How Long Does Therapy Take For Depression? A Practical Overview

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated August 11, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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With an estimated 280 million people experiencing depressive disorders, depression is one of the most common mental illnesses affecting individuals worldwide. One of the main treatments for depression is therapy, but the length of an individual’s treatment can vary. Therapy duration can depend on a number of factors including symptom severity, therapy accessibility, and the type of therapy used during treatment.

If you’re living with depression and considering therapy, you may be wondering how long it might take to start to feel better. Some people experiencing depression may start to see improvements after just a few therapy sessions, while for others, treatment duration can be far longer. 

Therapy May Help Relieve Depression Within a Few Sessions

How Long Does Therapy Take For Depression?

While the number of therapy sessions one will require to treat their depression may vary, some research indicates there may be an optimal treatment duration. One study examined the relationship between the quantity of treatment sessions and the change in self-rated depressive symptoms.  

By using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), researchers found that 6-8 sessions offered more benefits than 1-5. It should be noted that this is only the results of one study, and a person may need significantly more therapy sessions than 6-8 to get the maximum benefits out of treatment.

Everyone's healing journey is different, and a personalized approach to therapy can be key to tackling depression effectively. Part of this personalization will depend on the individual factors influencing your therapy. 

Factors That Affect Therapy Duration

Depression therapy duration can vary for each individual and depends on a range of factors, including the severity of their condition. Another determining factor can be the presence of co-occurring conditions or difficult personality traits. These traits often manifest as behavioral patterns that may make it harder for a person to manage their depression or respond to treatment. Difficult personality traits can include inflexible thinking, trouble communicating, or unhealthy coping mechanisms, all of which can affect a person’s therapeutic timeline. Individuals that exhibit these traits may require more time or additional support before they see improvement. 

The severity of depression, often categorized as mild, moderate, or severe, can also affect how long a person needs therapy. Those with mild symptoms may experience shorter therapy durations, particularly if their conditions are not as disruptive. On the other hand, people with severe symptoms or those struggling to manage their depression may need longer treatment. 

There are also different types of depressive disorders, such as major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder, which can also have an effect on therapy duration. 

Other factors that affect therapy duration may include: 

  • Other mental health concerns someone might be dealing with
  • How well a person responds to the therapy
  • Individual goals and what they want to achieve in therapy
  • Support from family and friends
  • How often and regularly therapy sessions take place
  • Following the therapist's recommendations (like taking medication or doing homework)
  • The type of therapy used (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy)
  • Life events or stress that could affect progress in therapy
  • Financial concerns or limitations with insurance coverage

Clinical Improvements: What To Expect

Measuring the results of therapy can sometimes be difficult. You might feel better after a couple of therapy sessions only to fall back into a depressive episode weeks later. While this can be frustrating, it’s important to remember that healing is often a gradual process, and setbacks are a common part of the journey. 

Try to be kind and patient with yourself and with the process, and remember that different people can have different experiences. Staying patient, continuing sessions with your therapist, and working toward your personal treatment goals can help ensure long-term progress and mental well-being. 

Common Goals Of Treatment


People often go to therapy with specific goals in mind, which can affect how long treatment lasts. Regularly assessing one's mental state and discussing any challenges with a therapist can help create a positive, effective experience. These goals might include: 

1. Mood Improvement

A common goal of depression therapy can be to improve your mood. While mood improvement will mean different things to different people, it often involves feeling less sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed. You may also hope to experience more happiness, hope, and contentment after your treatment. 

2. Increased Energy

Another common goal is to increase your energy levels. As depression often causes fatigue and low energy, therapy can aim to help you feel more energized and motivated to engage in daily activities.

3. Better Sleep

Sleep disturbances, like insomnia or oversleeping, are common in people with depression. A common goal of therapy might be to help you create healthier sleep patterns, which may lead to more restful and restorative sleep.

4. Improved Relationships

Depression can strain relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. Therapy may help you develop better communication skills, emotional regulation, and coping strategies to improve your relationships.

Measuring Your Progress In Therapy

Understanding how well your therapy is working can be important for the healing process, and there are several ways to measure your progress in therapy. Keeping a close eye on your treatment progression can help you understand the effectiveness of your therapy. In turn, this can allow you to make adjustments to ensure you're on the right track toward improved mental health.


It may be beneficial to closely observe how you feel and think throughout therapy. Reflect on whether you've noticed changes in your mood, energy, sleep, relationships, or coping skills. This can help you gauge the effectiveness of therapy.

Goal Tracking

Keep track of the progress you make toward your treatment goals. You can use a journal or a simple checklist to record improvements, setbacks, and any new insights you gain during therapy.

Therapist Feedback

Your therapist can provide valuable feedback on your progress. They'll likely ask you about any changes you've noticed and discuss how well you're doing in achieving your treatment goals. Don't hesitate to ask your therapist for their opinion on your progress.

External Observations

Sometimes, it's hard to notice changes in ourselves. Family and friends can often be valuable sources of information on your progress. If you feel comfortable, you may consider asking them if they've noticed any improvements in your mood, behavior, or relationships since you began therapy.

Standardized Assessments

Your therapist may use standardized questionnaires or assessments to measure your progress objectively. These tools can help track changes in your depression symptoms and overall well-being over time.

Online Therapy For Depression

Therapy May Help Relieve Depression Within a Few Sessions

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to depression treatment, and what works for one person may not work for another. Certain types of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), have been found to be effective for depression. However, a personalized plan is often needed to tackle the unique challenges a person experiencing depression may face. This treatment plan may involve a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. 

For many individuals with depression, the thought of leaving the house and traveling to an in-person therapy appointment may feel daunting sometimes. In these cases, online therapy may be a helpful option, as you can meet with a therapist wherever you have internet access, including the comfort of home. 

In addition, research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy for depression, with data suggesting that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) “may be as effective as face-to-face CBT in reducing depressive symptoms.”


Depression treatment duration and response levels can vary for each individual. Your treatment experience and the length of time it takes to see results can be impacted by a range of factors, including depression severity, personality, co-occuring conditions, current life situation, treatment approaches, and more. Some people may benefit from certain types of therapy, combinations of treatments, and lifestyle changes. Therapists and mental health providers can create a treatment plan that fits your individual needs and treatment goals. If you would like to meet with a therapist virtually, you can do so using teletherapy or online therapy platforms

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone

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