How long does a therapy session last?
Individual therapy sessions usually last from 45-50 minutes. Couples therapy usually lasts for 85 minutes for the first three sessions, after which the duration may be mutually decided.
There are several reasons why this is considered the best duration for therapy sessions. These reasons include, effective counseling, drawing boundaries, insurance and limiting information.
In this article, we will discuss the reason for the therapeutic hour, duration of individual and couples counseling as well as reasons for limiting the session to a certain amount.
How long does a therapy session last?
If you have decided to seek therapy and/or you are deciding it’s the best option for what you are currently experiencing, one of the main questions most people might have is how long will it take for each session? You’re now ready to meet with a therapist and begin your therapy. You probably want to know how long it will all take.
There is no simple answer to that question but it’s normal to feel anxious until you have the chance to sit down with someone who can help you identify a clear, realistic treatment plan created specifically around your personal needs.
The length of therapy is determined by many factors. These include the individual’s seeking treatment, the symptoms they are experiencing, and any history related to their condition(s).
A number of treatment options must be considered when determining effective therapy plans.
Generally, people who have a nurturing and protective environment in their childhood usually do not need much professional therapy because they are used to having a support base around them. Maybe it is because they have a good family life or that the person has good friends with whom to form a support group.
Regardless, therapy for this type of client is often brief. Usually in this case, people come to therapy for a recent trauma, such as a rape, abortion, mugging, or car accident; a loss such as a death, job loss, or divorce; or a dilemma, like being unhappy in a relationship or job.
When issues of loss and post trauma come up, get compassionate understanding from those who care about you so you feel safe and find someone with whom you can talk openly about your feelings.
Take a few moments every day to reflect on what it is that you’re holding onto in the present, because talking it out with a mental health expert or counselor may be exactly what you need.
Depending on how long your issues have lingered and how far you want to go with this healing process, this could be one session or six months or more of weekly appointments to help you make peace with yourself.
When people have been repeatedly traumatized, abused, neglected, or shamed as a child, without loving adults to help them handle these traumas, they generally need several years in therapy, or even more.
When people get hurt in relationships that are supposed to be close and trustworthy (like parents) it can take another person who has committed themselves to continuously working through their problems with these same people for long periods of time in order to help repair their wounds over time.
When people have been hurt by the hand of someone they were close with, especially when they were children, the repairing process generally takes much longer than those who grew up closely with a non-harmful family member because it requires each individual to establish the trust between themselves and their therapist while transforming their own childhood coping mechanisms into more effective ways of coping with hardships.
Most counselors and therapists offer a standard session length to everyone. Typically, it’s either 45 minutes or 50 minutes. For some people that’s a perfect length of time.
While therapists use a variety of methods to meeting frequency and length, weekly 45- or 50-minute sessions are the typical for individual therapy (i.e., treatment with only one client). When did this period of time become known as the “therapy hour” or “therapeutic hour”?
“There are various theories on the origins of the 50-minute therapy session and some reports that trace back to Freud,” Becky Stuempfig, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Encinitas, California, told HuffPost. “There does not seem to be a consensus on exactly when the ‘therapeutic hour’ was established, but it has remained the industry standard.”
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
For individual counseling
If you’re having individual counseling, your appointment will take about 50-55 minutes. A “therapeutic hour” is defined as a period of 50-55 minutes. Although some physicians will give 45-minute or 60-minute appointments, this is common practise. We keep to 50-55 minutes for each session and “block off” 60 minutes.
Some of the rationale behind the timing is that therapists need a minute to collect their thoughts, jot some notes (if they haven’t been taking them during the session), and ‘reset’ before their next client comes into the office. They also probably need to pee at some point. We are human, after all.
“There are therapists who work extensively with clients dealing with very heavy, traumatic experiences, so the break gives them the chance to decompress a little bit,” said Tammer Malaty.
In some circumstances where therapy is clearly needed with effective strategies and techniques, you can find yourself in a situation where sessions may be longer than 50 minutes. In no situations would your therapist recommend that you take on less than 35 – 45 minute sessions. It’s difficult to take on a lot of therapeutic work in a shorter time period.
For couples counseling
Couples counseling is a little bit different than individual counseling. The first three sessions are all right around 85 minutes (just a hair little less than 90) and are focused on assessment.
The first few sessions contain the following assessments:
- You and your partner will walk through the door, and your counsellor will lead you through a fairly structured session that includes a discussion of the issues, your therapy goals, a 10-minute resolution discussion, and an oral history of your relationship, which will include a variety of questions from your counsellor. This is usually called the intake session.
- You and your partner will individually come in for a 40(ish)-minute session (85 minutes, in total). This is to understand the individual person, outside the unit.
- The third session will usually last for 85 minutes. Your counselor will have spent some time on their end after the first two sessions synthesizing all of the information they’ve gathered.
- The findings will be delivered to you in the third session (feedback session). It’s worth noting that your counselor will spend time with you to see whether the results ‘fit’ with your relationship.
Other factors that affect the length of sessions
- Insurance: You can discuss your requirements and expectations with the therapist you pick. Some insurance policies will only cover a certain amount of sessions per year. If you intend to use insurance to cover the costs of sessions, you should be aware of the restrictions. You can also agree to work with your therapist for a set number of sessions and then assess where you are and if you want to continue.
- To set boundaries: There are also psychological reasons why these session times remain the norm. First of all, the length of time feels more contained, so it lessens the risk of over-exposure to painful emotions.
- In addition, the therapeutic hour establishes psychological boundaries between the therapist and the client. 45- to 50-minute meetings, according to Stuempfig, allow therapists to provide a new viewpoint and stay impartial without becoming too involved in a client’s life.
- Efficient time use: Keeping therapy sessions under an hour may also motivate both parties to make the best of the time allotted. When people know they have 50 minutes, they feel aware that they need to take advantage of that time. It’s about striking a balance so that work is getting done.
- To limit information: Longer sessions may give too much information that would be covered for the client to completely digest it and benefit from it. Giving people increments of information and allowing them to process it in sections is good for the best possible outcome for treatment.
One of the most commonly asked questions during a session is “how long is this going to take?”. One of the best answers to this question that we’ve heard is: “Everyone has different issues but anyone can make progress in 2 – 4 months by practicing daily.
The important thing is choosing a therapist based on his/her specialties and personal attributes. And remember therapy is an ongoing conversation, and the real change happens when you put what you learn into practice outside the therapist’s office just as one would learn how to play piano through participation and self-learning.
What we recommend for Counselling
If you are suffering from depression or any other mental disorders then ongoing professional counselling could be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.