If you have never been in therapy before, or are not at all familiar with the therapy process, it is a natural thought and question to want to know “how long before I will see results?” Each week, I am asked this question when new patients call to learn about my services and setup an appointment. It makes sense as there are some types of services (e.g., plastic surgery, taking an antibiotic) where this question has a definitive answer.
However, in many ways, therapy is like having goals for weight loss or gain; there is no way to guarantee results in a specific amount of time or number of personal training sessions. Likewise, there is no way to guarantee any results at all! Results are entirely dependent on where you are starting from and more importantly, how much effort you put into the [therapy] process.
Results Cannot Be Guaranteed
There is not one single therapist that can guarantee any person(s) results, and especially cannot guarantee results in X number of sessions. Therapy is (and is not) unique in that there is no way to say if you attend X number of sessions, you will see an X% improvement; there are many other types of programs or services where this is not possible either (including weight loss or gain programs, massage therapy, skin or body treatments, marketing/SEO services, sales training, etc.). It’s not like taking an antibiotic to cure an infection (although that still requires your active participation and compliance). However, in many ways, it is no different from other tasks or projects where results are not guaranteed and are contingent on the patient’s consistency, effort, and commitment to the process.
In therapy, we are working with thoughts, emotions, other people in your life, circumstances, etc. and those things are constantly changing and can impact how one progresses in therapy. Additionally, most change really comes from how invested and engaged the patient is; it is hard to predict how someone is going to approach therapy – meaning how much homework they are going to complete and how much effort they are going to put in both during sessions and between sessions to make active changes in their life. For those reasons, any therapist who tells you that it is going to take a certain amount of time is being misleading. The reality is we can provide a range of the number of sessions we estimate are needed, but the key word is estimate!
Additionally, there is a big difference between working through lifelong and complex problems that started in childhood versus a situation that more recently occurred. This can be the difference between seeing significant change in four sessions versus attending a year or more of weekly therapy.