Why Change in Therapy Takes Time
Jaime Cara, LMHCA on Dec 15, 2022 in Mood and Feelings
When will I start to feel better? How long will therapy take?
If you’re asking yourself these important questions, you’re not alone. Many clients want to know how and when therapy will “work.” It makes complete sense to want relief if you’ve been struggling for some time.
Additionally, in a world where we are often tantalized by instant gratification, it can be hard to accept that change doesn’t happen overnight. Here’s why you shouldn’t rush therapy and why your progress won’t necessarily be linear.
Understanding Barriers to Change in Therapy
Change is difficult, even when you feel highly motivated to improve your current circumstances. Likewise, research shows we are hardwired to seek homeostasis, an internal state that persists despite outside variables.
In therapy, change can take time for the following reasons:
- Building rapport: The client-therapist relationship is sacred, as therapy entails an inherent degree of emotional intimacy. With that, it often takes time to open up and trust your therapist. This process may take longer for clients with past difficulties with vulnerability or histories of betrayal.
- Lack of consistency: Consistency is essential when it comes to effective therapy. As much as possible, aim to prioritize your sessions as you would any other essential appointment.
- Other obstacles come to light: Many clients seek therapy for a specific reason (i.e., they want support after a rough breakup). But as they engage in their treatment, they might become aware of other issues, like low self-esteem, complex trauma, or depression. This insight is important, as almost all behavioral responses are connected, but it can impact the overall change process.
- Unrealistic expectations: When people decide they want to make a change, they often want immediate improvements. But in most cases, that isn’t feasible. There are benefits to all behavior (even unwanted behavior). You need to really understand those benefits and implement new responses if you want to change old ways of coping.
How Long Should Therapy Take?
There isn’t a universal answer that applies to every client. Some clients need a few sessions while others need more extensive, long-term work.
Research from the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 50% of clients need 15-20 sessions to significantly reduce unwanted symptoms or distress. If you have one specific goal to work on, a few months of treatment should provide relief.
However, clinical research suggests that people with more complex mental health issues often benefit from longer treatment. Long-term therapy allows you to truly understand who you are and why you do what you do. It also offers ongoing support and reassurance as you navigate changes in life.
Ideally, therapy concludes when you meet your agreed-upon treatment goals. This doesn’t mean you’re “cured” or “perfect” upon termination. It simply means you have made significant progress toward resolving the issues that brought you into therapy. Ideally, you are also aware of potential triggers that may coincide with regressive behavior, and you have a plan for managing them.
What If You Don’t Feel Like Therapy Is Helping?
It can be frustrating to feel like therapy isn’t supporting you in changing or growing. Your feelings are valid, and there are several strategies for working through this problem.
- Share your concerns with your therapist: Let your therapist know how you feel. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the “right” thing to tell them. It can be enough to start the conversation by saying, “I’m not sure if therapy is helping. Can we talk about this?”
- Evaluate your own role in the change process: Can you identify any fears or obstacles stopping you from truly engaging in the therapy process? Have you been fully honest with your therapist? Have you committed to completing assigned homework or practicing skills taught in sessions? It’s normal to struggle and experience setbacks. That said, it’s a good idea to share these insights with your therapist so you can collaborate on how to work through them.
- Determine if you need to try a new provider or approach: It’s possible that your therapist just isn’t the right fit for you. It’s crucial that you feel safe and supported in your treatment. Your therapist should also have adequate experience treating your specific issues. If you suspect that isn’t the case, it may be time to meet with someone new.
How Can You Make the Most of Therapy?
Even though change doesn’t happen overnight, you can be proactive in making the most out of your work. Here are some reminders to keep in mind:
- Prepare yourself for your sessions: If you’re meeting a therapist in person, account for traffic to make sure you arrive on time. If you’re meeting for online therapy, ensure that you’re in a private location and that other people in the home know you’re unavailable. Try to log in a minute or two early to iron out any potential Internet issues.
- Strive to be honest: More than anything, honesty is your best bet when it comes to maximizing your time in therapy. Even if you feel scared, try not to hold back your feelings or thoughts. Your therapist’s job is to support you unconditionally, but they can’t read your mind!
- Implement what you learn: Therapy is a small segment of your weekly routine. Try to carry therapy insights with you as you move through the day. Practice the skills you learn. If you find yourself struggling, consider writing the specific situation down to refer to during your next appointment.
Getting the Support You Need
While change in therapy takes time, most clients find the journey is certainly worth the effort. You will learn and grow in each session — this insight will carry you into becoming the person you want to become. It will also help you live a more authentic life.
If you’re ready to take the next step, I’m ready to connect with you! Contact me today to schedule your initial consultation.
is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate