How Long Does Therapy Take For Depression? A Practical Overview

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated July 11, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses today, affecting an estimated 280 million people worldwide. One of the main treatments for depression is talk therapy, but the length of an individual’s treatment can vary depending on a number of factors, including symptom severity, therapy availability, and the type of therapy used during treatment. 

If you’re living with depression and are considering or have just started therapy, you may be asking yourself, “How long does therapy take for depression? When will I start to feel better?” Some people experiencing depression may start to see improvements after just a few therapy sessions, while for others, it can take longer. We’ll explore some of the factors that affect therapy duration for depression below.

Support for depression symptoms is available

How long does therapy take for depression?

While the number of therapy sessions required to treat depression and improve mental health will vary from person to person, research reported by the American Psychological Association suggests that an average of 15–20 sessions is effective for 50% of clients in terms of recovery according to self-report measures. Some may want to stick with therapy for a longer duration, however, in order to gain more confidence in their coping mechanisms and get on track for improved mental health over the longer term. 

Everyone's healing journey is different, so a personalized approach to therapy can be key to addressing depression effectively. Elements of personalization will depend on the individual factors influencing your treatment plan.  

Factors that can affect therapy duration 

The duration of depression therapy can vary for each individual and depends on a range of factors. One is the presence of co-occurring conditions, like an anxiety disorder, a personality disorder, or bipolar disorder. 

Certain personality traits could also affect treatment duration––particularly those that manifest as behavioral patterns that may make it harder for a person to manage their depression or respond to treatment, such as inflexible thinking, trouble communicating, or unhealthy coping mechanisms. Individuals who 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 may need therapy. Those with mild symptoms may need less therapy, particularly if their condition is not as disruptive. On the other hand, people with severe symptoms or those having more trouble managing their symptoms may need longer treatment. A person who has been living with untreated depression for a long time may also need more care before symptoms start to improve. 

There are also different types of depressive disorders, such as major depressive disorder, perinatal depression, and seasonal affective disorder, and which of these a person is experiencing can affect treatment duration too. 

Other factors that can affect the number of therapy sessions needed for depression may include:  

  • Other comorbid mental health conditions someone might be experiencing, if any 
  • How well a person responds to therapy 
  • Individual goals and what the person wants to achieve in therapy 
  • Support from family and friends 
  • How often and how regularly therapy sessions take place 
  • Adherence to 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 that may affect treatment availability or consistency 

Clinical improvements: What to expect

Measuring the results of therapy can sometimes be difficult, which means it can be hard to know when you’ve engaged in “enough” sessions to achieve lasting relief. For example, 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 and nonlinear process, and setbacks are a common part of the journey. 

Try to be kind and patient with yourself and with the process, striving for self-compassion rather than frustration or self-criticism.


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 more positive, effective experience. Examples of these goals might include the following. 

1. Mood improvement

A common goal of depression therapy is to improve 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, often affect people with depression. A common goal of therapy is to get support in cultivating healthier sleep patterns, which may lead to more restful and restorative sleep and improved mood and less fatigue in turn.

4. Improved relationships

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

Measuring your progress in therapy

Understanding how well therapy is working for you can be important for the healing process. Keeping a close eye on your treatment progression can allow you to make adjustments to ensure you're on the right track toward improved mental health. Here are a few ways to measure your progress in therapy.


It may be beneficial to closely observe how you feel and think throughout your therapy journey. Reflect on whether you've noticed changes in your mood, energy, levels, sleep, relationships, or coping skills. 

Goal tracking

It can be helpful to keep track of the progress you make toward the treatment goals you set at the beginning. 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 also 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, so close 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.

Support for depression symptoms is available

Online therapy for depression

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 treatment plan is often needed to address the unique challenges a person experiencing depression may face. This 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 alternative, as it allows you to meet with a therapist remotely from wherever you have internet connection, including the comfort of home. 

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


Depression treatment duration and response levels can vary for each individual. Your treatment experience and the length of time it takes for you to see results can be impacted by a range of factors, including depression severity, personality, any co-occurring conditions, current life situation, treatment approaches used, and more. A therapist or another type of mental health care provider can create a treatment plan that fits your individual needs and treatment goals. 
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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