How Many Therapy Sessions Do I Need? The Variability Of Therapy

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Therapy can be an enriching experience for clients looking to process their feelings, manage mental health difficulties, and face life's challenges. Throughout treatment sessions, it can help you learn more about yourself, develop new skills, and take the next step in life while maintaining a sense of commitment to your ongoing exploration and personal growth. 

There are many factors to consider when starting therapy. One of the most common things people wonder about is how many therapy sessions they need. Multiple factors determine the answer to this question, but research offers some general guidelines to keep in mind when getting started.

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What factors determine the number of therapy sessions?

Many factors determine how many therapy sessions you need, including: 

Your mental health issues

What you’re being treated for, how severe your symptoms are, and how long you’ve had your symptoms can all affect how many therapy sessions you need. Generally, people with more severe mental health issues who have had symptoms for a long time may need more therapy sessions, but this is not always the case.

Some research shows that, although it depends on patient responsiveness, the number of cognitive behavioral therapy sessions for people with depression varies according to symptom severity. For example, someone with mild depression may need eight to 12 therapy sessions, while someone with severe depression may need 16 or more. For people with psychosis, research shows that they may see an improvement in symptoms after 15 sessions, with the most symptom improvement in 25 sessions.

How quickly you make progress

When you start therapy, you will set goals with your therapist, including how long you expect therapy to last. At this point, treatment length is flexible, as neither you nor your therapist knows how treatment will proceed. Throughout your sessions, your therapist will conduct evaluations to assess progress, and the two of you will work together to set a new goal.

There is no way to tell how quickly you will progress. Some people attending a one-hour session once a week may progress just as quickly as others who go twice a week. One study found that starting with more frequent sessions may produce better results, meaning that going more frequently at the beginning and then cutting back may be beneficial. Researchers believe this may be because the therapist and patient form an alliance quicker or because patients may learn how to apply what they learn in therapy more quickly. 

If you’re considering treatment, talk to your therapist to determine what is right for you.

The type of therapy

There are multiple approaches to therapy. When you meet with your therapist for the first time, you may talk about the right approach for you and your mental health. Some types may take longer to see results than others. 

For example, clinical practice guidelines from the American Psychological Association (APA) for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) show that the treatment length may greatly depend on the type of treatment. Per these guidelines, someone undergoing prolonged exposure therapy may need to attend one 60 to 120-minute weekly session for as long as 30 weeks, and someone in cognitive behavioral therapy for PTSD may require four to 16 sessions spread out over one or two 60 to 120-minute sessions a week over four to 16 weeks. 

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How many sessions should I expect to attend?

There’s no way to estimate how many sessions someone will need to attend to get the full benefits of therapy, but research does give some insights into what is typical. According to the APA:

  • On average, 15 to 20 sessions are enough for 50% of patients to self-report that they have recovered from symptoms. 

  • Many psychological treatments that last a moderate duration, like weekly sessions for 12 to 16 weeks, result in significant clinical improvements. 

  • Many therapists and patients ultimately prefer to continue treatment to ensure remissions and that the patient is confident in the skills they need to continue in a positive direction after therapy.

  • People with complex or concurring mental health disorders may need longer treatment and attend sessions for 12 to 18 months or longer.

How do you know when therapy ends?

There are a few things to consider when determining the length of treatment. Generally, therapy ends when you meet the goals that you have set with your therapist.

The process of therapy can differ significantly from person to person, and the number of therapy sessions that a person will need can vary extensively. Therapists typically believe there should be an endpoint for therapy, but the matter of when it ends may vary.

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How do I find the right therapist?

Before choosing a new or different therapist to work with, it can be helpful to do some research. Look for a therapist with experience in an area of mental health that you’d like to address. You’ll also likely want to find a therapist you are comfortable with. Requesting a free consultation to find out whether you are a good fit is ok. This can save both of you time in the long run. If it’s not a good fit, you can change therapists.

When looking for a therapist, you may also want to know whether your insurance covers your treatment. Some plans cover a certain number of sessions. If you have this information, you can talk to your therapist and ask if any treatment options will be a good fit for your coverage. You should also make sure the provider is licensed. You can usually find this information by asking the therapist directly, doing a web search, or working with an online platform that vets its mental health professionals. 

What are the benefits of online therapy?

Studies show that online therapy can help address many mental health concerns. A study focused on online therapy for college students found that treatment could significantly reduce symptoms of common mental disorders, with more significant improvements achieved as more online sessions were conducted. Online treatment was found effective for treating stress, depression, insomnia, and social anxiety disorder in students in the study. Researchers noted combining therapist support with specific lessons led to significant positive outcomes.

If you’re ready to start therapy, a platform like BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed therapist who fits your needs and preferences. BetterHelp works with thousands of qualified mental health professionals—practicing across a range of specialties—so you can be matched with someone experienced in your specific areas of concern. A mental health provider can answer any questions you have about therapy and guide you through the process so that it’s a fulfilling, healthy experience. 

Read below for reviews of BetterHelp therapists from those who have sought help.

Therapist reviews

“I swear he’s the best therapist I ever had. I know I’m a person who talks a lot but he lets me talk, he actively listens, and he relates to me a lot. He understands my situations and provides me with excellent advice when it comes to how to respond to my difficult situations. He always gives me assurance and support and I truly appreciate him. He is strong support for me right now when it comes to my mental and emotional issues.”

“Kathryn has been an ever-present source of stability and calm during a few tumultuous years. She never fails to show up and be 100% there for you during sessions. She is very mailable and will act as your mirror, friend, guide, or counsel, depending on what you need from her. I feel very lucky to have worked with her.” 

Takeaway

Choosing to work with a therapist is a decision that can have lasting positive impacts on your life. Whatever you’re going through, you don’t have to navigate it alone. To learn more about online therapy's process and benefits, consider getting matched with a licensed therapist through a platform like BetterHelp.

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