The Road To Recovery: How Long Should I Be In Therapy?

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many people enhance their overall mental and emotional well-being through therapy. As such, a common question asked by individuals starting therapy is, “How long should I be in therapy?” While the answer isn’t straightforward and varies by the individual's mental health concerns, goals, and circumstances, there are several factors that can help inform how long someone should stay in therapy. In this article, we consider several factors that may affect how long someone sees a therapist such as the therapeutic approach, one’s response to treatment, and different mental health conditions. 

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Factors influencing therapy duration

Several factors may influence how long a person stays in therapy. Some of these factors include:

  • The individual’s mental health condition. Some mental health concerns are straightforward and may be able to be addressed in just a few therapy sessions. For more complex trauma, chronic mental health conditions, and general mental health care over time, a longer therapeutic duration may be beneficial.
  • The individual’s goals. The reasons a person seeks therapy may influence the length of time they stay in therapy. For example, if someone has anxiety over entering college, then therapy may only be needed as they apply to and begin school. But for someone who is looking to enhance their overall personal growth and self-understanding over time, therapy might extend over many years.
  • The therapeutic approach. Different therapeutic approaches can have different durations.

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Research suggests that for 50% of people, 15 to 20 therapy sessions are required for a person to experience major improvement. However, the total amount of time spent in therapy could be shorter or longer, depending on the therapist's outlook and the type of treatment practiced.
  • Additionally, how many sessions it takes for a certain method to be effective can depend on the mental health condition being treated, how committed the individual is to the process, and other similar factors.
  • The individual’s response to treatment. Different people respond to therapy differently. Some people may see changes in their behaviors, mental health symptoms, or thought patterns quickly, while others need longer time periods to make more progress before ending therapy. For patients who benefit from monitoring symptoms over time and maintaining improvement through continued sessions, duration of therapy may also be longer. 
  • An individual’s lifestyle constraints. In some cases, an individual’s lifestyle factors can influence the length of treatment. Financial barriers, time concerns, and scheduling difficulties can impact if someone is able to consistently receive therapeutic treatment. However, online therapy can provide an affordable way for people to get care that was previously unavailable. If you have concerns about limiting factors affecting your ability to receive mental health care, consider speaking with a therapist about your concerns and see if arrangements can be made.

Short-term vs. long-term treatment

Short-term and long-term therapy treatments have differences not only in length, but also often in their style of treatment. Short-term therapy typically ranges from 6 to 20 sessions and tends to focus on a specific issue or goal. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, short-term psychodynamic therapy, Gestalt therapy, and solution-focused brief therapy all fall into this range. A therapist may provide assessments at the beginning of treatment and throughout subsequent sessions to determine whether the treatment program is working and when treatment can be concluded. 

Long-term therapy can last between several months and several years, or be lifelong for some patients. Long-term therapy is generally either geared toward addressing complex and ongoing mental health concerns or supporting an individual’s growth in their daily life over time. Psychoanalysis, rehabilitative psychotherapy, psychodynamic therapy, and many other forms of humanistic therapy fall into this category. 

When should you end therapy?

When first beginning therapy, it can be useful to discuss the length of treatment you are expecting with your therapist, and ask how you'll know when it’s time to stop therapy. These considerations and expectations may change over time, but therapy should be an open space to discuss your progress and adjust as needed. 

When you’re trying to decide if it’s time to end your therapy sessions, it may be helpful to discuss that decision directly with your therapist. While there might not be a straightforward answer regarding when to end therapy, your provider can offer guidance and suggestions for how long they think you may benefit from continued sessions. 

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If you haven’t had this conversation with your therapist, you can start it whenever you feel comfortable. When deciding whether or not to end therapy, consider factors such as if your initial concern has been alleviated, if you have new needs that may benefit from continued therapy, and whether you are interested in taking a break or quitting therapy altogether. 

Online therapy and the road to recovery

Therapy can be useful for addressing mental health disorders and life challenges. It can be vital to find the right therapist, as feeling comfortable can help you get the most out of your sessions. If at any time you would like to switch therapists, online therapy platforms such as BetterHelp can make the process more seamless than it would be if you were seeing someone at an in-person practice. With online therapy, you can search for and match with professionals who closely align with your mental health needs and preferences. If you connect with one and feel they aren’t the right fit for you, you can easily change providers with the click of a button. 

If cost or availability is a driving factor in your decision to leave therapy, online therapy can provide a low-cost, flexible alternative for mental health care. Online therapy allows you to schedule your sessions at times that are convenient and comfortable for you. If you travel frequently, online therapy can help you maintain consistency in your sessions. You can choose to go to therapy once a week, every other week, or monthly, depending on your needs.

Efficacy of online therapy

Research has shown that video-delivered therapy is as effective as in-person therapy, especially when treating mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In one study, researchers found that video-delivered online therapy is most effective when cognitive behavioral therapy is utilized. CBT is a therapeutic approach that focuses on the connection between a person’s thoughts and behaviors. As individuals learn how to change their unhelpful thoughts into more positive manners of thinking, they can alter their unwanted behaviors and responses to life’s stressors. 

Online therapy can provide other benefits and involve a strong therapeutic alliance, evidence-based approaches, and effective mental health treatment. When combined with added benefits, such as increased flexibility and reach to diverse professionals, many individuals find online therapy to be a useful alternative to face-to-face therapy. 


Participating in therapy can be a significant step toward improved mental and emotional well-being. The duration of therapy needed for each person can vary depending on factors such as the individual’s mental health condition or other needs, the therapeutic approach, and the individual’s response to treatment. Both short and long-term therapy can provide many benefits, especially when delivered in an online format. To get started with therapy or find a therapist that matches your needs, consider online therapy platforms such as BetterHelp. With online therapy, you can change providers as needed until you find a therapist who is a good match for you. You can also enjoy increased flexibility and attend sessions wherever and whenever is convenient for you.
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