, there are people who spend 20 years in therapy with little change in their overall functioning. I’m thinking of a Woody Allen character. However, I imagine if you are considering some therapy yourself, you don’t want to hear that it might take 20 years.
One Problem or Symptom – 9 Sessions on Average
Here’s the thing. If you want to tackle one problem or symptom, you are likely to reach your goal in one hour to six months. Because it depends on how connected that problem is to unconscious (meaning subconscious) difficulties. As well as, how often you have to face this troubling problem in your daily life.
For instance, let’s say you have to go visit your mother-in-law for four days. You know she drives you crazy. Because her personality clashes with yours. Therefore, you want to know how to handle the situation. So, you might need what I call strategic psychological problem solving. That might take an hour or two. You could even call this kind of work, “coaching.” By the same token, other problems might require repeated practice at using certain coping techniques and take several months. For deep, lasting change, a longer time frame in therapy will be necessary.
Deep, Lasting Change
To answer how long deep, lasting change takes is a much murkier game. Among other things, the process involves the development and resolution of something called a “transference.” Additionally, these things called “defenses” have to be understood, acknowledged and “worked through.” We explore experiences you had as a young person. And I mean really young. Because they are significant to how you function today. And be forewarned: the better you think your childhood was and the less you think is has to do with how you function today, the longer the whole process is going to take.
In a nutshell, you can think of the different types of therapy as the difference between a well-traveled, moderately strenuous hike you’ve never taken before versus a scuba dive to an area of the ocean that has never been explored by anyone else that you want to map and claim as your own. The number of unknown factors that are discovered on the journey and how much of the ocean you want to map will determine how long the work takes.
If you want to find a therapist to help you on your journey, you might want to consider this information as you begin your search.
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